United Airlines Experimenting With Bringing Back Change Fees?

In summer 2020 United Airlines was the first to eliminate change fees on most tickets. Back then there were pandemic exceptions, making all tickets changeable. But United said this was ‘permanent,’ except for basic economy fares. CEO Scott Kirby said he’d wanted to eliminate change fees since 1998 but had to wait to really run an airline in order to do it.

United marketed the end of change fees as permanent, but in the airline industry permanent means for now, until we change our mind. It’s not clear what United will ultimately do here, but it appears they’re experimenting with bringing back change fees, as first noted by the Airline Tariff Publishing Company’s Jason Rabinowitz. The airline has created a new Economy (non-changeable) fare category.

This isn’t basic economy. It doesn’t exclude carry ons or free seat selection. United’s website doesn’t appear to show both basic economy and non-changeable economy at the same time. And it may appear on corporate booking tools that exclude basic economy fares (because they want to exclude non-changeable tickets).

Customers who ‘know’ that all of United’s tickets departing the U.S. are changeable except for basic economy could easily be tripped up here. When you select basic economy you get a pop up warning about the restrictions. There’s no such warning here. This is a new fare type, with new restrictions, effectively between basic economy and the current regular coach. Could it become the new regular coach?

Update: United says this is for Japan flights only. Time will tell.

(HT: @dtlogic1)

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Not surprising. Change fees are probably a significant source of revenue that just disappeared. I doubt increased sales due to the added flexibility made up for it.

  2. I think United should keep their no change fee policy for all ticket classes. It a slippery slope when they start. Also makes me feel better choosing United. I think their no change fee policy is one of their greatest ideas.

  3. @ Thomas — United is not different than DL, AA, WN here. They all have no change fees (except Basic Economy, just like United). No reason to choose UA because of this policy.

  4. United still has fees for cancelling award tickets.
    Definitely not the same as the rest. They never got rid of change fees.

  5. The corporate-speak it will be phrased in is:

    “Change fees for economy tickets indeed have been permanently eliminated. But, these are not economy tickets. They’re ‘economy-non-changable’ tickets. Totally different, new and exciting. An enhanced version”

  6. Guess United told Biden their opinion of airline fees.

    pre-covid, Delta was rumored to be considering eliminating change fees and then United jumped in during the pandemic – presumably also to gain a competitive leg up vs. Southwest. Now that demand is soaring and capacity is still restrained and the pandemic is over, UA clearly is ready to redefine “permanent”
    This is precisely why words like “always” “never” and “permanent” should not exist in CEO talk

  7. This will help the gate agents with less fight changes at departure times with passengers wanting to change to the more expense flights.

  8. What markets is this fare actually published in? Domestic, international? Gary, can yu ask United about it? Or is it just a sort of schema that have published, but for which they have actually not yet published actual fares in specific city pairs?

  9. Happy to have these on corporate booking sites, they can milk OPM all they want.

    And as long as its clearly labeled on united.com whatever.

  10. And airline executives wonder why people distrust most airlines and would rather just book a simple Southwest flight.

  11. If one trusts Scott Kirby and the whole United Executives, that person would be the naivest in the world. Don’t be loyal to United. You’ll regret if you do.

  12. United has no issues screwing anyone with words that mean nothing. They had no problem changing the lifetime benefits for million milers, I have zero faith in Kirby to keep his word to customers now.

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