American Airlines ends international change fees, United plans to match


American Airlines announced yesterday that they are ending change fees on international flights originating in North or South America on American Airlines flights and codeshares booked through American for travel on British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, and Japan Airlines. The catch here is that basic economy tickets are not included in this change fee waiver. Live and Let’s Fly reports that United will be announcing an extension of their own (more generous) fee waiver program.

a screenshot of a blue and orange website

American Eliminates change fees

As noted at the top, effective immediately, American Airlines will no longer charge change fees on international travel when it originates in North or South America whether in first class, business class, or main cabin — except for basic economy fares. This doesn’t mean it won’t cost you anything to change: you’ll still be on the hook for any fare difference, though you’ll retain credit for future travel if your new itinerary is cheaper.

This is obviously a positive change for customers. Flexibility is one of the things I have long valued about award tickets in general. This kind of flexibility on paid fares makes them more comparable with award tickets.

I am disappointed that this change doesn’t apply to basic economy. I think it was Ed Pizzarello at Pizza in Motion who first noted how strange it is to see a product (basic economy tickets) that seems to be designed to be as unappealing as possible. But I guess at this point most readers know what they are getting with AA basic economy (though in my experience, many ordinary customers at the gate who don’t travel as often still aren’t aware of basic economy restrictions).

American is also eliminating the service fee for booking a ticket over the phone.

In my opinion, both of the changes above just make sense. A ticket change likely doesn’t have nearly the financial impact on an airline as the magnitude of those fees have long suggested, and in a time when many (most?) international flights must be taking off with a lot of empty seats, it seems to me to have negligible impact to allow customers to change to a different flight in many cases. Further, when airlines are hurting for business enough to ask for multiple taxpayer bailouts, one would expect that they would not add any barriers to taking the money of paying passengers (and indeed they have been waiving phone booking fees during the pandemic).

United plans to follow suit (and maybe one-up AA)

As noted at the top, Live and Let’s Fly reports reaching out to United for comment and finding that United “…plans to announce an extension of its change fee waiver for Basic Economy and International tickets later this year…”.

I can’t imagine that the word choice of the statement was accidental — United is clearly emphasizing that a key differentiator is that basic economy tickets are included in their change fee waiver and will continue to be.

Bottom line

I’m glad to see the death of change fees. If I were an airline elite status holder, I may be less enthusiastic about the fact that one of the key benefits of that status is now available to anyone, though this change doesn’t really hurt any group of customers. Overall, this makes travel arrangements less stressful and in my opinion increases the value of using points to cover paid fares since flexibility is increased.

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