The beginning of the end of airline change fees? United is ditching them for good – with a major catch

Changing a nonrefundable airline ticket has long been a pricey exercise on most airlines. 

Need to move your dates or times or even destination? Fork over at least $200 per person, on top of any fare difference between the new trip and the original ticket. 

Airlines have been waiving the onerous fees for months as the coronavirus pandemic has caused a flood of trip cancellations.

On Sunday, one major airline become the first to say change fees are gone for good, with a couple catches. (Southwest Airlines has never charged change fees.)

United Airlines is eliminating ticket change fees on domestic flights, effective immediately. They are already waived at least through the end of the year due to the pandemic.

“When we hear from customers about where we can improve, getting rid of fees is often the top request,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement. “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.”

The airline also announced that, beginning in January, it will allow travelers without top-tier status in the airline’s frequent flier program to stand by for a different domestic or international flight on their day of travel without paying a $75 fee.

The new no-change-fee policy applies to travelers with standard economy and premium cabin tickets for travel within the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Passengers must still pay any fare difference.

The use of the words standard economy is deliberate. United’s new policy will not apply to its no-frills basic economy tickets, generally the cheapest tickets. No changes have ever been allowed with those tickets, even by paying a change fee, though United has waived that policy, too, during the pandemic.

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