American Airlines drops nearly every change and reservation fee

Nov 19, 2020

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The next time you change an airline ticket, odds are that you won’t need to pay the pesky $200 (or more) change fee. And that’s especially true if you’re booking with American Airlines.

Effective immediately, the Fort Worth-based carrier will no longer charge change fees on (most) long-haul international flights.

Thursday’s news builds on American’s late-August announcement that it would permanently stop charging these fees on domestic itineraries, as well as short-haul international flights to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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This is big.

It now means that nearly every ticket issued by American will no longer carry a change fee. (Note that if you voluntarily cancel your plans, you’ll be issued a future travel credit, as opposed to a cash refund.)

The one major exception to American’s no-change-fee policy is that basic economy tickets are excluded — regardless of destination. Through the end of 2020, every ticket, including basic economy, can be changed for free through the carrier’s flexible global waiver. (But unless that gets extended in the new year, newly purchased basic economy tickets will once again carry the pre-COVID restrictions.)

There’s one more caveat. Only long-haul itineraries originating in North or South America will enjoy free changes; international tickets originating in other regions will still carry a fee.

American confirmed to TPG that the new policy applies to flight bookings made through AA on its international joint venture business partners: British Airways, Iberia, Finnair and Japan Airlines. If you book a codeshare flight on another partner, like China Southern, on an American ticket you’ll still be charged a change fee. Likewise, if you book a long-haul AA flight through another partner, change fees may apply.

Earlier this month, AA also made award tickets more flexible than ever.

Effective Nov. 11, the airline dropped all change and cancellation fees for AAdvantage award tickets, regardless of destination or class of service. This even applies to revenue-based Web Specials awards. While they remain non-changeable, anyone can now redeposit them for free.

But American isn’t stopping there.

The carrier is also dropping the fee to make a reservation by phone. Previously, the carrier charged $25 for domestic and $35 for international itineraries booked by phone. I personally can’t recall the last time I picked up the phone to book a flight, but this is definitely welcome news for those who prefer a more hands-on experience. (American also dropped the fee to book an award ticket by phone earlier this month.)

Related: American’s loyalty chief hints at AAdvantage improvements you’ll see in 2021

Before the pandemic, Southwest was the sole U.S. carrier to have never charged change fees. So, how exactly did we get here, with nearly every major U.S. carrier removing these fees?

In March, airlines began issuing global waivers that allowed passengers to change any reservation without a fee. After months of gradually extending these limited-time waivers, United jolted the industry when it announced it would permanently eliminating most change fees.

Within hours, American and Delta (and others) matched. But, the devil’s in the details.

Related: How airline no-change-fee policies stack up against Southwest

For instance, United won’t issue a credit if you end up switching to a cheaper flight. American and Delta will. Additionally, Delta’s no-change-fee policy only covers domestic tickets, including those to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. United’s policy covers domestic flights, as well as those to or from the Caribbean and Mexico.

And now, of the Big 3, American Airlines’ tickets are the most flexible. But it may be only a matter of time until the other two match — or outdo — AA’s move.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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