American Airlines Backtracks, Allows Change Fee Waivers On Basic Economy Tickets

At the end of May things were looking really good for summer travel, and American tried to place limits on its change fee waivers. Since the beginning of the pandemic airlines have allowed a change fee waiver on ticket purchases, so that customers faced with uncertainty would have greater comfort buying travel. American wanted to place a time limit on that, applying only to travel through September 30.

At the beginning of June they backtracked but still only offered a change fee waiver on basic economy tickets through June 30, for travel through September 30. They were re-asserting what remains of the restrictions on basic economy fares.

As forward bookings have softened, though, and competitors haven’t followed American’s lead in restoring the ‘no changes’ rule to Basic Economy fares American too has backed off. Newly purchased basic economy fares can once again be changed, and this applies to tickets purchased July 1-13 as well (before American amended its policy today).

JonNYC points out that this change has just been published on SalesLink, American’s agency sales portal.

All Basic Economy tickets issued on/after July 14, 2020, will include a change fee waiver within the fare rules:

  • No penalty will apply for voluntary changes that are made prior to the departure of the first ticketed flight
  • If the flight is not canceled in advance, and the customer does not show for the flight, any value is forfeited

Basic Economy Tickets issued between June 1, 2020 and July 13, 2020 will require the waiver code RETROCF in order to receive the change fee waiver for travel that begins on or after October 1, 2020:

  • Once the ticket is exchanged, all fare rules for the new ticketed fare apply
  • If the flight is not canceled in advance, and the customer does not show for the flight, any value is forfeited

Changes to Basic Economy fares originally ticketed for travel between March 1 and September 30, 2020 qualify for a change fee waiver utilizing our Coronavirus Global Flexibility Waiver if the ticket is in OK status.

Three months ago I wrote that continue to waive change fees into the future because of the uncertainty customers feel. They’ll avoid purchasing tickets even when they are willing to travel, because they don’t know what is going to happen in two weeks or two months.

JetBlue’s CEO agrees, saying change fees aren’t going to be able to operate the same as they once did because they pressure customers to travel while sick. This represents a huge challenge to American’s pricing structure, however, which relies on change fees to separate business from leisure travel fares. Of course the bigger problem is that business travel isn’t going to return this year either way.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. So do we know when this will end? Can I purchase a ticket for next January, and choose to cancel it and retain the full value if I cancel it before the flight is supposed to leave?

    Just want to make sure that I’m clear.

  2. I would certainly not make the assumption that business travel won’t return this year. It will obviously be “a process” that will take time. But once the Sunbelt gets through most of the virus like the North (and Europe) already have, the travel world will look very different. This is almost certain to happen before Labor Day, which will be good timing for some fall business travel. The problem, of course, is that NOBODY is going to be attending conventions and large scale meetings this year. Fear will take longer to tail off.

  3. Say on the day of the outbound travel, you decide to change the return voyage. The ground staff at the airport cannot make the changes without charging a fee. You will still have to stay on a lengthy hold on the automated call screener to the call service center to have the changes made.

    So in essence, this is a job protection by the unions to separate job functions to ensure nobody will get the pink slip. The waivers can only be placed by the call center and not by the check-in staff.

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