Airline Change Fees Waivers Mostly a Marketing Ploy

Recently American, Delta and United all instituted their own versions of new change fee waivers, something that they’ve already had in place for months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Each airline has a different type of fee waiver, so just because the headline says “FEE WAIVERS FOREVER” doesn’t mean you ticket is included. 

For me, the waiver is a nice gesture, but something that seems more like a marketing ploy rather than a real change. Most of these changes were in effect due to covid-19 and made smart business sense to do. 

Let’s take a look at a breakdown of the airlines and the important inclusion and exemptions from each.

Delta Airlines Waiver Structure

Delta had instituted a Covid waiver on all cancel and change fees for booking tickets no matter the class of service or the destination. As of January 6, 2021, those waivers will only be in place for domestic flights purely for travel within the United States.

From the airline, bolding is my own:

The elimination of change fees is effective immediately and includes tickets purchased for travel within the domestic U.S., Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands in Delta’s First Class, Delta Premium Select, Delta Comfort+ and Main Cabin, with the exception of Basic Economy tickets.  

It is important to note that if you buy the cheapest fares that Delta has, the Basic Economy fares, you will still be subject to fees including cancellation and change fees, and only for travel within the United States. Heading overseas or even to Canada or Mexico and you’re going to get dinged.

Note: If you do buy a ticket before the new year, even in Basic Economy, you will fall under the airline’s old rules regarding covid waivers, and be entitled to those fee waivers, but only if you book by December 31st. Those credits will be good now until December of 2022, a positive change from the airline.

United Airlines Waiver Structure

United Airlines gets credit for being the first, but not for being the best. The restrictions are much the same to Delta as they also include their Basic Economy tickets, and you will also get your waiver if you book by December 31st, 2020. It seems that whatever Delta/United does, the other matches pretty closely.

United is instituting a few extra bits of happiness however. Anyone can standby for free on a flight on the same day, assuming of course, that the airline hasn’t cancelled all the other options for you to go to your destination. This means that if a morning flight is $500 and an evening flight is $100, you could book the evening flight and then, assuming there are seats available, standby for the morning flight to get there earlier, saving you a bunch of money.

American Airlines Waivers (Better than the rest)

IF there is a winner in the waiver-war, it would be American Airlines. The same Basic Economy restrictions apply just like Delta and United, and the same date of December 31st applies as well for new tickets purchased.

The big win, however, is that short-haul domestic flights are included. This means that if you’re heading to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, you can kiss those change fees goodbye.

Basic Economy customers will also now be allowed to purchase extras  like upgrades, seats, and priority boarding. Honestly, I can’t imagine there being a benefit to doing so, as if you cared about those things you probably would have just bought the regular main cabin booking in the first place.

Why this all doesn’t matter

Most of these changes were instituted because of covid, and the airlines have constantly changed the fee waivers and extended them month after month. It’s likely they realized that it didn’t make sense to keep pushing out fee waivers 60 days every time they realized that Covid-19 cases in the USA were spiraling out of control.

If you knew that you were flying during this pandemic, you know you wanted to go somewhere, and you bought your ticket fully knowing that you might not get to fly. If that happened, like the airline cancelling the flight, you were entitled to a full refund. That’s the law.

The same happens for international tickets. If an airline cancels your flight because the country doesn’t allow flights in (such as Argentina) or there was a schedule change, you could get a full refund or change for no problem.

While I’m not trying to be a bringer of gloom and doom, the fees brought in by the airlines amounted to a total of $3 billion annually. They’re not in the business of losing money, so I fully expect the airlines to find a way to make up the fee somehow.

The moral of the story is, if you’re booking a flight for 2021 and you THINK that there might be any reason for you NOT to take it, book by December 31st to make sure that you have a full immunity against all fee charges.

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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  1. So these are change fee waivers and not cancellation fee waivers?

    Post a Reply
    • Correct. You cancel, you’re still getting socked. Change it, and there’s not a fee. So read between the lines there …

      Post a Reply

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