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Nearly a month ago, I wrote about United Airlines being the first US legacy carrier to eliminate change fees (original post below).
At that time, the announcement noted the policy update applied to itineraries within the US, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands.
Delta then matched those destinations, but American added all of the Caribbean and Mexico (in addition to itineraries within the US, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands).
Well, United has just confirmed that they will include all of the Caribbean and Mexico in their change fee elimination update.
And this doesn’t just apply to revenue (cash) fares. It applies to MileagePlus award tickets to these destinations as well.
Currently the travel industry is experiencing some rough times (to say that least). However, if you’re searching for “positive” travel news, look no further than United Airlines.
UNITED MAKES BIG TIME CHANGES
Yesterday, United Airlines announced they are eliminating change fees on tickets permanently and it is effective immediately. Understandably, this is a big announcement so they announced it everywhere…including a press release, Instagram, Twitter, and even sent me an email…
If you’re not familiar with change fees, airlines tack on an additional (impractical) fee that provides no additional good or service if you need to change your flight for any reason. United’s fee was $200 per ticket. This fee would be in addition to the difference in fare you would also have to pay. If you’ve been in the unfortunate position of changing a ticket, you understand how traumatic and expensive it can be.
Nonetheless, there are some restrictions:
- This change only applies to standard economy, premium economy, business class, and first class tickets. Note: Basic Economy is excluded
- The change only applies to itineraries within the US, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands
- United is also extending its waiver for new tickets (issued through 31 December 2020), to permit unlimited changes with no fee for all ticket types, domestic and international, issued after 3 March 2020
A NET POSITIVE…MAYBE!
If you’ve been involved in the points and miles circle for any length of time, you may be skeptical about this announcement. Generally, whenever there is a “positive” announcement, the other shoe is about to drop.
It’s also worth noting that Southwest Airlines has been the only US airline that does NOT charge any kind of change fee. And though this is a consumer friendly announcement for those that are flying on United, this isn’t a novel concept. Southwest has been doing this for years.
But here’s the biggest catch…just because there are no change fees doesn’t mean anyone is getting refund. For example, if you purchase a $500 ticket, change your ticket to a later date, and then use the $500 credit/voucher to purchase a $100 ticket, you’ve lost $400 and have no claim for the residual funds.
MORE GOOD NEWS
There is some additional good news. Not only is United eliminating the change fee but they are also eliminating standby fees.
Per the announcement:
And starting on January 1, 2021, any United customer can fly standby for free on a flight departing the day of their travel regardless of the type of ticket or class of service, a first among U.S. carriers, while MileagePlus Premier members can 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.
This fee always rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s say that you were flying from City X to City Y and at 2pm. You arrived at the airport at 11am and noticed there was a flight departing at noon on the same route, United would charge you $75 to standby even if the flight was completely empty.
MY PRELIMINARY THOUGHTS
On the surface, this is a positive change. However, I have a theory about this change and the next steps for United.
First, United has made A LOT of non-customer-friendly changes lately (i.e. changing the definition of “cancelled”, removing award charts, secretly increasing award prices for partners, etc.), however, coronavirus has changed the landscape.
Generally, Delta is the carrier that makes industry leading changes and other airlines follow. In this case, I think United is attempting to save face with customers in becoming “the first” airline to eliminate change fees during a time when customers are asking for flexibility. *insert eye roll*
Understanding the change does not apply to basic economy, I believe this change is just the first step in United increasing the price difference between basic economy and regular economy, and ultimately touting main cabin as extremely flexible for changes. This equation will also increase revenue for the airline given the prices have increased for regular economy and customers are paying for the additional flexibility.
United is eliminating change and standby fees for domestic itineraries, which is great for consumers. But I don’t applaud United for eliminating something that fleeces their customers and has been the standard for Southwest Airlines for years.
Additionally, there was no mention of change fees for international itineraries. Arguably, that could be even more costly given that international tickets cost more than domestic tickets.
I don’t fault United, it’s business, strategic and great for all of us.
What do you think about this announcement from United Airlines? Do you think other airlines will follow United Airlines’ lead?