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