American and Delta, following United’s lead, eliminate most change fees and more

Aug 31, 2020

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Well, that was quick. American Airlines and Delta have just made moves in response to United’s industry-jolting news that it’ll permanently eliminate most domestic change fees.

Like United, American and Delta are permanently dropping change fees for most flights. In addition, AA’s offering credit if you end up switching to a less expensive flight. There’s a lot more to the announcements though, so let’s take a look at the details.

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In This Post

American Airlines drops change fees

Effective immediately, American is joining Southwest and United in removing most change fees.

The no-change-fee policy applies to all domestic flights, as well as those to select short-haul international destinations, including between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Basic economy fares and other international flights are excluded from the new policy.

Going forward, most AA tickets will be changeable — but remain non-refundable. Though you’ll be able to change or cancel flights without penalty, you won’t get your money back should you decide to cancel. You’ll need to pay for that privilege by purchasing a refundable ticket. Of course, if your flight ends up getting significantly delayed or canceled, then you’re entitled to a refund.

As part of the news, American is also adding additional flexibility for tickets purchased on or before Dec. 31, 2020. Any ticket, including basic economy and international flights, can be changed without penalty. You’ll just be on the hook for a possible fare difference.

In explaining the move to TPG, Vasu Raja, American’s chief revenue officer, offered that this move will hopefully help stimulate demand. He said “American has had this in the works for a while… This is our true north. We want to give our customers a reason to fly again or to fly with us for the first time. We want people to have an incentive to step foot into the world of air travel.”

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

Delta drops change fees

Like American and United, Delta is dropping change fees as well. Delta’s offer includes domestic flights, including those to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Delta’s move is effective immediately and excludes basic economy fares.

Additionally, Delta will extend its waiver on change fees for newly purchased flights, including international flights and basic economy fares, for tickets purchased by the end of the year. Delta will also extend the expiration on travel credits through Dec. 2022 for tickets booked before April 17, 2020.

(Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

American, Delta offering credits for less expensive flights

In a noticeable break from United’s policy, American will offer credits when moving to a lower-cost ticket. This move closely mirrors Southwest’s longstanding no-change-fee policy.

When moving from a $2,000 round-trip flight to a $200 economy ticket, for example, you’ll be able to make the change for free — and keep the remaining $1,800 credit for future use.

This is great news for flyers who are on the fence about booking travel with American. Even if you need to change your destination, you’ll still be able to use the full value of your ticket on another flight.

Raja highlighted how American’s telling customers that “they should have full confidence to do business with American. We will be giving a voucher to customers when they switch to lower-cost tickets.”

Delta’s policy is more nuanced.

For flights booked through the end of the year, you’ll receive a voucher if you change to a cheaper flight. For flights booked in 2021, Delta still hasn’t made a final decision about what it’ll do if you decide to change to a cheaper flight. We’ll update the story when there’s more news to share.

Changing American Airlines AAdvantage award tickets

American was slated to introduce a brand-new AAdvantage award ticket change and reinstatement fee structure on June 1. As the pandemic kept most customers grounded, American delayed the introduction of these new fees to Sept. 9 for travel on or after Jan. 1, 2021.

American’s new change-fee policy applies to AAdvantage award tickets as well, and any award ticket purchased on or before Dec. 31, 2020 will not have a change or cancel fee.

Web Specials awards are included in the no-change-fee policy that’s slated to take effect when the global travel waiver expires at the end of December, an AA spokesperson confirmed with TPG.

Changing Delta SkyMiles award tickets

For now, Delta’s new no-change-fee policy excludes SkyMiles redemptions.

According to the airline,

Delta is evaluating further policy changes as a result of our announcement today and will make updates known as decisions are finalized. In the meantime, customers continue to have flexibility under the existing applicable COVID-19 waivers through Dec. 31, 2020. 

I’m sure that Delta will update its policy before the end of the year, but for now, Delta’s the sole carrier to exclude award tickets.

American Airbus A321T (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

American Airlines relaxes basic economy restrictions

Basic economy tickets typically come with a host of restrictions. These fares were originally designed as a segmentation strategy in response to the ultra-low-cost carriers, like Frontier and Spirit.

Now, however, American’s removing most of the basic economy restrictions. For tickets purchased on Oct. 1 and beyond, you’ll be able to purchase:

American basic economy fares include one carry-on bag and a personal item. As such, American’s remaining basic economy limitations are the checked bag fees and no changes or cancellations.

Note that American is removing the ability to earn elite-qualifying miles, segments and dollars on basic economy tickets effective Jan. 1, 2021. Though this change certainly stings, being able to enjoy elite perks on basic economy tickets is likely enough to compensate.

AAdvantage elites get benefits on basic economy tickets

This is a welcome change for AAdvantange elites, showing that the airline is dedicated to treating them well no matter the fare they’re paying. Beginning later this fall, elites will be able to enjoy most of their perks when flying on a basic economy ticket, including:

This joins the existing elite perks for basic economy tickets, such as your normal boarding group, as well as your normal checked baggage benefits.

Note that this benefit is limited to AA elites only. For now, non-AA Oneworld elites won’t receive benefits on basic economy bookings, an American Airlines spokesperson confirmed with TPG.

American Airlines offering free standby

Starting Oct. 1, all customers will be able to enjoy free standby privileges. This perk isn’t limited by ticket purchased or destination. So long as the new flight is on the same day as the original departure and to the same destination, you’ll be able to standby for free.

Bottom line

American and Delta have just become the latest U.S. carriers to offer a sweeping no-change-fee policy. AA’s policy is more flexible than United’s since you can get a voucher if you switch to a lower-priced flight.

Featured photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy

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