Airlines’ New Operating Mode: Flexible

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and government-imposed restrictions on travel, many airlines are relaxing their ticket-change policies and allowing travelers to rebook without a penalty anywhere from a few to 12 months out.

The only domestic airline that doesn’t routinely charge fees for flight changes, Southwest Airlines, went a step beyond, extending the normal year that passengers have to use their credits to June 30, 2021.

Whether they follow Southwest’s lead or not, American airlines are bending where normally they are rigid on fees, which can run into the hundreds of dollars.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” said Seth Kaplan, an airline expert and co-founder of the newsletter Airline Weekly. “Airlines that are famously inflexible are being very flexible right now.”

Most of the allowances result in credits toward future flights, rather than direct refunds. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, passengers are entitled to a refund if the airline makes a significant schedule change, though some airlines, including JetBlue and United, are making it harder to get refunds on the flights they are canceling in the wake of the pandemic.

“If you have a flight in a month that you know you’re not going to take, there’s no benefit to canceling early,” Mr. Kaplan said, who advises waiting until a few days out to see if any cancellation triggers a refund.

To manage the call volumes, many carriers are asking passengers who seek to make changes to call only within 48 to 72 hours of their flight.

The following are the policies of the largest airlines in the United States with regard to nonrefundable fares. Links to many international carriers can be found at’s new travel help page.

Change policy: Broadly speaking, the airline is waiving cancellation fees for travel through May 31 and issuing credits for future travel. When you booked the trip determines how long you have to use that credit.

Change policy: Allegiant, which only flies domestically, is allowing one-time changes or cancellations without penalty in exchange for a voucher for future travel. It has not set limits on travel dates and is currently honoring all requests for changes without imposing fees.

Change policy: For flights purchased before March 1 for travel through May 31, travelers can rebook without change fees. If you booked in the month of March for travel through February 2021, you can also change your reservation without penalty. American will refund a nonrefundable ticket if it cancels a flight and the schedule change is 61 minutes or more, and has been offering some passengers a cash premium to take the credit rather than the refund.

Change policy: Travelers who purchased a ticket in March can cancel and adjust travel as many times as they would like without a change fee for a year from the purchase date. The value of the ticket becomes a credit that may be applied to a future booking for an entire year from the date purchased. Change fees don’t apply to all other domestic flights in March or April. If you rebook to the same destination for travel departing before April 30, no fare difference will be applied. For international travel, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, all change fees are waived for flights through May 30.

Change policy: Through March 31, anyone with a ticket on Frontier for travel between March 10 and April 30 can cancel for full credit and rebook without a penalty within 90 days for any future travel date.

Caveat: Act soon. Standard change fees — which range from $49 to $119 — will apply beginning April 1.

Change policy: Generally, the airline is waiving cancellations for travel through May 31 and issuing credits for future travel. When you booked the trip determines how long you have to use that credit.

Change policy: For customers scheduled to fly through May 31, JetBlue is waiving change fees and issuing credits for travel through Oct. 24. For any new bookings made between March 6 and 31, the airline is waiving change fees for travel through Sept. 8.

Caveat: According to the travel blog View from the Wing, JetBlue is offering credits rather than refunds in the event it cancels a flight. JetBlue did not respond to a confirmation request.

Ticket changes: Southwest has always allowed penalty-free flight changes and cancellations. Now, the airline has extended its rebooking window. If fliers decide not to travel on flights scheduled between March 1 and May 31, they will receive a credit and can rebook travel until June 30, 2021.

Ticket changes: If passengers wish to change because of coronavirus concerns, the low-cost carrier is issuing credits that are good for up to six months on any future flight.

Caveat: The airline hasn’t specified the grace period for flight cancellations and requires customers to use an online form or communicate through WhatsApp, making the policy opaque. Spirit did not respond to a request for clarification.

Ticket changes: If you bought a ticket between March 3 and 31, you can change it without a charge for a future date up to a year out, or use the value to purchase a ticket to a new destination. Change fees are also waived for tickets purchased before March 3 for travel through May 31 and rebooked no later than Dec. 31, or 12 months from the original purchase date, whichever is earlier.

Caveat: If United cancels a flight and can’t rebook a passenger within six hours of the original scheduled flight, it will offer a credit good for 12 months from the original purchase date or a refund that will only be paid out after that 12-month period.

Source link