Going home a day early: A successful use of United’s no change fee policy

Nov 12, 2021

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.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with new information.

All it took was $3.97 to fly home a day early.

A recent trip on United reminded me just how important it is to take full advantage of U.S. airlines’ no change fee policies, a pandemic-era development that seems set to stick around.

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

As TPG’s newest reporter, I had been spending the week meeting some of the team in our New York office and was supposed to return home to Houston on Friday. But my plans changed: A check of the weather forecast for Friday spooked me, and I immediately got the sense that my Friday afternoon flight would be severely delayed or even canceled.

I simply went on the United app and found several free or inexpensive options for an alternate flight. I chose inexpensive: a whopping $3.97. I paid for it with my United Explorer Card, which will earn me 8 MileagePlus miles (enough for, well, not much of anything). Soon after, I was on my way to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) a day early. As a MileagePlus Premier 1K member, I was even able to select one of the best Economy Plus seats on United’s 737-800s for free: 7F, a bulkhead that features under-seat storage.

United stunned the industry in August 2020 when it announced it was permanently eliminating change fees for domestic and close-in international destinations on non-Basic Economy tickets, and its competitors quickly matched the policy with certain variations. Before this development, the change I made would have cost $203.97, including a $200 change fee. The change was a customer-friendly move that eliminated an important segmentation device (the change fee) that often provided the airline’s lucrative business customers incentive to purchase a more expensive, flexible fare.

Another option for changes is United’s same-day change (SDC) policy, which becomes available 24 hours before your original flight is scheduled to depart. A confirmed change is free for MileagePlus Premier members, and $75 for everyone else, while standby options are available at no charge. Had I waited for the SDC window to open for my original Friday flight time, however, I would not have made it to EWR in time for the Thursday flight I ended up taking.

More: A comprehensive guide to United Airlines’ new same-day flight change policy

While a fare difference could be quite high, making a change not worth it, it’s important to always check your flight change options to see what’s available. With airline pricing and availability being highly dynamic, persistence could very well lead to a positive outcome like I had.

Featured photo by Ethan Klapper/The Points Guy.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

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 after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • 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 up to 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 in the U.S., 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 $80 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 PreCheck® after you apply through any Authorized Enrollment Provider. If approved for Global Entry, at no additional charge, you will receive access to TSA PreCheck.
  • 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
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
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.