United Airlines Permanently Eliminates Domestic Change Fees And Standby Fees

United Airlines is offering free same day standby starting January 1, and eliminating change fees on domestic tickets (including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands but not other territories) effective immediately though this excludes basic economy tickets. A waiver of change fees for basic economy and international ticket purchases is being extended through the end of the year.

All MileagePlus elite members can confirm same day changes at check-in provided the same fare class is available. Currently complimentary same day changes are only available to Gold members and above.

This seems only fair since news just broke that United now has a program to cancel flights on you without penalty when there aren’t enough passengers booked.

Here’s United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby describing the changes:

Historically change fees are one of the ways airlines segmented business and leisure travelers. They’ve believed these were important, otherwise business travelers would buy cheaper tickets – they weren’t about penalizing customers, they were about ensuring they could charge some customers higher prices.

However the way that customers are segmented has changed significantly. That’s why airlines introduced Basic Economy fares with new restrictions. And the greater flexibility here doesn’t apply to basic economy tickets. And, of course, right now there aren’t business travelers to any meaningful degree. I take United’s claim that they are ‘permanently’ eliminating these fees to mean that the new policy doesn’t have a specific end date, rather than a promise that will last if circumstances change.

Southwest Airlines already doesn’t have change fees, and it’s one of their significant selling points. With Southwest, as with United, if the new ticket you want to buy is more expensive you’ll pay the difference in airfare.

Unfortunately United’s move doesn’t fully extend to MileagePlus award tickets, which still have a fee for redeposit though they’re improving this somewhat with waived redeposit fees 30 days or more prior to departure.

Finally one significant downside to the change United is making is that while there won’t be change fees on most domestic revenue tickets any longer, you won’t get a travel credit for difference in fare if changing to a less expensive flight. In the past if you booked a $500 ticket that had a $200 change fee, you’d have a $300 travel credit to use – but the credit could be split up on more than one new trip. Now you have to use the travel credit on a single new itinerary, and if it’s less than $300 you’ll forfeit the difference.

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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Comments

  1. Can’t be for real. Everyone knows it not possible unless Delta does it first, so the others can follow. Kudos to UA.

  2. Give United credit for STARTING a trend, rather than following one. Lets hope there really are more changes coming.

  3. An overall net benefit for the entire UA flying population with these changes, but *potentially* a net negative for those UA Premier Elites who already had the ability to confirm Same-Day Changes, as this may mean more competition to get confirmed onto highly desirable flights. I hope that there is some semblance of SDC prioritization retained for GS/1K/Plat/Gold.

  4. There won’t be change fees for award travel as long as the ticket is for travel within the U.S. and in Economy or a premium cabin.

  5. Well some shoe must be dropping soon from United, and I bet it will be substantial…

    We all know how “friendly” United is towards its customers these days,

  6. However, it seems you lose out and don’t get an ETC if you’re switching to a flight that is less expensive.

  7. The whole idea of change fees somehow promoting you to buy a higher fare class has been outdated for what, 10 years? 20?

    I have worked for 4 different consulting firms, both major and boutique, and in every case it was both cheaper for the client AND corporate policy to buy the cheapest available ticket. In the rare time where you actually couldn’t plan ahead and needed to change your flight, you either ate a change fee, or in lots of cases, threw the ticket away and bought a new one because it was less than paying a change fee.

  8. Gary –

    This – “while there won’t be change fees on most domestic revenue tickets any longer, you won’t get a travel credit for difference in fare if changing to a less expensive flight. ”

    is not in the FAQ or annoucement. Did UA specifically point that out to you?

    Odd they woudn’t be transparent about it in the FAQ.

  9. @Greg – You’ll see that I linked to a source, which is Zach Honig at TPG which had the information in advance under embargo (and presumably ahd the opportunity to ask questions)

  10. Who knew united had such love in their hearts for customers ?
    I’m sure they will never change their minds again even if the virus mysteriously disappears as one stable genius predicted not long ago

  11. still a major rip off! 50,000 for domestic one way coach that cost aorund $150 in cash or and 200,000 miles for asia one way coach award that cost$800 in cash most of the time is still a major rip off. so called saver awards almost NEVER exist. so this doesnt help on awards.

  12. Amazing how quickly people forget Scott Kirby’s history. There is no way there isn’t some undisclosed “Kirby wrinkle” to come. And I’ll provide one:

    Watch the spread of the fare difference between “basic” and “regular” economy go from $20-$40 one way to well over $100 to try and drive bookings into the higher fare categories that come with no change fees. That would be the Kirby wrinkle.

  13. I have the “benefit” of confirmed the same day flight change as AA EXP for a few years. But I have tried to change the flights on-line, I would always get a message that “no flights are available”. Yes, that was before Covid-19 and planes were rather full but now the schedule is rather thin.

  14. @Alex_77W – I was a dual EXP and 1K for many years. The AA SDC benefit was never as good, nor as easy to utilize as UA’s SDC benefit; for one thing, on AA SDC really means “same calendar day,” whereas with UA it meant “within +/- 24 hours of existing flight schedule. UA’s SDC is even fully integrated with the app, such that one can see which options are available, and can self re-book from the app.

    But point noted that with thinner schedules, SDC’ing will be more difficult, hence my earlier comment that I hope some priority is preserved for GS/1K/Plat/Gold, since we already have the benefit that is now being extended to all.

  15. Thanks for your full explanation of the ins and outs of the move. On the whole it is a good thing, no question, but in the context of an airline that has been doing bad things that this doesn’t really address.

  16. @Gary, to clarify one thing — it seems like if you buy a $500 ticket, change to $300, UA cancels that flight due to ‘lightly booked’ status, and you’re forced to change back to the $500 flight, you’d still have to pay another $200, correct? If so, seems like a good PR move for UA in conjunction with the ‘lightly booked’ cancellation policy (“hey, you can change for no extra change fee, just pay the new higher fare”), and probably end up costing passengers more for making any changes in days and weeks leading up to the flight. (If however, they gave you an e-credit to use later for reduced fares, or at least remembered the original price of the ticket in any calculations, that would make a lot more useful!)

  17. Ultimately this benefits both UA and its flyers. I remember one day back in the ’90’s when SWA did not allow SDC’s. I arrived at ABQ a couple of hours early and was told it would be $75 to change to the earlier flight that had room. I said “no, thanks”.
    When my departure time came, SWA was overbooked on my flight and was forced to give out vouchers. Karma.

  18. I remember about 20 years ago when United would let you make a change to an earlier flight that day at no charge. The two times I did this were both at the airport. The first time I changed from an ORD-BWI flight to an earlier ORD-DCA flight (where I really wanted to go anyway, and because it would be a lot harder to get home from BWI at midnight than from DCA at 10:00 pm). The second time was at Orlando. I checked in at the kiosk at noon for a 4:00 pm flight to IAD and the KIOSK ITSELF told me there was a departure at 2:00 pm and would I like to standby for it at no charge? I touched “YES” and got a standby coupon for the 2:00 and a boarding pass for the 4:00 and was told go to the gate at 1:30 pm. I did, and got a window seat on the 2:00. This practice was advantageous to the airline because they put someone into a seat on the earlier flight that would go to waste once the door was closed, and more importantly, got a seat BACK on the later flight that they might need. I think that free provision went away after the Continental merger. And I doubt it applied if you wanted to leave later. Good to see this coming back.

  19. Meh. It’s permanently eliminating change fees – until they introduce “lower pricing with some minor added restrictions…” or some other way of bringing them back. I’d say UA is doing a good thing, but the reality is that their history indicates they are unable to do a good thing. The ‘permanent’ nature of it is until they change their mind in the future. It’s a gimmick for now. The single most UNfriendly airline of all with respect to employees and customers. Trusting nothing from them. Remember, this is the company that was cancelling flights and hoarding cash for 366 days before offering a refund.

  20. UA is giving up a flat fee ($75) in exchange for a higher re-priced tickets. Here’s how… L-, T-, N- and other discounted fare buckets are usually 21-, 14- and 7-day advance purchase fares. The lower class buckets may be available a few hours prior to flight; however, the lower class corresponding fares may not be eligible for advance purchase fares since you’ll be potentially repriced at a walk-up fare.

    Consequently, the re-pricing will push the fare difference to the first available, lowest priced, fare bucket, often at a Y-, B-, or M- fare. Sometimes, the fares may not be combinable (outbound and return may not be same fare buckets). And thus, the re-pricing may push the fare to a higher combinable fares especially if the return journey has not been initiated yet.

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