You Can Still Get Free Change & Cancellation on Flights (If You Pay For It...)

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You Can Still Get Free Change & Cancellation on Flights (If You Pay For It…)

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Believe it or not, there was a major silver lining for travel even during the worst of the pandemic: Airlines went to extraordinary lengths to give travelers more flexibility. Had a flight scheduled that you didn't want to take? You could change it without hefty fees – or cancel it and get a voucher.

But now, that free change free-for-all is over. As travel rebounded, airlines ended that practice. The cheapest basic economy fares can no longer be changed or canceled, period – or you'll pay a sizable fee to do so. Fortunately, you can still get free change and cancellation on your flights … you'll just have to pay a bit more for it.

Two years ago, airlines began permanently ditching change fees: first on domestic tickets, and then on international trips, too. But on nearly all airlines, basic economy fares no longer qualify. So if you want that flexibility, you'll have to pay a bit extra for a main cabin ticket. In many cases, that additional flexibility can easily be worth the extra $50 to $70 above what you'd pay for basic economy – plus other perks like free seat selection and boarding earlier.

Want a full refund instead of a voucher for future travel? Read our guide on getting refunds from your airline.

Here's a look at how each airline handles changes and cancellation policies now.
 

 

U.S. Airlines' Change Fee Policies

Alaska Airlines Cancellation Policy

For more than a year, Alaska offered free change and cancellation on any flight, from a first class ticket to even the cheapest basic economy fare. But those days are over.

Now, you'll need to buy at least a main cabin fare with Alaska to be able to change or cancel for free. New Alaska basic economy fares (which the airline calls “Saver fares”) can no longer be changed or canceled.

Read more on Alaska's policy.

 

American Airlines Cancellation Policy

American Airlines ended the free change free-for-all earlier than almost anyone.

While its competitors extended those policies much farther, American let it lapse way back on March 31, 2021. American basic economy fares purchased from April 1, 2021 and onwards can't be changed or canceled.

That means you'll have to buy at least a main cabin fare to get a one-time free change or cancellation when flying with American.

Read more on American's policy.
 

Delta Air Lines Cancellation Policy

Delta was one of the first major airlines to extend free change and cancellation to any ticket. These days, it's a bit more complicated.

Like other major U.S. carriers, Delta has done away with change fees so long as you buy a main cabin economy fare or higher. That means you can change flights without paying a fee (though you'd be on the hook for a fare difference) or cancel and get a Delta eCredit. Delta main cabin fares typically cost $50 to $70 more roundtrip within the U.S. – or $150 or more for most long-haul international flights.

But the airline has done something a bit different with Delta basic economy: Flyers buying its cheapest tickets can cancel … for a fee.

Canceling a flight within the U.S. or to Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central America will cost $99. To cancel a long-haul international flight, it'll cost you $199. That means dumping a $250 flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Denver (DEN) booked in basic economy would only get you a $151 Delta eCredit. For a $700 flight to Amsterdam (AMS), you'd get just $501 in eCredits.

That's more flexibility than these fares had prior to the pandemic, as they couldn't be changed or canceled, period. Still, it might be worth paying a bit more to get free change and cancellation – plus all the other perks like free seat assignment and earning Delta SkyMiles.

Read more about Delta's policy.
 

JetBlue Cancellation Policy

JetBlue was the last major U.S. airline still offering free change and cancellation on all fares. But those days are over, too.

You can still change or cancel any newly booked JetBlue basic economy fares. Like Delta, you'll just have to pay for it.

More expensive standard economy (aka Blue) fares and up can still be changed or canceled for free going forward. But if you buy a Blue Basic fare, you'll forfeit $100 to change or cancel a flight on most JetBlue routes – or $200 flights to/from South America or London.

Both cash bookings and award tickets booked with points are eligible. Canceled flights will get a travel credit for JetBlue.

Read more on JetBlue's policy.
 

Spirit Airlines Cancellation Policy

Even budget airlines are back to normal.

For many months, Spirit waived all change and cancellation fees on its fares. But now, the airline has returned to its normal change fee system, with higher fees to change or cancel a flight the closer you get to departure.

  • 60+ days: Free
  • 7-59 days: $49
  • 3-6 days: $79
  • 0-2 days: $99

Read more on Spirit's policy.
 

Southwest Cancellation Policy

Pandemic or not, all Southwest tickets can always be canceled or changed without incurring a fee, though fare differences may still apply.
 

Sun Country Cancellation Policy

Sun Country no longer has a special policy in place to handle change or cancellation during COVID-19. But its normal change policy waives change and cancellation fees for all flights at least 60 days ahead of departure.

Read more on Sun Country's policy.
 

United Cancellation Policy

United has taken a page out of Delta and JetBlue's book.

The Points Guy previously reported  that United is introducing a new fee structure to cancel its cheapest basic economy tickets. Just as with Delta, you can cancel a United basic economy fare and get a voucher minus a $99 fee for roundtrip domestic flights – or $199 for international tickets.

But considering you can select a seat for free and bring a carry-on, it might be worth paying more for a standard main cabin economy fare. Otherwise, United also allows you to pay to upgrade from basic economy to main cabin.

Read more on United's policy.

 

Main Cabin vs. Main Cabin Refundable Fares

Head spinning yet? It gets worse: You've got even more types of tickets to pick from when buying flights these days.

Once marketed solely to business travelers, airlines have been promoting refundable economy fares to travelers more and more throughout the pandemic. These often cost $70 to $100 more than standard economy tickets. So what's the difference?

  • Main cabin economy fares can be changed or canceled for free, but you'll get a voucher (which may expire in under a year) if you cancel.
  • Main cabin refundable economy fares can be changed or canceled for free to get your money back.

 

aa refundable fare 

You've got some flexibility either way. If you want to make sure you can get your money back to your credit card – or you're worried you won't be able to put a voucher to use – it might be worth paying more for a refundable.

Otherwise, a normal main cabin ticket can still be canceled for a voucher with your airline.

 

Free Cancellation on Tickets Booked with Miles?

You're in luck – maybe.

Many of these same major U.S. airlines are applying the same free change and cancellation policies to award tickets booked using miles. But it varies by situation, so read closely.

  • Alaska Airlines: Alaska is treating award bookings essentially the same as cash tickets. That means any award ticket booked using Alaska miles can be changed or canceled for free to get your miles back.
  • American Airlines: American has completely eliminated its $150 redeposit fees for all award tickets, and canceling online is easy.
  • Delta: Delta was among the most generous policies for SkyMiles award tickets, with free change and cancellation on any of them. But now, only main cabin award tickets can be canceled without fee – you'll get your miles and taxes and fees back automatically. For Delta's basic economy awards, you'll forfeit 9,900 SkyMiles when canceling a domestic award trip (or to Mexico, Canada, Central America, or the Caribbean) and a whopping 19,900 SkyMiles for international journeys.
  • Southwest: Same as always, you can change or cancel your flight booked with Rapid Rewards points for free.
  • United: United allows you to change a mileage redemption without paying a fee, and it will waive redeposit fees for all award travel so long as you cancel more than 30 days before departure.

 

Bottom Line

Travelers are returning and airlines are climbing their way out of the crisis. And that means the days of unprecedented flexibility when booking flights are over. Even as uncertainty looms over travel, few airlines are willing to go back to the old ways.

But it's not all bad news. Airlines' moves to eliminate most change fees for good means there's still a way to book your flights worry-free. You'll just have to pay a bit more for it.

 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

19 Responses

  • Really disappointing Delta isn’t allowing us to change domestic flights or give us credit to travel later in the year once the Corona Virus settles down, especially with so many cases in Washington and California now. I really don’t want to get on a plane that just came from either state. With Minnesota being a Delta hub, we will have travelers coming through our airport from affected states.

  • I understand the airlines are hurting, and they want to increase bookings..but the March 3-end of March logic escapes me…What if I bought ticket for April travel in February? Why can’t I change w/o penalties? How’s someone buying ticket today any more affected than someone who bought the ticket before?

  • I understand that Kyle, but I purchased my ticket for the end of March back in December, so don’t feel like Delta really cares about its customers, it just wants people to keep booking so is incentivizing people to make new bookings.

    • Apologies, Mary, I misunderstood your first comment. As for Delta’s goal here – you’re absolutely right.

  • But what about those who booked on United months ago and are leaving in a few weeks. We aren’t finding any information about waivers for flying into Rome.

  • We booked a trip to Italy 6 months ago on Norwegian Air and are scheduled to leave in 4 weeks.
    So far 0 response from Norwegian.

  • I just checked and I was doing a Europe trip, hopping between a few countries. Italy being one. Both Vueling and EasyJet just gave me a full refund. I could have switched flights for free, but I have no Idea when I would even plan to go back.

  • While I would love it if TAP Portugal was actually offering free changes, the problem is that they’ve evaporated my reservation (and others, from the FB group of TAPhaters that’s evolved). I have two tickets for ORD to Valencia via Lisbon for late May, and they no longer show the reservation. The was communication about the flights as late as 2 weeks ago, and now, poof! No record of the transaction on their site. I’ve filed a complaint with the DOT. I realize that other folks are waiting for refunds on cancelled flights – and at some point I’ll get in line – but it would be nice to have them acknowledge the reservation.

  • Do you know if tickets booked using Chase Sapphire points/miles are cancellable without a penalty beyond the 24 hour window now too?

    • Only if it falls under the waiver offered by the airline as spelled out here – and in some cases, you may wind up getting a voucher for that airline instead of your points back. It seems to vary a lot by airline and by cardholder.

  • Be careful believing the promise of “no change fee”. Apparently after leaving on a round trip ticket for DFW a change to my return date will be the difference in fare between my current return ticket value and the price of a ticket with NO ADVANCE PURCHASE. What good is waiving a change fee if the only way to change my return date is to stay another 14 days plus how ever many days is needed for my class of service to be available? Who has that kind of flexibility in their schedule? I understand No change tickets but when you clearly promise changes can be made it is really dishonest to find a different way to charge them.

    At a time they are asking people to fly and asking for our trust and understanding durring these time..this is a horrible way to treat people.

  • I had a KLM non-refundable flight scheduled for Venice to Antwerp for early Sept. The flights to & from Europe were already cancelled by the airlines (I waited patiently for that to happen, as advised) and received full refunds. This inter-European flight hasn’t been cancelled. But I was pleasantly surprised that I was offered a travel voucher for the full ticket value good for any booking made by 12/31/21 on KLM’s website (including with their partners like Air France, Delta, etc). The flight on the re-booking can be in 2022!

  • How does this work with return flights? Say you purchased a Delta Main Cabin ticket, made your departure as scheduled, but received a positive COVID test and needed to push out your return flight? Does the main cabin flexibility still allow you to change a flight when the first portion of the ticket has been used?

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