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.