Skip to content

Everything you need to know about airline change fees with the delta variant

July 23, 2021
6 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

The delta variant now accounts for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States.

Despite the increased vaccination rates nationwide, the variant has led to breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated individuals. Plus, the strain is reported to be significantly more contagious than the other virus strains, causing what appears to be another wave of the pandemic that's especially bad in areas with low vaccination rates.

For now, demand for travel appears to be largely untouched — leisure flyers are returning to the skies in record numbers, and airline executives keep reiterating that there are no signs of the recovery slowing down.

Nonetheless, some people might be on the fence about hitting the road. Here's what you need to know if you're considering changing your airline ticket.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

Can you change your flight due to the delta variant?

In August 2020, United jolted the industry when it announced that it was permanently eliminating change fees from most tickets. Since then, most major U.S. airlines have copied UA's move. The big exception, however, was for basic economy tickets. These deep-discount coach flights continue to have their pre-pandemic restrictions, including that they're "use it or lose it."

In May 2021, the no-change-fee policy came into effect for new tickets purchased with the major U.S. airlines. (Before then, all tickets, including those purchased in basic economy, would enjoy free changes.)

So, the majority of airline tickets — regardless of when they were purchased — can be changed or canceled without any pesky change fees if you're hesitant to travel due to the delta variant.

The one big "gotcha" is that you're on the hook for any possible fare difference when moving between flights — the no-change-fee policies don't mean that modifying your flight will be free.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Another caveat is that if you've booked with one of the ultra-low-cost carriers, you might not be able to change your ticket for free. Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant, three of the largest budget airlines in the U.S., no longer have any change-fee waivers, so modifying your ticket with those airlines will come with the standard fees, in addition to a possible fare difference.

Can I change a basic economy ticket due to the delta variant?

As mentioned above, basic economy tickets are excluded from the new no-change-fee policies that took effect earlier this year.

So, for all basic economy tickets purchased after the no-change-fee policy came into effect (see the chart below), you'll forfeit your existing reservation if you decide not to travel.

Of course, it can't hurt to plead your case to an airline's customer service department (if you can even get in touch with someone), but the written policy is that these tickets cannot be changed or canceled.

Note that all basic economy tickets purchased before the no-change-fee policy came into effect can be modified without change fees. That's because all major U.S. airlines were offering global travel waivers at the height of the pandemic.

AirlineGlobal fee waiver ticket windowBasic economy restrictions re-introduced
AlaskaFeb. 27, 2020 - April 30, 2021May 1, 2021
AmericanMarch 1, 2020 – March 31, 2021April 1, 2021
DeltaMarch 1, 2020 — April 30, 2021May 1, 2021
JetBlueFeb. 26, 2020 - June 7, 2021June 8, 2021 (with new change-fee policy)
SouthwestNever charges change fees on any fareN/A
UnitedMarch 3, 2020 — April 30, 2021May 1, 2021

Will you get a refund due to the delta variant?

No change fees don't mean you can just get a refund back to the original form of payment.

Unless you purchased a refundable ticket, the value of your fare will be stored as a travel credit if you decide to cancel your flight due to the delta variant. You'll typically have one year to use the ticket from the date it was issued. If the delta variant ultimately upends the industry, it's possible that airlines may announce another round of credit extensions.

Nonrefundable tickets can be refunded when airlines make either a significant schedule change or cancel your flight. Before inquiring about changing your ticket, take a look at your reservation and see if the airline made any adjustments to the schedule.

Does it matter when I purchased my airline ticket?

Yes.

If you're hoping to change a basic economy ticket, you'll want to look at the date you purchased it.

All tickets bought during the global travel waiver period outlined in the chart above can be changed without fees. Once the global waiver expired, basic economy tickets on the Big 3 U.S. airlines returned to being non-refundable and non-changeable.

Will travel credit get extended due to the delta variant?

If you're sitting on travel credit from earlier in the pandemic but don't want to travel now due to the delta variant, you might be wondering if your credit will be extended.

For now, the answer is no. Airlines continue to report a strong recovery, and there are no signs that additional credit extensions are in the works.

Wait to change or cancel your flight

Above all, the best strategy is to practice your patience.

Regardless of when you purchased your ticket, your fare type or destination, you'll be eligible for a refund if your flight to, from or within the U.S. is significantly changed or canceled by the airline.

Instead of preemptively making changes to your reservation weeks in advance, it pays to wait to see what schedule modifications the airlines might make instead.

Airlines have been making plenty of last-minute schedule changes to respond to shifting demand patterns. By waiting, you'll maximize your chances of getting a schedule modification on your itinerary, which will qualify for a cash refund.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
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.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
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

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
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.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
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 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • 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
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more