American Airlines Change Fee Tweaks Go Beyond Rivals

American will allow customers to keep the full value of their original ticket, even if the new flight is cheaper than the one initially booked.
Credit: Joe Pries

American Airlines went a step further than Delta Air Lines and United Airlines in relaxing its change fee policy, upping the ante by eliminating the charges for tickets to near-international destinations, in addition to domestic flights.

Fort Worth-based American announced on Aug. 31 that change fees will no longer apply to most tickets booked to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, in addition to destinations within the U.S. and its overseas territories. By exempting near-international destinations from the charges, American’s modifications are more generous than those made recently by Alaska Airlines, Delta and United—all of which are only excluding domestic travel from the fees.

In a further break from its rivals, American will allow customers to keep the full value of their original ticket, even if the new flight is cheaper than the one initially booked. In practice, this means that a customer who purchases a $500 ticket and then transfers to a $300 ticket will receive a $200 travel voucher to make up the difference, similar to the policy in place at Southwest Airlines. Customers who change to more expensive flights will still have to pay the fare difference, however. 

American also joins United in permitting customers to stand by on flights to the same destination and on the same day as their originally scheduled departure with no added charge, as long as extra space is available. Delta, on the other hand, will maintain its $75 same-day standby fee for now, while Alaska charges passengers $50 to standby on most flights, permitting them to travel within six hours of the originally booked trip.

“By eliminating change fees, giving customers an opportunity to get where they want to go faster with free same-day standby on earlier flights and providing access to upgrades and seats for all fare types, we’re giving customers the freedom to make their own choices when traveling with American,” American chief revenue officer Vasu Raja said.

Aside from exempting change fees for near-international destinations and offering travel vouchers to customers who opt for cheaper flights, the rest of American’s updated policy is nearly identical to those rolled out this week in quick succession at United, Delta and Alaska. All four legacy carriers will exclude their respective versions of basic economy from the change fee exemptions, enabling them to use the fees as a means to upsell passengers into more premium cabin classes.

The flurry of moves came after United eliminated most domestic change fees on Aug. 30, which all but guaranteed American and Delta would quickly follow suit—which they both did the next day—followed by Alaska on Sept. 1. JetBlue Airways still charges change fees in a range of $75-$200, while ULCCs like Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines charge between $50 and $100, depending on how far out the change is requested. Southwest, on the other hand, has never charged customers to change flights.

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.