The gravy train of unlimited free changes may soon be over for the cheapest airline tickets, with flexibility for basic economy tickets set to expire at the end of the month for American, Delta, and United Airlines travelers.
Restrictions May Return To Basic Economy Tickets On April 1st
Effective April 1st on the “Big 3” U.S. legacy carriers, domestic basic economy class tickets will no longer carry the flexility they do now. Currently, unlimited changes can be made on these type of tickets with no fee: you just pay any additional fare, if applicable (and on American and Delta, if the new fare is cheaper, you receive a voucher for the difference).
We’ve seen these deadlines in the past. And every time, over the last year, we’ve seen last-minute extensions to the policy. But I’m not counting on an extension this time around. Why not? Because flights are filling up, domestic demand is back, and spring break and the summer travel seasons are upon us.
It’s a fairly easy call to allow ticket flexility when flights are empty. But I flew to Miami last week on American Airlines and both my outbound and inbound flights were full, as in every set taken.
At the last minute, I thought about doing a round-trip inaugural Los Angeles – New York Kennedy – Los Angeles yesterday to celebrate the new service. But by the time I got around to looking at fares, the return flight was virtually sold out and went yesterday evening out with every seat occupied. This on a brand new route…
My own experiences are hardly unique.
Delta will continue to block seats through at least April 30th, which further diminishes supply.
And so we’re left with wondering whether airlines will decide, in the next couple days, to extend the waiver on basic economy tickets or simply start making these tickets “use it or lose it” once again.
My bet: goodbye to flexility on these tickets.
Tip: tickets purchased before April 1st will continue to be flexible, even after April 1st.
I’ll hedge my bet with one caveat. I trust that with continued vaccinations and smart hygiene, we will avoid a third wave in this country and a fresh round of state-level shutdowns. Should we regress and case numbers spike again, then expect to see more flexibility.
But at this point, even if airlines give consumers one more month, we’re nearing the end of the period in which free changes on basic economy tickets will remain.
That may give you just three more days to book basic economy tickets that will be flexible.
image: American Airlines