American Airlines announced today that they’re eliminating change fees for all international tickets other than Basic Economy tickets that originate in North or South America. They’re taking it much farther than other airlines had when the first round of change fee eliminations were announced at the end of August.
When United Airlines got out first eliminating change fees on (non-basic economy) domestic tickets, it was notable that the new policy only covered limited geography for a global carrier. Delta and American quickly followed with American going a little bit farther than the rest extending the no change fee policy to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
The $200 change fee was problematic even before the Covid-19 epidemic. Delta had already said they were going to revamp these fees to be less painful. It was clear early on that airlines were going to have to keep waiving these fees well into the future so why not call the change permanent?
The end of change fees don’t apply to basic economy fares, and basic economy now does the job that change fees used to which is to separate business travelers willing to pay higher fares from price-sensitive leisure travelers, anyway.
Airline change fees have long been problematic at a societal level, too. They encouraged people to fly even when sick. That’s a big deal now and airlines needed to stop pressuring passengers to fly when sick.
The elimination of change fees isn’t entirely and unambiguously good, this could lead to more overbookings and involuntary denied boardings and the price spread between basic and regular economy may mean fewer people than you think will actually benefit from this change.
Ultimately though the spread to eliminating change fees for international travel makes some sense in the current environment, and American deserves some credit for getting out ahead of it – albeit not offering this on tickets for travel originating in Europe, Asia or the Pacific where their joint venture partners (British Airways, Iberia, Finnair, Aer Lingus, Japan Airlines, and Qantas) are based.