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Editor's Note: Due to the numerous changes to airline change fee policies since publication, we are no longer updating this post. Forbes has an excellent resource that is being updated and covers an extensive list of airline change fee waivers.
As the impact of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) spreads, several U.S. airlines have improved their change and cancelation policies to accommodate travel arrangements impacted by the virus.
U.S. airlines typically charge up to $200 in fees to make changes to your flight, and modifications to low-fare tickets are next to impossible depending on the fare rules. Change fees on many of these tickets have now been temporarily removed, but some limitations still apply.
Updated: 03/12/2020 – JetBlue has updated its change fee waiver to offer three separate policies based on when you booked your flight:
- If you booked your trip between February 27 and March 5, JetBlue won't assess change/cancel fees for flights booked through June 1, 2020.
- If you booked your trip between March 6 and March 31, there are no change/cancellation fees for flights booked through September 8, 2020.
- If you booked your trip on or before March 10, there are no change/cancellation fees for flights scheduled between March 10 and April 30, 2020. New flights may be rebooked for travel through October 24, 2020.
If you cancel, JetBlue won't issue you a refund. Instead, you'll receive a travel credit to apply toward a future JetBlue flight. The change even applies to JetBlue Basic Economy tickets. You will need to pay the price difference if the new flight is more than the credit you receive from the first.
JetBlue was the first airline to waive change and cancellation fees. The original waiver was originally announced on February 26 for flights purchased between February 27 and March 11, 2020 for flights before June 1, 2020.
Updated: 03/12/2020 – Alaska is currently offering two types of change/cancel fee waivers. The first covers tickets purchased on or before February 26, 2020 for travel through March 31, 2020. The second covers tickets purchased between February 27 and March 31, 2020 for travel through February 28, 2021. In both cases, the same policies apply:
- Travelers who booked JetBlue's basic economy “Saver” fares can cancel their flight for a credit toward future travel.
- First class, main cabin, and award tickets can be changed for no fee for flights through February 28, 2021, or you can cancel for a credit toward a future flight or a “credit card certificate.”
Updated: 03/09/2020 – Delta has updated its change fee waiver to include all flights booked between March 1st and March 31st as well as international flights previously booked that are scheduled to depart in March.
Delta's original change fee waiver only applied to international flights (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) booked before March 1st and departing between March 1st and March 31st, 2020. This was expanded on March 4th to encompass all flights, domestic and international, for tickets issued between March 1 and March 31, 2020. The waived change fee applies to travel dates between March 1, 2020, and February 25, 2021 and allows for a one-time change that must be reissued on or before February 28, 2021.
Updated: 03/12/2020 – American Airlines has made multiple updates to their change fee policy since this post was originally published. Here is the webpage listing American's current change-fee-waiver terms and conditions. As of this update, the “book your flight with confidence” policy covers flights booked between March 1 and March 31 with the following conditions:
- Change fees are waived on tickets purchased between March 1-31, 2020 for travel now through January 30, 2021.
- Changes must be made prior to your original flight and the new itinerary must be within a year of the original date you purchased the ticket.
- You are limited to one free change; multiple changes to the same itinerary may not be covered by the waiver.
- For paid (revenue) tickets, the fare difference will still be assessed.
- Award tickets aren't covered by this policy.
If you are traveling to China, Hong Kong, South Korea, or Italy, there are different options than the general waiver policy covered above. Check the Travel alerts page for the most up-to-date information.
It's worth noting that AA's policy no longer requires that you change your flight 14 days before the original departure date (originally a requirement).
United Airlines was the last of the big three U.S. airlines to waive its change fees for new flight bookings. United's change fee waiver applies to all tickets issued March 3 through March 31, 2020. In addition, travelers who booked a flight on or before March 2 with travel dates between March 9 and April 30 can rebook travel within 12 months from the original ticket issue date.
Updated: 03/12/2020 – Even infamously fee-heavy Spirit Airlines is allowing some travelers the chance to change or cancel their flights for free. Spirit passengers “who must alter their travel plans due to COVID-19” are allowed one free change. While the change fees are waived, passengers would need to pay extra if the new flight costs most. Spirit directs guests to call 855 728-3555 to process this change.
In addition, Spirit passengers “who must alter their travel plans due to COVID-19” can cancel their booking outright and get a travel credit that can be used anytime in the next 6 months. Passengers are directed to this page to cancel their reservation and claim the travel credit.
Updated: 03/12/2020 – On March 10, Frontier announced a flexible booking policy similar to the largest U.S. airlines.
- For tickets issued prior to March 10, 2020 with original travel dates between March 10 and April 30, 2020 customers may make a one-time change to their itinerary without a change/cancel fee by contacting Frontier at 801-401-9000
- For tickets issued March 10 through March 31, 2020, customers may make a one-time change to their itinerary without a change/cancel fee by contacting Frontier at 801-401-9000
Frontier Airlines updated its change fees on September 13, 2019 to drop the minimum number of days before departure from 90 to 60 to qualify for no change fees when changing your booking. Frontier is one of the only airlines that allows ticket changes to Basic Economy-style fares, and the only one with no fee (if changed 60 days or more before the flight), outside of Southwest.
Speaking of Southwest, it's worth noting that Southwest never charges travelers a fee to change or cancel their flight. As long as you cancel or change your flight at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled boarding time, you'll receive a travel credit toward future travel for up to one year from the original purchase date.
The improvements to change fee waivers have been made to ease the anxiety travelers are experiencing due to COVID-19. While there are differences between airline policies, flights booked now through the end of March 31 will generally feature flexible change/cancellation fees. Flights booked in early March or before may or may not be changeable depending on the date of travel and the airline's policy.
While all these changes are temporary, it's great to see most of the U.S. carriers jump on board and drop change fees to help travelers feel confident booking during these turbulent times. We can only speculate how these changes might continue after March as the situation develops.
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