Alaska Airlines becomes the latest carrier to permanently eliminate change fees

Sep 1, 2020

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Welcome to the party, Alaska Airlines.

United got the ball rolling on Sunday afternoon when it shocked industry observers by “permanently” dropping change fees. Less than 24 hours later, American and Delta matched. And now, Alaska Airlines is doing the same.

Let’s take a look at how Alaska’s policy breaks down.

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Alaska permanently eliminating change fees

Like the Big 3 (and Southwest), Alaska is permanently dropping change fees effective immediately. Alaska’s offer includes tickets to all destinations the carrier flies, including the carrier’s international flights to Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico.

All tickets types are included in the no-change-fee policy, except for Alaska’s version of basic economy, known as Saver fares. (All tickets purchased through Dec. 31, 2020, including Saver fares, can be changed with no fee.)

Alaska’s Mileage Plan loyalty program is one of our favorites thanks to its breadth of partners. For now, all awards for travel on Alaska will be changeable or cancelable at no cost. Alaska hasn’t yet confirmed what’s going to happen with partner redemptions. Hopefully, the Seattle-based carrier will waive those fees too.

Just because Alaska is eliminating change fees doesn’t mean that all fares are immediately refundable. You’ll still need to purchase a refundable ticket to enjoy that privilege (or hope that the airline significantly delays or cancels your flight). Otherwise, you’ll receive a future travel credit should you decide to cancel your flight.

Related: 5 things to know about Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan

Alaska will (likely) give you a credit for changing to a cheaper fare

Alaska’s offer will hopefully be more generous than United’s.

For tickets purchased before the end of the year, you’ll get a future travel credit if you end up switching to a cheaper flight. Alaska hasn’t yet made a decision about what it’ll do with tickets issued beginning in Jan. 2021. Hopefully, it’ll keep the existing policy.

Note that if you end up changing to a more expensive flight, you’ll be on the hook for the fare difference. You won’t, however, need to pay the pesky $125 change fee.

Related: How American, Delta and United no-change-fee policies stack up against Southwest

What’s the value of Mileage Plan elite status?

When American, Delta and United announced no-change-fee policies, they broke with the long-standing industry practice of charging $200 (or more) to change a ticket. With the legacy network carriers, getting the change fee waived wasn’t really in the cards. You’d have to hope for a limited-time travel waiver or a schedule change.

With Alaska (and JetBlue), waived change fees is a core value proposition to elite status. Top-tier Mileage Plan MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members never have to pay ticketing fees (except on basic economy tickets).

Now, with Alaska removing change fees going forward, it’ll be interesting to see if the carrier adds new perks for elites. Of course, the value of elite status is diminished during the pandemic, but there’s definitely one less reason to strive to top-tier status right now.

Related: Will travelers remain loyal to loyalty programs when ‘normal’ returns?

Bottom line

Alaska becomes the fourth major U.S. carrier to permanently eliminate change fees since Sunday, joining American, Delta and United. A fifth — Southwest — did not charge them in the first place. Note that Alaska’s new policy makes elite status less valuable, since it gives a once top-tier-only perk to all travelers.

And now, all eyes are on JetBlue, one of the last U.S. carriers with a traditional fare structure that’s still charging change fees. Will it become the sixth U.S. carrier to spare its customers from change fees?

Featured photo by Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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