Shocker (Sarcasm Font)…United’s ‘Permanent’ Change Fee Waiver Was Actually Temporary?

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United eliminates change fees

United Eliminates Change Fees. Or Do They?

When an airline states they are “permanently getting rid of change fees,” one tends to believe that this is, indeed, permanent. Isn’t that what you just told us? But that might not actually be true. The decision by airlines to eliminate change fees is one that I’ve been extremely happy to see. Before I would delay booking things until I knew I wouldn’t have to pay a $125 redeposit fee just to get my heard-earned miles back. Now I rest easy.

But that may be coming to an end.

Update 4/8/21: An Updated Response From United Can Be Found Here

United Eliminates Change Fees Permanently…Temporarily

From the United website:

“Enjoy more flexibility when you fly with us. We’re permanently getting rid of change fees for most Economy and premium cabin tickets for flights within the U.S., or between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean. Going forward, you also won’t pay change fees for international travel originating in the U.S.”

Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? If this is all you read (and if you’re like me, you don’t always read the entirety of a web page, especially when it answers your question right off the bat), you’d come away believing that United change fees are a thing of the past.

But just a little further down we read:

“You can change Basic Economy tickets without change fees if the ticket is issued by April 30, 2021, and all other international travel without change fees if the ticket is issued by May 31, 2021.”

So…it sounds like the permanent change fee elimination is actually only permanent for basic economy booked by April 30 and other fares by May 31? If United eliminates change fees for tickets strictly in this window, this would actually make the change temporary. I get that these tickets might enjoy a permanent lack of change fees, even if changed after these dates. But that’s not what one would take away from an initial reading of the page.

The Miles Man even reached out to United on Twitter and they confirmed that the change is permanent in the permanent sense…

“We’re allowing changes without the change fee if the ticket is issued by April 30, 2021, for Basic Economy; May 31, 2021, for other international travel; and all standard fare tickets issued through May 31, 2021.  Change fee is permanently waived for tickets issued on dates mentioned above. Please know that after April 30 or May 31, 2021, you should still be able to make a change without the change fee as long as they are issued on these dates.”

united eliminates change fees

Award Travel Could Be Affected

United’s policy for award travel is a bit different. You can redeposit your miles free of charge for all trips more than 30 days out. For trips within 30 days, you’ll have to pay the standard redeposit fee of $125 (reduced gradually for Premier members).

Except you don’t currently. It’s as easy as changing your trip (without change fees) to a date 31+ days out and presto, you can then redeposit free of charge. Easiest workaround ever. I’ve done it more than once to get all my miles back.

However, if United eliminating change fees isn’t permanent, this will come back to bite you for any ticket booked after May 31, 2021. It’ll be back to the old MO of being super careful about making bookings.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think it is 100% clear how United has eliminated change fees. Permanent makes it sound like one thing. But it reads more like it is permanent for tickets booked prior to a certain date, which is totally misleading.

I know its the cynical viewpoint, but the airlines didn’t make these policies out of the kindness of their heart for customers. Given the uncertainty of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were leery of booking travel, especially if they would be out $100s to reschedule or cancel. At least with a nonrefundable ticket without change fees you can retain the full value for later use. I would expect things to go back to the fee-you-at-every-turn model eventually.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this means United eliminated change fees permanently? Or is this PR spin on a temporary change? 

H/T: The Miles Man

Ian Snyder
After igniting his passion for award travel while planning his honeymoon, Ian now enjoys using points and miles to see the world with his wife and three internationally adopted kiddos. He loves dissecting loyalty programs to find maximum value. His goal is to demonstrate that extraordinary travel is possible for the ordinary family.

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14 COMMENTS

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Now the ugly technicality – BE tickets CANNOT be changed once the COVID waiver is done. There is no change fee as you cannot make changes.

  2. United is a deceptive company that doesn’t care about its customers. Remember how they stopped honoring lifetime Club memberships?

  3. Not surprised at all. Still disappointed, and still pretty shady of United to announce a permanent change only to reverse course so quickly.

    To the above posters, this isn’t just for BE.
    “We’re allowing changes without the change fee if the ticket is issued by April 30, 2021, for Basic Economy; May 31, 2021, for other international travel; and all standard fare tickets issued through May 31, 2021.”

  4. Airlines were always clear the permanent waiver on change fees excluded basic economy tickets and practically every reputable sources stated they would be added back to BE at some point to differentiate it from “regular” coach tickets. American has also given notice of the same change.

    To be expected given flexibility added to most BE tickets (can book seats at time of ticketing, elites not charged for seats, etc).

    Are you really surprised or just trying to stir stuff up. Won’t change anything so deal w it!

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