How much does it cost to change or cancel a flight?
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You already know how easy it is to travel for cheap to just about anywhere by earning airline miles from the best airline credit cards. But there are more reasons than free airfare to collect miles and points.
Award flights can sometimes come in extra handy when your plans change. Many airlines charge less to change or cancel an award flight than they do for paid flights — hundreds of dollars less, in some cases. If you’re the kind of traveler who finds it hard to set plans in stone, all the more reason for you to collect airline miles.
However, COVID-19 has drastically altered the change policies of major carriers, making them much more friendly to both paid and award tickets. I’ll compare the change fees of the most popular airlines in the miles and points hobby.
How much does it cost to change a flight?
Most airlines charge varying prices for changing and canceling tickets based on the type of fare you buy, but I’m only focusing on the cheapest fares possible because those are the only ones I’d book in real life.
Here are the rules for the most popular airlines when you buy the cheapest tickets. Keep in mind that some airlines have ever-changing rules due to the coronavirus situation.
|Airline||Award change fee||Refund / redeposit fee||Paid change fees||Notes|
|Air Canada||Bookings made by December 31, 2020, can be changed or canceled at any time (including in 2021) for no fee||Normally CAD 100 each way||Per Air Canada:|
“If you booked directly with Air Canada and you need to cancel any flight, you will soon be able to can convert the remaining value of all tickets in a booking to an Air Canada Travel Voucher that is fully transferable and never expires, or to Aeroplan points with an additional 65% bonus Aeroplan points. No change fee will apply.”
|Super Elite Status: |
Free changes (plus difference in miles)
|Alaska Airlines||$0||$0||$0||Change fees for main and first class fares disappear forever in January 2021 (not for “Saver” fares). Only valid for Alaska flights, not when flying on partners.|
|American Airlines||$0||$0||$0||You can change or cancel all American Airlines flights except international Basic Economy revenue fares|
|British Airways||$0||$0||$0||These prices are for travel reserved after March 3, 2020, and completed by August 31, 2021|
|Delta||$0||$0||$0||Only Domestic flights (including Puerto Rico and USVI) are waved forever, minus Basic Economy. International flights will vary for tickets purchased in 2021 and beyond.|
|Etihad||$27 (you cannot change the destination)||10% of the miles spent||Based on data points, Etihad charges wildly different change fees based on your ticket.|
“The refund amount will be calculated based on the fare rules applicable to your ticket at the time of booking. While we will refund the entire amount shown to you upon cancellation, there may be additional processing fees collected by your card issuer/bank.”
|Iberia||$40||$40||Between $200 and $275|
|JetBlue||$0||$0||$0||JetBlue will waive fees for existing bookings made through February 28, 2021. After that, fees will vary.|
|Singapore Airlines||$25 for Singapore Airlines flights|
$50 for Partner airline flights
|$75||You’ll only be refunded taxes & fees|
|Southwest||Difference in miles||None||Difference in price|
|United Airlines||$0 if canceled 30+ days before travel (you won’t get a refund if your new flight costs less)||$0||$0||You can change or cancel domestic United flights, as well as those to the Caribbean and Mexico – excluding Basic Economy. |
International flights will vary for tickets purchased in 2021 and beyond.
What to know when changing your flight for these popular airlines
Coronavirus has made air travel much more customer-friendly while removing the desire of many would-be travelers from going anywhere near a plane. Here are a few quick notes on the most popular U.S. airlines.
Keep in mind that when you cancel a ticket, you will receive travel credit unique to the particular airline with which you canceled. You won’t get a refund on your credit card unless you purchased a (usually expensive) flexible ticket.
American Airlines is the most generous of the U.S. legacy carriers. Pretty much any ticket you reserve can be freely changed except the following:
- International Basic Economy flights
- Flights originating somewhere other than North or South America
- Flights booked through American Airlines on partner airlines other than British Airways, Iberia, Japan Airlines, and Finnair
Read our post on how to change or cancel an American Airlines flight for all the details.
Delta Air Lines
Delta’s policies are similar to American’s, but not quite as loose. You’ll only avoid change fees when booking between domestic flights, including U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Also, Basic Economy flights are still nonrefundable.
Read our post on how to change or cancel a Delta flight.
Southwest is unique in that the novel coronavirus didn’t goad them into their customer-friendly policies. They’ve been practicing free changes and cancelations for years. They’re still the most lenient when it comes to the cancelation window — 10 minutes before departure.
We should be thanking United for setting the example of first getting rid of change fees for most flights. However, now that they got the ball rolling, they’re one of the least generous airlines.
Domestic flights, as well as flights to Mexico and the Caribbean, can be changed or canceled provided they aren’t Basic Economy fares. You’ll still have to pay changes for international flights.
An infuriating aspect of United’s policies is that you won’t receive a refund if you change your flight to a cheaper fare. You will forfeit the remaining amount you paid for your original flight.
Also beware that award fees are only waived if you are changing/canceling at least 30 days before departure date. Yuck.
Check out our guide on how to change or cancel a United flight for everything you need to know.
How to change a flight without paying a fee
I lack even an ounce of loyalty when it comes to airlines. I just book whichever is cheapest. But if you’re in the air constantly, it could be worth your while to attain status. Following sites like MMS are a great way to learn the secrets to earn elite status quickly.
You can earn status faster with various airlines by:
- Spending money on airline credit cards
- Opening certain airline credit cards to earn welcome bonuses
- Take elite status challenges when they’re available
- Jumping on airline elite status match opportunities
When you’ve earned status, the change policies make it worth the effort. If you have United Premier 1K elite status, for example, you won’t ever be charged to change your award flight ticket. You’re exempt from fees for hundreds more routes than those without elite status.
FAQ about changing a flight
How much does it cost to change a flight?
Each airline is different, but if you’re booking a legacy U.S. airline, you’ll almost certainly pay nothing. Some airlines have waived fees permanently, and some are still experimenting due to the coronavirus situation. I suspect all U.S. airlines will have similarly fantastic $0 cancellation policies in the coming months.
What is the latest you can change a flight?
It really depends. Each airline has different policies. For example, Air Canada flights can be changed up to two hours before departure. But Southwest flights can be changed up to 10 minutes before departure!
Before you book, make sure to read your airline’s specific policy.
Is it better to change a flight or cancel and buy a new one?
For most airlines, it doesn’t really make a difference. The same end is achieved. You can change your flight and have your remaining miles/money deposited into your loyalty account for later (except United — they won’t refund you the difference), or you can cancel your flight, receive travel credits, and spend them on whatever flights you want.
Can a flight be changed from one airline to another?
You may be able to change the airline in which you book. But if you want to do this, you’ll absolutely have to stick with a partner of your original airline.
For example, If I book a United Airlines flight with American miles, I can cancel and redeposit my miles for free. I can then use those miles to fly on Qatar Airways at a later day if I want to because it’s an American Airlines partner.
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