It’s time for American Airlines to improve its same-day change policy

Sep 18, 2021

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Flexibility is now more important than ever, and that’s especially true if you’re traveling.

What happens if your destination suddenly changes its entry rules? Or if you get sick while you’re on the road? These are only some of the many questions I’ve asked myself before (and during) the trips I’ve taken since March 2020.

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Thankfully, if something happens, changing flights shouldn’t break the bank anymore. In late 2020, all the major U.S. airlines permanently eliminated change fees for most new tickets. Though you’ll still be on the hook for a possible fare difference, you won’t have to pay the pesky $200 (or more) change fee when making modifications.

For even more flexibility, most major airlines added free standby options for those making last-minute changes. This way, if you want to take an earlier flight, you’ll be able to try your luck on the airport’s standby list without any additional charges.

While these flyer-friendly policies are welcome news to anyone taking to the skies these days, there is still one aspect to doing business with American Airlines that could use a pandemic-era tweak: the airline’s restrictive same-day change policy.

If you’d like to make a confirmed change within 24 hours of departure — say to an earlier flight if your meeting ends earlier — you’ll need to follow a set of rules that make little sense during the pandemic era. (Many of the same restrictions apply to the airline’s free standby option as well.)

For one, you can’t change your departure or arrival airport. While this rule might’ve worked in a pre-pandemic world, flight schedules are still heavily reduced from the historic highs of 2019, limiting the value of the same-day change feature.

Changing an American Airlines flight within 24 hours of departure can be challenging (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Nowadays, there’s just one daily AA flight from New York-JFK to Chicago. (Before the pandemic, there were three.) If you’re booked from JFK, you won’t be able to use the same-day change feature to switch to one of the many daily flights from LaGuardia — no matter how full or empty they are.

Another restriction is that you can’t swap from a connecting to a nonstop flight or vice versa. Plus — and this one’s particularly egregious — if you booked a connecting itinerary, you can’t change your connecting city, nor can you modify how many flight segments you’ve booked.

If you’re flying from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to Spokane, Washington, with stops in Charlotte and Phoenix, you can’t use the same-day change feature to reroute through Philly, Dallas/Fort Worth or any of AA’s other hubs. You’ll need to find alternative flights on your exact routing if you want to make a same-day change.

Throughout the pandemic, AA has completely overhauled many of its most restrictive policies, including adding perks to basic economy tickets, waiving all AAdvantage award change and cancel fees, removing phone service charges and making it easier to redeem future flight credits.

Fortunately, American might be working to improve its same-day change policy, too. At the recent Raymond James investor conference on Aug. 25, Vasu Raja — the carrier’s chief revenue officer — conceded that it’s time for airlines to “think about this business through the customer lens.” He explained the importance of making it easier for travelers to choose your airline, which will ultimately lead to repeat business and improved yields.

Of the big 3 U.S. airlines, AA’s same-day change policy is the strictest. United allows fee-free confirmed same-day changes for all Premier elites. While you’ll need to stick to your origin and destination airport, you’re free to choose a new routing — modifying connecting cities or swapping from a connecting to a nonstop flight is allowed with United.

Delta is a bit more strict in that you can’t move from a connecting to a nonstop flight, but at least you can change your routing.

But, if AA is looking for inspiration for a new policy, perhaps it could turn to its newest domestic partner, JetBlue. The New York-based carrier has perhaps the most flexible same-day change policy of all U.S. airlines. For $75 (waived for Mosaic elites), you can switch to another flight on the same day as long as there’s a seat available for sale, without any fare-class restrictions. Plus, you’re free to swap between nearby airports within a metro area.

All told, if AA is serious about “delivering for the customer,” it’s time to reevaluate its same-day change policy.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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