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United Ends Change Fees for Most Tickets, Ending $625 Million Business

United Ends Change Fees for Most Tickets, Ending $625 Million Business
Joe Cortez

United Airlines says they will become the second major airline in the United States to drop change fees for their tickets. In an announcement late Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, the Chicago-based carrier announced ending change fees for all standard Economy and Premium cabin tickets.

Flyers aboard United Airlines will no longer have to pay change fees if they are forced to move their flights – if they are holding the right type of ticket. In an announcement issued late on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020, the airline announced they would immediately and permanently abolish change fees “on all standard Economy and Premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S.”  

New Standard: United Abolishes Most Change Fees, Introduces Free Standby Changes

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, United issued a number of temporary policies which would allow flyers to change flights without penalty if they booked tickets this year. Their latest waivers allowed for fee-free changes to flights booked after Mar. 3, 2020, for travel through the end of the year.

But with the new policy, the airline is abolishing waivers and ending the practice of charging $200 per change for many booked tickets, on top of any difference in airfare. In making the move, the airline is giving up as much as $625 million in change fees annually.

On top of ending the policy on change fees, United is adding additional flexibility for flyers who want to make same-day changes. Starting on Jan. 1, 2021, the airline will allow all ticketed flyers to opt to fly standby for free on a flight departing the day of their travel to their final destination.

For United MileagePlus Premier elite flyers, they will be able to make same-day changes without the need to standby. Elites of all levels will be able to confirm their seat on a different flight going to their final destination if a seat in their booked fare class is available.

Although the move is universally good for flyers, it also comes with some limitations. The new policy only applies to flights within the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii), Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. International flights, including to the U.S. territory of Guam (where United has a hub) are excluded. In addition, the policy does not apply to flights booked in Basic Economy. For flyers in the lowest cabin class, the $200 change fee will apply after Jan. 1, 2021.

Additionally, the new policy does not equate to refunds when flyers change their minds about traveling, or book a lower-cost flight. If a flyer decides to change their plans and book an airfare at a lower price, the airline will not refund the difference. In addition, the policy does not address what will happen to the flyer’s balance if a flight is cancelled by the airline. In the August 2020 Air Travel Consumer Report, United was hit with over 3,000 flyer complaints over their refund policy.

“New” United Policy Similar to Current Southwest Policy

“Change is inevitable these days – but it’s how we respond to it that matters most,” United president Scott Kirby said in a recorded message to flyers. “Following previous tough times, airlines made difficult decisions to survive, sometimes at the expense of customer service. United Airlines won’t be following that same playbook as we come out of this crisis. Instead, we’re taking a completely different approach – and looking at new ways to serve our customers better.”

While the policy is new for United, and they will be credited as the first among the legacy carriers to end portions of their change fee policy, their policy is similar to that of Southwest Airlines. The Dallas-based carrier allows flyers to change their flights without any penalties. Much line United, Southwest does not allow refunds on most tickets, but instead allows the balance to be applied to future airfare.

What’s your take on United’s new “No Change Fee” policy? Make your voice heard on the FlyerTalk forums!

View Comments (3)

3 Comments

  1. Teton Cowgirl

    September 1, 2020 at 8:13 am

    I don’t understand what “forced to change their flight” means? I travel JAC to ATL twice a year for a medical visit. If the doctor’s office calls me to change my appt to another day, does that count for a “No Change Fee?” This is not hypothetical, it happens.

  2. MRM

    September 2, 2020 at 9:12 am

    Teton: Yes, changing your flight to a different day that’s initiated by the customer normally constituted a change fee.

    The change fees went from being a small nuisance (but acceptable) to a greedy free-for-all in which they sometimes out-priced popular flight segments. Add to that luggage fees and other nickel and dime fees (of mostly made-up names if you look at the details of your ticket), and some people were paying at least a 50% increase (50% of the flight fare) to the ticket. That’s obscene – and even then didn’t include luggage fees. So I have zero sympathy for the industry in which a $300 fare becomes $450 or more just because of fees and taxes.

  3. DMIND00

    September 4, 2020 at 7:44 am

    The change fee for tickets has been outrageous. It was pure profit. Not to mention airlines basically give every economy seat it’s own fare class. The person next to you could and probably is paying a different fare. Buyer or changer beware. When you would go to use that ticket later for changing you probably will have to pay an add on fare because the price you paid originally will no longer be available. So they will still end up making more money off of you. It may look good on the surface. What they should be doing is going you a voucher that wold be good for the same trip so you indeed would not incur any additional costs. Traveling is not what it used to be. Personally I really do not enjoy air travel like I did in the past. This all started around 9/11 when all these fees first started to appear. Even for the most loyal travelers, the nickel and dime you. Unlike other businesses that the more you patronize the better they treat you. It has been stated that the more tied in and the higher you get within the airlines frequent flyer programs the less they do for you as they believe you are hooked on them. The fear of even being able to change a ticket now for free is the fact that the available fare price for the changed date will be higher. I DO NOT TRUST THE AIRLINES AND I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE. This is why air travel has stayed so low during this time. The airlines just do not get it. Treat your customers fairly.

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