The Ultimate Guide to US Airlines' Same-Day Change Policies
You've wrapped up your business meetings sooner than you thought, and now you have just enough time to catch an earlier flight. It used to be that the airlines would gladly let you stand by for free, eager to free up a seat on a later flight that they could potentially sell. But today, they're much more likely to demand payment for the privilege of taking that empty seat.
Today, let's look at the same-day change policies by airline, and see how you can make that earlier flight without feeling like you're being extorted.
Why Make a Same-Day Change?
The most common reason for wanting an earlier flight is that you already ended your trip and are ready to head home. Sometimes you might arrive at the airport early, unexpectedly fly through security and find yourself passing a gate for an earlier flight to your destinatiojn. Other times, you might schedule a generous layover only to find that there's an earlier connecting flight that hasn't left yet.
One of the more "innovative" ways to use same-day standby is to purchase a later flight that's much less expensive with the hope of catching the more costly, earlier flight. Finally, taking an earlier flight can be a good strategy to make it to your destination in advance of approaching bad weather.
Standby vs. Same-Day Confirmed
There are actually two types of same-day changes that you can make to your ticket.
The traditional way is called flying standby. This means that you're placed on a list to receive an available seat. When there are lots of unsold seats, you often receive a ticket at the gate and board with the group that you normally would. But when the flight is sold out, or oversold, you're left waiting to see if there are any no-shows before being handed a boarding pass.
Although more flights now leave full than every before, you'd be surprised how many people miss their connections or who change their plans without changing their tickets. With today's high airline change fees, travelers now have little incentive to cancel their reservations.
The more recent type of same-day change is a confirmed change. This takes all the guesswork out of the equation by giving you a confirmed reservation and seat assignment. Some airlines even let you do a same-day confirmed change to a later flight.
Tips for Same-Day Changes
Act quickly — Some airlines let you make same-day confirmed changes or join a standby list within 24 hours of departure of the new flight, while others look at the original flight's departure time. So, you'll want to understand the rules and confirm your same-day change, or request to be put on the standby list, as early as you can.
Use delays to your advantage — You should always try to benefit from airline discretion before paying the fee. For example, if your scheduled flight is delayed for any reason, then the airline may waive its change fees to allow you to be confirmed or standby for the earlier flight. You can also ask for fee waivers by citing predicted bad weather, even if your flight hasn't been delayed yet. And sometimes, the airline might waive the fee if your original flight is oversold, or if you just ask nicely.
Act strategically with upgrades in mind — Another trick is to consider same-day changes to improve your chance of an upgrade. If the upgrade availability of an earlier or later flight is better than the flight you're on, you might prefer a first-class seat to sitting in economy with your current reservation.
Keep in mind that refundable fares are typically eligible for same day confirmed and standby travel at no cost. But if you already purchased a full-fare, refundable ticket, you might as well check the price of alternative tickets on the same airline and other carriers. If there's a flight available that costs less than the one you already have, you can simply purchase the other ticket, have your original one refunded and pocket the difference.
In addition, the information in this post reflects the published policies of the airlines. With any of these carriers you’ll find reports of exceptions made by a flexible and accommodating agent, but if you’re looking to make a same-day flight change, I wouldn’t count on anything outside of the written policy.
Same-Day Change Policies by Airline
Cost: There are two different fees for same-day changes on Alaska. If you're traveling on shuttle flights between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Seattle and Portland or Seattle and Spokane, and on flights entirely within California, same-day confirmed changes cost $25, but you can standby for free.
Rules: For all other flights, same-day confirmed changes cost $50. You can change to an earlier or later flight, but the change must be made before your originally scheduled departure, and you can only change to flights that depart the same calendar day as your original departure. Flights sold as part of a vacation package aren't eligible.
Fee Waivers: The fee is waived for MVP Gold Mileage Plan members and their companions, and for those traveling in F and D (first class) and Y and Z (economy class) fares.
Cost: Within the US, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, both same-day confirmed changes and standby flights are available for $75. For flights to Canada and the Caribbean, the price is the same, but standby isn't offered. And if you're booked on one of American's numerous daily flights between New York-JFK and London-Heathrow, the charge is $150 for a same-day standby.
Rules: Flights may be confirmed up to 24 hours before the new flight time. The new flights have to be on the same routing as you were originally ticketed on, so you can't change your connecting city to arrive home earlier. Also, note that basic economy tickets aren't eligible for same day confirmed or standby travel.
Fee Waivers: Both confirmed changes and standby fees are waived for those with AAdvantage Executive Platinum and Platinum Pro status (and companions on the same reservation), and those flying on unrestricted economy fares in Y class. The fees are also waived if you're flying on an award ticket. Finally, the fees are also waived for first-class and AirPass flyers.
Standby fees are waived for those with AAdvantage Gold status or higher (and up to 8 companions on the same reservation) and for those with Oneworld Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby status (and up to 8 companions on the same reservation). Standby fees are also waived for active duty US military personnel (on orders or personal travel) and active US military dependents (on orders only). For more information, see our Comprehensive Guide to American Airlines’ Same Day Flight Changes.
Cost: You can use the same-day confirmed option for travel within the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The fee is $75 for a same-day confirmed reservation, but basic economy fares aren't eligible.
Rules: You can request same-day standby on Delta within 24 hours of your new requested flight with no route changes. You can only request changes within 24 hours of the original scheduled flight, and standby is not permitted on flights to and from Canada.
Fee Waivers: The same-day confirmed fee is waived for Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members. Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallion SkyMiles members don't have to pay a fee for standby, either.
Cost: Although many of its routes are served just once a day, Frontier offers same-day confirmed changes for $99. Surprisingly, same-day standby travel is available for no fee, just like the good old days.
Rules: Frontier allows same-day confirmed and standby flights to switch to alternate airports, and it has a very generous definition of these alternates, including:
- Washington Dulles (IAD) and Washington National (DCA)
- Chicago-O'Hare Airport (ORD), IL & Milwaukee (MKE), WI
- Ft. Lauderdale (FLL) & West Palm Beach (PBI) FL
- Los Angeles (LAX) & Orange County/Santa Ana (SNA), CA
- Madison (MSN) & Milwaukee (MKE) WI
- New York La Guardia (LGA) NY, Trenton (TTN) NJ, & Philadelphia (PHL) PA
- Orange County/Santa Ana (SNA) & San Diego (SAN), CA
- Orlando (MCO) & Tampa (TPA), FL
- Orlando (MCO) & St. Augustine (UST), FL
Cost: It's free, but there are lots of restrictions.
Rules: This airline offers very frequent service between the islands, but you can only stand by for an earlier flight if you're a Pualani Gold or Platinum elite, or if you're a corporate customer who's booked through the corporate web portal.
Cost: If you book a Blue or Blue Plus fare, the confirmed same-day change fee is $75. When same-day confirmed reservations aren't available, standby travel is available for the same $75 charge, which is also waived for Flex fares and Mosaic members.
Rules: You must travel to the same airport or to a designated co-located airport, and you must change your flight prior to the departure of your original flight. You can call JetBlue or make the change at the airport.
Fee Waivers: This fee doesn't apply to Flex fares and is waived for Mosaic elites.
Cost: Southwest famously doesn't have any change fees.
Rule: You must pay the fare difference when changing your flight, which can be considerable.
Fee Waivers: Free same-day standby is offered to A List and A List Preferred members of the Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program.
This one's pretty straightfoward: Spirit offers same-day standby options for $99.
Cost: There's a $75 fee for same-day confirmed or, if it isn't available, for flying standby.
Rules: The flight must be in the original ticketed fare class, or you'll need to pay a fare difference. Changes in routing aren't allowed when standing by. The same rules apply to award tickets. You need to keep the same departure and destination cities but can change your routing for a connection if it's allowed based on your original ticket's fare class.
Fee Waivers: This fee is waived for MileagePlus Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and 1K members.
Additional reporting by Nick Ewen.