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Complete Guide to Airline Change Policies During Coronavirus Travel Disruptions

The novel coronavirus that emerged at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China has now spread around the world. When I first published this post on March 2, 2012, most of us weren’t taking COVID-19 that seriously. When I updated it again less than two weeks later, America had radically shifted to shelter-in-place. Air travel plummeted to astoundingly low levels never seen before. 

Now more than two months after that, we sadly remain in the thick of things with COVID-19. Travel uncertainties abound. While some states are re-opening, most of us aren’t traveling at all yet. The few who are traveling aren’t taking to the friendly skies and are instead opting for regional road trips to outdoor socially distant destinations like the beach or a lake. Summer trips very much remain in question, especially for anyone needing to fly to their destination. 

Southwest OAK Airport Ticket Check in Counters

I’m not a medical expert, but I am an airline expert. So that’s what I’ve been watching closely these many weeks. The past few months, a lot of families have been rightfully hesitant to book new travel plans, not knowing just how much this virus would or will continue to spread within the United States and not yet fully knowing the risks of flying itself. Airline change fees in particular are very expensive at $200 or more per person, especially for families who need to cancel three, four, or more tickets. 

Luckily, a number of US-based airlines responded at the beginning of the crisis by loosening their change fee rules, making air travel in the short term more flexible than it’s ever been. I personally kept booking flights throughout it all (even as I cancelled others), but have been reading the fine print carefully. I’ve also been giving my business to the airlines who have been the most generous in helping travelers hedge against the uncertainties of the current ongoing pandemic.

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US Airline Rules and Change Fee Waivers During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Although only a few airlines stepped up with flexible change policies immediately, all US airlines now have waiver policies in place. That said, these policies are not the same. There are several airlines that are still better for booking now if you are concerned about coronavirus disrupting your domestic travel plans in any way – whether that be travel in the next few weeks or later this year. Compare these policies carefully below when deciding where to book future travel plans.

Some of the policies detailed in this post are limited time waivers that continue to change often. Most of these policies have already been extended or altered as indicated below, so keep checking back. I plan to continue to update this post.

Note that these policies apply if YOU (the customer) want to change or cancel your flight. If the airline cancels or substantially changes your flight, chances are good you are entitled to a full refund. See my posts on why you should never accept a flight schedule change right away and my guide to booking and canceling travel in uncertain travel times for more information. And be sure to read until the end for other expert tips for changes, bookings, and cancellations during this volatile time.

The US airline change and cancellation fee waiver policies that are in place now as of May 25, 2020 are:

1. Southwest Airlines

Airlines waiving change fees for coronavirus - Southwest planes taxi

Until March 19, 2020, Southwest Airlines has not had to institute any special COVID-19 coronavirus change policies because the airline was already the most generous airline in America when it comes to changes and cancellations. Southwest has a no change fee policy all of the time.

That means you never pay an extra fee when you need to change your flight, paying only the difference in fare. And if you cancel a flight on Southwest, travel funds are redeposited for future use up to a full year from the original date you booked your flight. All flights booked with Rapid Rewards points are fully refunded as points.

As a mom who knows that kids can get sick from dozens of mundane illnesses at any time, Southwest has been my top pick for our family’s travels for years because of this policy. And these rules also continue to make Southwest the best airline to book during this time of uncertainty over COVID-19 coronavirus.

In mid-March 2020, Southwest announced a further generous extension of its travel funds policy to accommodate travelers affected by the coronavirus situation. This extension made travel funds valid for a much longer period than the standard one year policy. 

Southwest has since made further adjustments to extend the validity of travel funds even longer, as follows (see the full policy here):

  • Travel funds that have expired or will expire between March 1, 2020 and September 7, 2020 now expire September 7, 2022.
  • All newly-created travel funds made because you cancel a flight between March 1 – September 7, 2020 will also expire September 7, 2022.

Additionally, Southwest has instituted a further change that makes the airline’s policies one of the most generous and flexible right now:

We have also added a new benefit for our valued Rapid Rewards Members. Those Members who have travel funds that are set to expire or funds that are created between March 1, 2020 and September 7, 2020 will have the option to convert those travel funds into Rapid Rewards points at the same rate you would be able to purchase a ticket with points today. We hope this provides our Members ultimate flexibility as Rapid Rewards points never expire, never have cancel or change fees (fare difference may apply), and you can redeem your points for anyone you choose.

Southwest has not yet been able to implement the technology for this change to take effect, but sit tight if you’d prefer Rapid Rewards points instead of a more limited time travel credit. 

To learn more about Southwest Airlines, be sure to check out my complete guide to flying Southwest with kids and see all the other free things you can find on Southwest Airlines.

2. Alaska Airlines

Flight Schedule Change - Alaska Airlines Plane at SFO

Alaska Airlines usually charges a $125 change fee for domestic travel but has waived that for certain flights and travel dates. This policy has changed several times, but here is the current situation:

For tickets purchased before February 26, 2020 for travel March 9-December 31, 2020

  • Saver fares: Travelers can cancel their trip without a fee and deposit the funds into My Account wallet or receive a credit certificate for future travel for up to one year from the original travel date.
  • All other nonrefundable fares: Travelers can either change a trip without a fee (new travel must be completed by one year from the original travel date; fare difference may apply) OR cancel their trip without a fee and deposit the funds into My Account wallet or receive a credit certificate for future travel.

For tickets purchased February 27, 2020 through May 31, 2020 for travel before April 30, 2021

  • Saver fares: Travelers can cancel their trip without a fee and deposit the funds into My Account wallet or receive a credit certificate for future travel for up to one year from the original travel date.
  • All other nonrefundable fares: Travelers can either change a trip without a fee (new travel must be completed by one year from the original travel date; fare difference may apply) OR cancel their trip without a fee and deposit the funds into My Account wallet or receive a credit certificate for future travel

The full policy and rules for Alaska Airlines is available here.

3. JetBlue

Jet Blue Plane on Tarmac

JetBlue began by waiving waiving its usual change and cancellation fees for all flight bookings made February 27-March 11, 2020 for travel on or before June 1, 2020. It has since expanded those change and cancellation rules substantially. The current policy is as follows:

All change and cancellation fees are waived for flight bookings as follows:

  • For all bookings made between March 27, 2020 and May 31, 2020 for travel through January 4, 2021.
  • For all bookings made between March 6, 2020 and March 26, 2020 for travel through September 8, 2020.
  • For all bookings made between February 27, 2020 and March 5, 2020 for travel through June 1, 2020.

Fare differences do apply if you change your flight. For cancellations, JetBlue will issue a Travel Bank Credit in the amount of the flight’s full fare (including all taxes and fees) that is valid for 24 months from date of issuance toward future JetBlue air travel. This 24 month period is a much longer window than a lot of other airlines are currently offering, making JetBlue’s policy (along with Southwest’s), one of the more customer-friendly options out there right now.

Note that rebookings are permitted during the corresponding booking window but that after the corresponding booking window, only the first rebooking will be eligible. See the full JetBlue policy details here.

4. American Airlines

American Airlines Plane Taxiing

American Airlines began by offering a slightly different change fee waiver policy than a lot of other airlines, but the policy in place now more closely resembles the competition. As of late May 2020, the policy is as follows: 

  • American will waive change and cancellation fees (one time only) on any ticket purchased before May 31, 2020 for travel from March 1 through September 30, 2020 (to be used on travel through December 31, 2021).
  • For customers who buy a new trip March 1 to May 31, 2020 for all future travel can also change that trip to a later date without change fees.
  • Additionally, any customer with a ticket expiring between March 1 and September 30, 2020 can apply the value of the unused ticket towards travel through December 31, 2021.

This offer is also good on any American fares, including basic economy tickets that are normally not changeable at all. 

See the full American policy here.

5. Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines Ticket Counter at MCO

Delta was a bit later than some other airlines to waive its change fees, but its policy is now similar to the rest of the bunch.

For customers with tickets purchased between March 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020, a one time change to a flight is allowed without needing to pay a change fee. New travel must be completed within 1 year of original ticket issue date and fare differences will apply.

For travel within the United States originally scheduled from March through September 30, 2020, all change fees are waived.  Customers may either change to another flight on another date or cancel a flight and apply any unused value of the ticket toward the purchase of a new ticket through September 30, 2022.  Fare differences apply.

See Delta’s full policy here.

6. United Airlines

United with Kids - Bag Checkin SFO

For all tickets issued on or before March 2, 2020 with original travel dates of March 3 through May 31, 2020: Change fees are waived. New tickets must be reissued within 24 months of the original ticket date and rebooked travel must commence within 24 months from the original ticket issue date.

For all tickets issued on or before March 2, 2020 with original travel dates of June 1 through December 31, 2020: Change fees are waived but note that changes or cancellations must be made on/before May 31, 2020. Rebooked travel must commence within 24 months from the original ticket issue date.

For all new tickets booked March 3 to May 31, 2020: Change fees are waived for up to 12 months from the original ticket issue date. Fare differences apply.

See United’s full policy here.

7. Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines - Check in Counter at SFO

For tickets issued March 10 through April 15, 2020: Customers are permitted a one time itinerary change to their itinerary without a change/cancel fee. (Must call the airline at 801-401-9000.)

Frontier is no longer waiving change/cancellation fees for new bookings like many other airlines are doing for bookings made in May. However, Frontier has a much more generous change fee policy at the moment. All flights changed more than 60 days prior to departure are NOT charged a change fee. Flights changed 14-59 days prior are charged just $79 per passenger and flights changed 13 days or less (including same day) are $119.

See Frontier’s full policy here.

8. Spirit Airlines

Spirit’s initial policies were (unsurprisingly) some of the least generous and most restrictive of the bunch, but the current change fee waiver rules are a bit more customer-friendly.

Spirit is currently waiving change fees for travelers whose plans are affected by coronavirus. Customers can cancel flights and bank the reservation credit, which is valid within 12 months of the issue date. And unlike some other airlines, the credit can be used over multiple bookings until the full value is used! Additionally, it can be applied toward airfare, bags, seats and vacation packages and may be redeemed by any guest linked to the same original reservation.

These changes can now be made online under the My Trips section of the website (previously, changes required calling the airline).

9. Allegiant Airlines

All Allegiant customers can currently request a one-time change to travel plans without incurring change or cancellation fees. Customers can choose to change to another flight at no extra cost (fare differences DO NOT apply, unlike many other airlines) or they can bank the credit as a voucher good for two years from the date of the initial reservation.

These changes can now be made online under the Manage Travel section of the website (previously, changes required calling the airline).

Allegiant’s full policy is here.

10. Hawaiian Airlines

Last but certainly not least is tiny but mighty Hawaiian Airlines. Because of Hawaii’s unique 14 day quarantine that has been imposed (and is in effect through at least June 30, 2020), the airline’s policies are a bit different. But the policy is still exceptionally generous, allowing customers to cancel and rebook a trip later with no change/cancellation fees as follows:

  • Tickets purchased before March 1, 2020 are valid for rebooking through May 31, 2022 (fare differences apply).
  • Tickets purchased between March 1, 2020 and May 31, 2020 are valid for two years from the ticket purchase date (fare differences apply).

Hawaiian’s full policy is available here.

Tips for Booking, Changing, and Canceling Airfare While Coronavirus Concerns are Ongoing

Unaccompanied Minors - Empty Airline Seats

A few final tips to consider when it comes to booking airfare and other travel while COVID-19 coronavirus is a concern:

  • Book on the airline’s website: I always recommend booking directly with the airline you are flying. Online travel agencies like Expedia can create extra hassles and confusion if and when you need to change a ticket or travel is otherwise disrupted. Cut out the middleman and deal directly with the airline in this time of volatility.
  • Remember the 24 hour refund rule: All US airlines always allow you to cancel or change a ticket within 24 hours of booking for a complete refund. As the situation on the ground with coronavirus changes very rapidly, this may provide some additional protection to consider.
  • Book refundable travel reservations whenever possible: Although few airlines offer refunds, nearly every other travel reservation you can make could be fully refundable if booked property. This includes hotels, car rentals, and many tours and tickets. (Since Disneyland is now closed, a lot of travelers are now just finding out that even Disney tickets can be refundable if you book them with Trips With Tykes partner Get Away Today!) The key is to book the flexible option – you’ll perhaps miss out on some small discounts available on prepaid rates, but not being locked into a nonrefundable rate is invaluable right now.
  • If you don’t need to call the airline now, don’t: Due to the developments of the last few days, even more people are cancelling or changing travel. Airline call centers are beyond overwhelmed. Unless you have a trip in the next couple of days that needs adjustment, don’t add to the load. Wait and call airlines once things have settled a bit more.

Concerned about booking air travel due to COVID-19 coronavirus? Four US airlines have new flexible and generous change and cancellation fee waivers. Here are the airlines that will help you hedge your bets so you can keep booking travel and not lose money.

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carloscarter90137

Friday 7th of August 2020

Even airlines have to make the necessary changes because of covid-19. click

Usman

Monday 27th of July 2020

this article is great informative for this coronavirus pandemic situation

Thursday 19th of March 2020

Thank you for this very helpful guide, Leslie!