United Airlines Is Eliminating Select Change Fees Permanently

a plane flying in the sky

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With the travel industry in a state of crisis, airlines are being forced to try and find new ways to persuade travelers to choose them over their competitors. So far we’ve mainly seen airlines playing the “who’s aircraft are cleanest” game with airlines sometimes appearing to claim that they’ve found a new and better way to sterilize an aircraft every week. Now, however, we’ve seen United Airlines fire the first new salvo for a while – the airline claims it’s elimination change fees permanently.

Before anyone gets too excited, I should point out that while United’s eye-catching headline could be taken to mean that change fees are going away altogether, that’s not actually the case. Change fees are only being eliminated on standard Economy and Premium cabin tickets for travel within the United States, to/from Puerto Rico, and to/from the Virgin Islands. Change fees will continue to apply for Basic Economy bookings and for all international flights.

While United isn’t placing a limit on the number of times that a customer can change their booking without incurring a change fee, a few very important things still need to be kept in mind:

  1. The elimination of change fees doesn’t eliminate the need for a customer to pay any difference in fare that may arise when they change their booking to an alternative date.
  2. United isn’t making non-refundable tickets refundable. Customers can cancel their booking without incurring a fee but they’ll only be able to use the value of that booking towards future travel.
  3. All travel still has to be complete within one year of the original booking being made.
  4. A customer choosing to cancel a booking has to use up the full value of that booking when they come to rebook or they forfeit any difference as United will not let the value of a canceled booking be spread over multiple bookings. In practice, what this means is that if a customer cancels a $500 booking and then chooses to book an itinerary costing $400, the customer loses the $100 difference.

When it comes to MileagePlus awards, this is what United has had to say:

The carrier is also improving the travel experience for its MileagePlus members including waiving all redeposit fees on award travel for flights changed or cancelled more than 30 days before departure and allowing all MileagePlus Premier members to confirm a different flight on the day of their travel. As a way to thank MileagePlus Premier members for their loyalty, beginning January 1, 2021, all Premier members will be able to confirm a seat for free on a different flight with the same departure and arrival cities as their original ticket. This expanded option will allow MileagePlus Silver members and above to confirm a new seat in the same ticket fare class if space is available.

In a further development, from 1 January 2021, United Airlines is also eliminating standby fees. United Airlines customers will be able to fly standby for free on a flight departing the day of their travel regardless of the type of ticket or class of service. All MileagePlus members will be allowed to confirm a seat on a different flight on the same day with the same departure and arrival cities as their original ticket if a seat in the same ticket fare class is available.

Quick Thoughts

While I’m not altogether surprised to see a US airline removing some of its fees in an attempt to win over customers, I’m surprised to see that it’s United leading the way and I’m surprised to see United trumpeting these positive changes as being “permanent”. Normally Delta leads the way with moves like these and I don’t remember the last time an airline made a change in favor of its customers that it didn’t accompany with wording that allows it to reverse the decision whenever it wants to.

Still, these changes are a big positive for flyers and, as I’ll discuss in further posts coming today, this move from United has forced both Delta and American Airlines to follow suit and, in one of those airlines’ cases, go a little further still.

The news would have been bigger had United announced that it was removing change fees from all of its routes (the fees charged on international routes are often far higher than those charged domestically) but this is clearly a step in the right direction and the added flexibility being brought in for award bookings is very good news too.

Bottom Line

With immediate effect, United Airlines will no longer charge change fees on most domestic bookings and from 1 January 2020, the airline will be removing standby fees for domestic bookings too.


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