Now that the Boeing 737 MAX has been “ungrounded” in the United States, airlines have the tall task of getting people to fly on it. All three U.S. operators have assured customers they have flexible options if they do not wish to fly on the 737 MAX. These options constitute an interesting opportunity for those looking to score incredibly flexible tickets at the cheapest prices.
All tickets are flexible right now…but there’s a difference between waiving change fees and waiving fare differences.
American Airlines 737 MAX Ticket Change Policy
American Airlines will not force customers to fly on the 737 MAX. Explaining the return to service, AA noted:
If a customer doesn’t want to fly on the 737 MAX, they won’t have to. Our customers will be able to easily identify whether they are traveling on one even if schedules change. If a customer prefers to not fly on this aircraft, we’ll provide flexibility to ensure they can be easily re-accommodated.
An American Airlines spokesperson confirmed this meant travelers could switch to another flight and avoid not only change fees, but changes in fare as long as the origin and destination remain the same.
Southwest Airlines 737 MAX Ticket Change Policy
Southwest promises immediate flexibility and will also waive fare differences, but will not say for how long:
Southwest’s goal is to provide transparency and flexibility to Customers when the 737 MAX 8 returns to service. The temporary policy flexibilities will include allowing Customers booked on a 737 MAX 8 to request a change to a flight on one of our 737-700 or 737-800 aircraft as they approach their departure date, subject to seat availability. There will be no fare difference charged so long as the new flight includes the same origin and destination cities. Please be aware the flight a Customer changes to may ultimately depart on a 737 MAX 8, as aircraft type always remains subject to change per Southwest’s Contract of Carriage.
If a Customer chooses not to travel, they also may request a full refund of refundable tickets back to the original form of payment. Nonrefundable tickets may be cancelled, and the funds will be converted to reusable travel funds for the originally ticketed Customer, in accordance with Southwest’s travel fund policies.
We will communicate specific details on policy flexibilities, including the duration, as we move closer to putting the MAX back into our schedule in 2021.
Note the “duration” implies this flexible policy will not be forever, though Southwest has never charged change fees. Do expect to pay for a difference in fare after a certain point, but not now.
United Airlines 737 MAX Ticket Change Policy
United Airlines has the most generous policy of the three U.S. 737 MAX operators. United will not only rebook you for free on another flight, but it will allow you to refund your ticket if turns out your flight will be operated by a 737 MAX.
If you do not wish to fly on a MAX aircraft, we will rebook you at no charge or refund your ticket. This includes domestic ticket changes, Basic Economy tickets and international tickets if you move from one of our MAX flights to one of our non-MAX United or United Express flights. If your original itinerary involved another carrier, we will attempt to rebook you on your original airline on a non-MAX flight as well.
When we begin to fly the MAX once again, you should feel completely confident that we have taken all the necessary steps to confirm that our 737 MAX aircraft are as safe as any of our aircraft flying today. Safety has been and always will be our top priority, and it’s something we will never compromise for any reason.
United will even attempt to rebook you on non-MAX flight if the flight is operated by a partner airline.
Why This Matters
Airlines are not collecting change fees for the remainder of this year and potentially not for several more years in an effort to entice customers to book prospectively. But airlines are still charging differences in fare.
Say you booked a 5:45am flight Los Angeles to Denver for $58 and want to change to the 12:00pm flight. You’ll no longer be hit with a change fee, but if the new flight is $200 you’ll need to pay up $142 to move to that flight.
Now let’s say you still wanted to travel at noon to Denver but noted the 5:45am cheap flight was operated by a 737 MAX. Hmm…suddenly there is no difference in fare.
United is even more generous…book a flight from Los Angeles to Denver on a 737 MAX and cancel it anytime for a refund if you don’t wish to travel. If you do wish to travel, just change it to a more convenient (and more expensive) time at no cost.
Make no mistake, I am not advocating for this sort of travel hacking. But I also see these sorts of policies as ripe for abuse and odd in the first place.
My personal belief is that the 737 MAX is safe and airlines should not offer these sort of loopholes, that encourage the very sort of exploitation I note above. I have decided to trust that U.S. and European regulators would not re-certify a plane that is at any greater risk of falling out of the sky than any other. As such, I’ll still avoid the 737 MAX for comfort reasons, but certainly not for safety reasons. But for some shewed travelers, the 737 MAX may not be the aircraft to avoid, but the aircraft to embrace…