Book with confidence: American Airlines is once again offering free changes for basic economy tickets

Jul 29, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect AA’s extension of its travel waiver through Sept. 8, 2020

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, most airlines have been waiving change and cancellation fees for new bookings. With the situation taking longer to recover than originally anticipated, most airlines have extended their flexible booking policies to include new bookings made through mid-September. American Airlines initially had a major exception to its updated policy, but has since reversed course with a customer-friendly move.

In early June, American announced that it would tighten up its flexible booking policy and start to exclude basic economy and AAdvantage award tickets. Of the “big three” U.S. carriers, American was the only one to place such restrictions on tickets. However, American has since quietly backtracked on this and is now once again offering free changes for basic economy tickets.

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American is now allowing any new paid ticket purchased by Sept. 8, 2020 to be canceled or changed without any fees so long as new travel occurs by Dec. 31, 2021. Basic economy tickets issued between June 1 and July 13 that were initially excluded from this waiver are now eligible.

Award tickets issued through Sept. 8 are included in the free change and redeposit fee structure. Starting Sept. 9, American’s new award fee structure will kick in, allowing free award-ticket changes and redeposits at least 60 days in advance.

Related: Airline coronavirus change and cancellation policies

In describing the updated policy to TPG, a spokesperson of American Airlines explained, “We are always evaluating the marketplace and looking to provide our customers with the most flexibility for their travel plans during the Covid-19 pandemic.” The airline also recently made a positive change to its seat fee refund policy.

As a reminder, eligible tickets are allowed one free change and you cannot get a cash refund unless the airline cancels the flight. If you rebook to a more expensive flight, you will have to pay the difference in fare.

With flexibility not being a differentiator anymore, basic economy has become a lot less relevant during the pandemic. As a result, it may even disappear in the future. In an interview with TPG’s founder and CEO, Brian Kelly, JetBlue’s COO, Joanna Geraghty, mentioned that “flexibility will be a significant component of the future of air travel. As we move through this experience, it’ll be interesting to see how customers use change [policies] going forward. Longer term, it will definitely be part of the purchase decision.” If airlines keep extending their flexible booking policies for all ticket types, travelers will have a lot less reason to buy-up from basic economy.

Related: Basic economy may disappear after the pandemic — but don’t get too excited

Featured image by JT Genter/The Points Guy.

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