United eliminates change fees for most international flights, but still more restrictive than big rivals

Dec 10, 2020

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Back in August, United Airlines made waves with the news that it would permanently eliminate change fees, giving customers the flexibility to book flights now and change their origin, destination and dates without the usual $200 fee.

Since then, American Airlines and Delta have relaxed their own change fee policies. American has permanently eliminated change fees for all international flights purchased in North and South America, while Delta’s expanded policy covers all travel originating in North America.

Both airline policies exclude basic economy tickets purchased beyond current waiver periods. However, with American Airlines, basic economy flyers can make free changes to tickets purchased by 31 December 2020, while Delta basic economy customers can take advantage of free changes on all tickets purchased by 30 March 2021.

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Now, United is effectively matching Delta’s latest move — change fees will no longer apply to all international tickets originating in the United States. And, as with Delta, basic economy tickets purchased through 31 March 2021 will be eligible for free changes as well. As the airline explains:

Recognizing that flexibility is more important to our customers than ever, United was the first legacy airline to announce it would permanently eliminate change fees – a policy that included Basic Economy and International tickets booked through the end of this year. Today, we’re pleased to announce two important changes to this policy. First, we’re extending this policy to include Basic Economy tickets purchased through March 31, 2021. Second, this policy will also apply to all international tickets originating in the United States moving forward.

Both changes should give would-be flyers a confidence boost, but it’s important to note that United’s policy remains the most restrictive of the bunch. While customers will need to pay the difference in fare when moving to a more expensive flight, United will not issue a credit for the difference when moving to a lower-cost itinerary.

Travellers purchasing tickets with American Airlines and Delta are eligible for a credit when moving to a less-expensive flight — if there’s a chance you’ll need to change to a lower-cost flight, AA and Delta remain a better bet.

American and Delta are more generous on the award ticket front, as well. Eligible AAdvantage and SkyMiles award tickets can be changed or cancelled at any time free of charge. United will permit free changes for all awards booked in North America, though awards cancelled and redeposited within 30 days will be subject to a $125 fee.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.

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