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

Sept. 18, 2021
4 min read
It's time for American Airlines to improve its same-day change policy
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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.

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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.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023