- United, American, and Delta Air Lines are all doing away with change fees and select other optional fees.
- United and American will also allow passengers to fly stand-by on earlier flights for free and offer other complimentary perks for elite status holders.
- The US airline industry is still falling short of 1 million daily passengers with the summer only seeing a moderate increase in passengers compared to spring.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Less than 24 hours after United Airlines announced that it’s eliminating change fees for passengers, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have followed suit. The country’s two largest airlines each announced their latest attempts to win back pandemic-wary travelers within an hour of each other on Monday, marking the latest sign that the industry is struggling to return to normal following a disastrous summer.
These airlines and many others started charging passengers who changed their plans in the early 2000s, part of a wave of ancillary fees for things like checking bags and priority boarding. The additional revenue from those add-ons is untaxed and can often be more lucrative than the fare itself.
But with no end in sight to the pandemic that has decimated travel demand and put the entire industry in desperate financial straits, airlines appear willing to sacrifice the most sacred of cash cows to win over those few folk willing to climb aboard.
Each airline, of course, has its own particular mix of incentives. United and American, for example, are also allowing customers to change to earlier flights on a stand-by basis for free.
Here's a breakdown of the changes each of the big three is making to its policies.
United became the first of the big three airlines to permanently get rid of change fees on Sunday, dropping the $200 charge for domestic flight changes that includes travel to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Passengers with most fares can make unlimited changes to the ticket and only pay the fare difference each time.
Basic economy will remain restrictive with United still not allowing changes to those with the fare but the airline's current travel waiver includes free changes for all tickets, basic economy and international included, booked until the end of the year.
Members of United's MileagePlus frequent flyer program will also be able to cancel their award tickets and have their miles redeposited for free if they cancel at least 30 days from departure. Elite status holders will also be able get on an earlier flight to their destination, if there's a seat available.
American is removing change fees for domestic and certain international flights on all fares except basic economy.. Travelers flying domestically or between the US and Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean will no longer be subject to the $200 fee for domestic flights and up to $750 fee for international, according to its fee schedule.
The airline is also allowing customers the option to fly stand-by on earlier flights regardless of the fare or destination book, whether it be international or domestic, without paying a fee beginning on October 1. The charge for doing so was previously $75 for domestic flights, according to the airline's website, with exceptions for international destinations.
United is also making basic economy less egalitarian, giving elite status holders expanded benefits when booking the fare. The airline's top frequent flyers will receive complimentary same-day confirmed flight changes and upgrades to first class and premium seats in economy when available.
In 2021, however, basic economy fares won't earn miles that can be used for accruing elite status.
Delta Air Lines
Delta announced on Monday the removal change fees for travelers in all classes except for basic economy on domestic flights including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Customers formerly had to pay $200 to make changes to domestic tickets, according to the airline, including those to and from US territories in the Caribbean.
Basic economy or international fares will not be affected by the change, but Delta will allow free ticket changes for both under its existing waiver until the end of the year. The fare difference still applies when making a flight change and Delta has not said whether it will allow travelers to travel stand-by on earlier flights for free, as United and American are offering.