Thinking about United’s Super Bowl ad emphasizing the elimination of change fees on most tickets made me realize how the lack of change fees has fundamentally changed the way I book air travel.
No Change Fees Have Changed The Way I Book Air Travel And Saved Me A Lot Of Stress
Southwest Airlines, of course, never had change fees, but I am not a Southwest flyer. I primarily fly United Airlines, but also fly on Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and JetBlue Airways.
Over the years, change fees crept up from $25 to as much as $200 one-way on domestic trips and $400 on international trips. Those punitive fees, which in no way expressed actual cost for the airline, forced me to carefully plan travel and stick to my plans. Booking a $300 one-way ticket and then paying $200 to change the date made no sense. I only booked travel when my plans truly firmed up.
But then in 2020 United Airlines decided to eliminate change fees “permanently” on domestic flights. Others followed and Delta went even further by eliminating them on international flights originating in the USA, forcing United to match. While “basic economy” tickets and also some tickets originating outside the USA still carry change fees, it is fairly easy to avoid those tickets by booking into a slightly more expensive fare class. I find the savings of booking a basic economy ticket are never worth giving up the flexibility (and the ability to upgrade).
United shares that since it eliminated change fees, 10 million customers have changed their flights without paying:
- 3.6 million people switched the time of day of their flight
- 1.8 million people extended their trip
- 1.5 million people chose to fly to or from a different airport
- 300,000 people changed from a domestic flight to an international one, or vice-versa
Same-day changes were part of the equation before the 2020 policy change, as a United Premier (frequent) flyer, I might not have changed travel dates, but within a 24-hour period around my flight, I could confirm onto an earlier or later flight, subject to availability. That was helpful and still is. Now all passengers can standby for an earlier flight at no cost (it used to be $75).
What has changed for me is my willingness to book immediately if I am even considering a trip. I spend a lot of money on United each year and now if I am, for example, considering a flight to Washington, DC I’ll just book it immediately, knowing that if I cancel I will have the full credit to apply toward future travel.
I do change plans and I appreciate that the United app or united.com (and the same is true for other carriers) makes it easy to rebook. It actually drives loyalty and also saves me time, because my planning no longer needs to be as scrupulous to avoid unnecessary change fees.
So I save time and airlines like United gain more revenue because I am much less reluctant to book. It’s a win-win formula: it is why Southwest has always been this way. For any change fee revenue airlines may have given up, I feel confident they have gained it back (and more) on prospective bookings that would have been too risky in the past.
A lack of change fees truly has changed the way I book air travel and led to a whole lot more bookings, since I know that if my plans change I will not lose money through punitive change fees. This approach also saves me a lot of time and I suspect it saves airlines a lot of time too in terms of customers trying to wiggle out of these fees.
Has the lack of change fees fundamentally changed the way you book air travel?