United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are joining American and Alaska in permanently eliminating costly change fees on international flights.
The new policies, announced Wednesday, will be a boon for travelers who need to change their plans after airlines’ flexible pandemic travel waivers go away – traditional change fees on international tickets were as high as $500 per person on some routes.
But, as with major airlines’ elimination of change fees on U.S. flights in August, there is a major catch.
Basic-economy tickets, airlines’ cheapest fares, will remain nonrefundable and nonchangeable. And for all tickets, fare differences apply. So if you need to make a last-minute change to that cheap round-trip ticket you nabbed from New York to London, you’ll be on the hook for the current ticket price, minus the price you paid.
Airlines have made all tickets, including basic-economy tickets, flexible throughout the pandemic, but those are temporary policies. Airlines say the change fee elimination is permanent.
Delta was thinking about a change in change fees even before the coronavirus pandemic. In a January interview with USA TODAY, CEO Ed Bastian said: “When you think about our fee structure, I think there’s fees in there, and change fees are part of that, that people feel are punitive.”
Ticket change fees, like bag fees and seat-selection fees, have become big business for airlines. U.S. airlines collected $2.8 billion in change fees in 2019, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Through the first nine months of 2020, they collected $799.7 million, compared with $2.1 billion in the same period in 2019 given the waiving of change fees and fewer travelers.
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