Hoping to find a way to stimulate domestic air travel during the COVID19 pandemic, United Airlines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines have announced the permanent elimination of change fees for most domestic tickets. The four carriers have apparently caught on that Southwest Airlines, which has never charged change fees, clearly knows that the policy does stimulate bookings. With leisure travelers expected to return to the skies well ahead of business fliers, the move is clearly directed at the discretionary traveler. More mid-size airlines are sure to follow suit in order to remain competitive.
The removal of change fees from U.S. domestic flights takes effect immediately and includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Prior to the announcements from all three airlines, change fees of up to $200 were in place for most ticket classes. The only fares not impacted are the most inexpensive economy-class ones, such as Delta’s “basic economy” and Alaska’s “saver fare”. These bargain fares, upon purchase, does not allow for booking changes. While Delta’s basic economy is non-refundable, Alaska is permitting cancellations with a change to a higher fare with fewer restrictions.
Clearly, United, Delta, Alaska and American are hopeful that allowing for greater flexibility will encourage U.S. travelers to make future travel plans. The coronavirus pandemic virtually stopped air travel around the globe, and while the elimination of change fees might encourage potential air travelers to at least think about a getaway, the fact remains that COVID19 continues to be a major impediment to actually taking a vacation.
All airlines have drastically reduced flight capacity, and are slashing available seats even moreso during the typically sluggish fall travel season. Change fees for international and the lowest economy fare tickets are not being eliminated at this time, but change-fee waivers are already in place for recently purchased tickets in these fare categories.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has led the industry for many years by not charging change fees, so the move by the “big three” and Alaska brings them in-line with the already existing Southwest policy. However, Southwest’s lack of change fees applies to all fares, including the lowest domestic tickets, as well as international ones.
Without a doubt, the longer the coronavirus pandemic drags on, the more aggressive all airlines will get in order to put passengers in their now empty seats. Be on the lookout for lower fares and special deals such as companion fares in the not-too-distant future. With all airlines mentioned in this article offering service from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the deals are bound to be very attractive and plentiful.