United Airlines Already Forced To Improve Its “No Change Fees” Policy

a large white airplane parked on a tarmac

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United Airlines was the first of the major US airlines to announce that it would be eliminating change fees for most fares booked for travel within the United States, to/from Puerto Rico and to/from the US Virgin Islands but Delta and American Airlines quickly followed with their own announcements and, in American’s case, its announcement went further than United’s and now United has been forced to play catch-up.

United’s Original Change Fee Announcement

United’s original change fee announcement confirmed that it had permanently eliminated change fees on all standard Economy and Premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S. 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Basic Economy fares would still be subject to change fees and all other routes that United Airlines operates would also continue to see change fees charged.

What American Airlines Announced

Less than 48 hours after United Airlines had trumpeted its new customer-friendly policy, American Airlines joined in with its own announcement in which it confirmed that it had eliminated change fees for First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy, and standard Main Cabin tickets for all domestic and short-haul international routes. The airline went on to confirm that this change relates to flights to/from/within the following:

  • Any of the 50 U.S. states
  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Caribbean
  • Puerto Rico
  • U.S. Virgin Islands

United Airlines may have been the first airline to announce the elimination of change fees but American improved on that announcement by including routes to/from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean in the list of routes on which change fees are no longer charged (Basic Economy fares will still be charged change fees).

United’s Response

While there has been no official announcement of any further changes from United Airlines, its change fee page now has the following wording:

“We’re excited to announce a major change that’ll give you more flexibility when you fly with us. We’re permanently getting rid of change fees for most Economy and premium cabin tickets for flights within the U.S., or between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean.”

Flights to/from Mexico and the Caribbean have been added (for some reason flights to/from Canada will apparently still incur change fees) but you can see that this was a rushed decision because the very next paragraph on the United Airlines page says this:

a screenshot of a website

There’s no mention of Mexico or the Caribbean.

United Still Needs To Do More

While it’s commendable that United’s leadership has had the courage to effectively admit that its original announcement didn’t go far enough by quickly pushing through this welcome change, a key aspect of how United handles trip changes is still heavily weighted against the consumer.

While American Airlines allows customers to used any credits they are issued with (when they choose to cancel a trip) on multiple bookings, United still insists that any credits issued have to be used on a single booking. When the second booking is more expensive than the first this isn’t an issue, but when a traveler reschedules a trip and the new booking doesn’t use up the full value of the travel credit, United gets to keep the balance.

As long as this remains the case, United’s Change fee policy will remain one that lags American’s and Delta’s.

Bottom Line

United Airlines has moved to include its flights to/from Mexico and the Caribbean in the list of routes on which it is eliminating change fees for most face classes. As good as this news is, it continues to be disappointing that the airline will still charge change fees on flights to/from Canada and that it will continue to apply a “use it in one go or lose it” policy to the travel credits it issues. Still, overall things are getting better so things are looking up for the consumer.