American and United quickly matched Delta’s decision to further loosen its change fee waiver, a move that was long overdue, but nevertheless better late than never.
Up until this point, the “Big 3” U.S. airlines have used change fee waivers as a means to boost revenue. The hope was that by suspending change fees, consumers would book now rather than wait, knowing they would only pay a difference in fare if their travel plans changed.
But there was some strange logic at play, as airlines tried to spin this as a compassionate response to the coronavirus. If this was about COVID-19, then why were the only tickets eligible for a change fee waiver those purchased on or after March 1st? As one commenter said, why wave a change fee for tickets purchased during a known bad time… and NOT for tickets purchased before it was known to be bad?
Delta finally understood this odd paradox yesterday, loosening its change fee waiver to cover all previously tickets for travel between March 1 and April 30, 2020. By midnight, American and United matched.
Delta Air Lines Waives Change Fees On Tickets Booked Prior To March 1st
If you are traveling through April 30th on Delta on any flight, domestic or international, you can change your ticket without fee, even if issued months ago. You will pay any difference in fare. New tickets must be issued on or before December 31, 2020 and new travel must begin on or before that date as well, making the Delta waiver less generous than United and American.
United Airlines Waives Change Fees On Tickets Booked Prior To March 3rd
United Airlines originally instituted a change fee waiver on tickets booked on or after March 3rd. Its expanded waiver covers previously booked tickets for travel through April 30th. If your travel plans change, you will be able to rebook your ticket by December 31st for travel up to one year from date of ticket issue:
Given the high level of uncertainly regarding travel because of the coronavirus, we are working to give customers more flexibility. We are now waiving change fees on all tickets issued on or before March 2 – domestic or international – for travel March 9 through April 30.
American Airlines Waives Change Fees On Tickets Booked Prior To March 1st
American Airlines was the last to extend the waiver, following Delta and later United to offer a change fee to tickets booked prior to March 1st. Unlike its broader change fee waiver for tickets booked on or after March 1st, the extended waiver is only available for those set to travel now through April 30th:
American has extended its offer to waive change fees for customers who purchased tickets prior to March 1 for travel through April 30. The offer is available for any of American’s fares and customers have until December 31 to rebook travel for future flights.
I’m not going to laud the airlines for doing something they should have done from the very beginning, but this is a positive development. If you are looking for a refund, you are out of luck unless you were traveling to China or Italy or find your specific flight delayed or cancelled. But this additional flexibility should help to ease some coronavirus tensions as many recalibrate travel plans in the face of uncertainty.