August 12, 2023

American, United, Delta Drops Change Fees to Benefits Basic Economy Flyers

During the past few years, airlines have copied each other’s flyer-unfriendly policies in what seemed like a race to the bottom. With airline demand now a fraction of what it once was, we are seeing the reverse.

United’s elimination of change fees and standby fees was quickly copied by Delta and American. In addition to matching United’s policy, American took the policy change a step further. As airlines attempt to woo travelers back to the skies, we will probably see more of this.

The three major full-service U.S. carriers have now dropped change fees for most domestic flights.

A U.S. airline traveler’s experience drastically improved over a period of about 24 hours. When United Airlines announced it was eliminating change and same-day standby fees for all travelers, the travel community was shocked. Moreover, Delta and American Airlines announced new standby and change fees the next day.

Although all three airlines are eliminating change fees and standby fees, the details vary. Flyer-friendly policies are clearly adopted by American Airlines. The new American change fee policy is the broadest and most generous, and it removed restrictions and added elite benefits to basic economy fares.

The following information will help you understand all of these changes.

It’s hard to find a better change fee policy than American’s

In effect immediately, American Airlines will waive change fees on domestic and short-haul international routes. Except for basic economy fares, the new policy applies to all types of tickets. Even if you pay a fee, you won’t be able to change basic economy tickets within North America.

American’s policy covers the largest geographical area of the three new change fee policies. There will be no change fees on flights within the U.S. or between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Delta’s and United’s new change fee policies do not cover Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean.

In addition, American’s policy stands out when it comes to finding a cheaper fare. Let’s say you booked a $400 flight but then found a new flight for $250. With American’s new policy, you can change your flight and get a $150 voucher for future travel.

Meanwhile, United’s new change fee waiver policy allows travelers to change to a cheaper flight at no cost, but they will not receive a credit for the difference in price. Delta’s policy on changing to a cheaper flight was not included in its announcement. A Delta spokesperson confirmed to NerdWallet that the details are still being worked out.

New change fee waiver policyAmericanDeltaUnited
Regions coveredAny of the 50 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin IslandsDomestic U.S., Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin IslandsContinental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands
Get a voucher when changing to a cheaper flight?YesUnclear at this timeNo
Change fees waived on basic economy fares?Only for flights booked through Dec. 31, 2020Only for flights booked through Dec. 31, 2020Only for flights booked through Dec. 31, 2020

Award flights

The new American change fee policy also applies to award flights. For travel booked on AAdvantage miles within the U.S. and short-haul international flights between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Also, AAdvantage members can cancel award flights without fees through Dec. 31, 2020, so they won’t be charged an award reinstatement fee if they don’t fly. Previously, $150 was charged for award flight changes and cancellations.

Standby for free on all routes

Beginning Oct. 1, 2020, all American Airlines travelers will be able to standby for free. It does not matter what route, what type of ticket is purchased, or who the traveler is. Only one restriction applies: the flight must be on the same day and to the same location.

Same-day standby is currently only available to elite members flying certain routes. Non-elite members will still need to pay $75 to standby for an earlier flight before Oct. 1, 2020, and will not be able to standby for a later flight.

Improvements to the basic economy

Airlines sell basic economy tickets as the most restrictive type of ticket. Currently, American Airlines’ basic economy program does not allow travelers to purchase upgrades or make any changes, whether they are traveling within the U.S., Canada, Central America, Mexico, or the Caribbean. In addition, basic economy travelers board in Group 9, the last boarding group.

Reduced basic economy restrictions

These hardline restrictions are now being relaxed. Basic economy tickets purchased on or after Oct. 1, 2020, will allow passengers to purchase:

  • Upgrades.
  • Priority boarding.
  • Preferred or Main Cabin Extra seating.
  • Same-day confirmed flight changes.

Through this policy change, travelers can choose what’s most important to them. For example, you might not be able to risk gate-checking your bag despite adhering to the other basic economy restrictions. When you purchase a basic economy ticket, you can add priority boarding to ensure there is enough overhead space.

Elite benefits on basic economy fares

You’ll soon be able to take advantage of your elite benefits on all American Airlines fares. At present, elite members who book basic economy fares don’t receive many of the key benefits of elite status. Elite members cannot apply their same-day standby or change benefits to basic economy fares, seat selection costs extra, and upgrades are unavailable for basic economy fares.

But, that’s all about to change. Members of AAdvantage will soon be able to use all of their elite status benefits on basic economy tickets. The following are included:

  • Upgrading privileges.
  • Elite seat privileges (e.g. choosing Main Cabin Extra seats).
  • Same-day confirmed change benefits.

There is no clear indication of when this change will take place. This change will take effect “later this fall,” according to American’s announcement.

No more elite earnings on basic economy fares

The good news, however, comes with a nugget of bad news. As of Jan. 1, 2021, basic economy fares will no longer qualify travelers for elite status. On basic economy fares in 2021 and beyond, you won’t earn elite qualifying miles (EQM), elite qualifying dollars (EQD), or elite qualifying segments (EQS).

As a result, while elite members will not need to upgrade to Main Cabin to get elite benefits, you may want to do so in order to requalify for elite status.

American Drops Change Fees, to Enhances Basic Economy
American Drops Change Fees, to Enhances Basic Economy
American Drops Change Fees, to Enhances Basic Economy
American Drops Change Fees, to Enhances Basic Economy
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