United expands no-change-fee policy just 10 days after introducing it

Sep 9, 2020

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.

Last week, most major U.S. carriers announced that they’re permanently eliminating change fees.

United got the ball rolling on Sunday, Aug. 30 with industry-jolting news that it’ll say goodbye to most change fees. The remaining dominoes fell during the rest of the week.

American and Delta matched on Monday, Alaska announced its news on Tuesday and Hawaiian joined the pack on Thursday. Of course, Southwest has famously been the sole U.S. carrier to never charge change fees.

Stay up-to-date on airline and aviation news by signing up for our brand-new aviation newsletter.

Though each airline promised to eliminate change fees, the details differed by carrier. United’s announcement excluded basic economy tickets, as well as all international flights.

Well, just ten days later, United is expanding the eligibility. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, you won’t be on the hook for a change fee if you’re flying domestically or to Mexico and the Caribbean, as confirmed by a United spokesperson.

Basic economy tickets are still excluded, as are flights to other international destinations. In addition, if you end up switching to a cheaper flight, you won’t receive a future travel credit for the fare difference. That means that if you go from a $2,000 round-trip ticket to Hawaii to a $150 one-way shuttle flight, you’ll be out $1,850. (When moving to a more expensive flight, you’ll still be on the hook for any additional fare.)

Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

Expanding the no-change-fee policy shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. When United made its announcement last week, it was the first of the Big 3 U.S. network airlines to do so. By the end of the week, each carrier’s no-change-fee policy had some unique benefits and exclusions.

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

American’s policy was largely the most generous of the Big 3. It includes domestic flights, as well as those to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. In addition, the Fort Worth-based carrier will credit the difference when switching to less expensive flights.

As Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group, quipped, American effectively told United: “I’ll see you, and I’ll raise you.” On the other hand, Delta’s no-change-fee announcement felt hurried and was missing some of these key details, including whether award tickets are included and what happens when switching to a cheaper flight.

Now that United had time to evaluate the policies of its network competitors, I’m not surprised to see the carrier add more international destinations to the waiver. In the hyper-competitive airline industry, “it’s often a zero-sum game,” Harteveldt told TPG. It remains to be seen whether United will relent and offer credits for less expensive flights.

Related: The wild 48-hour timeline that led to airlines permanently eliminating change fees

Harteveldt explained that eliminating change-fees on long-haul international flights is much harder because the airlines need their partners to agree. That same logic is likely why UA isn’t adding Canada to the list of destinations without change fees.

Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

United has a transborder joint venture partnership with Air Canada. As such, the airlines would need to agree to the no-change-fee terms for all codeshare flights, something Air Canada may not be excited about.

Only time will tell what other improvements United (and the other carriers) make to their no-change-fee policies. One thing’s for sure, though. If Delta announces even more generous terms to its no-change-fee policy, expect both American and United to match, or at least revise their policies once again.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.