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Delta, American join United in dropping most US change fees

Delta, American join United in dropping most US change fees Photo: MGN Images/ Chris / Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

KSTP/ The Associated Press
Updated: August 31, 2020 08:28 PM
Created: August 31, 2020 02:54 PM

Delta Air Lines and American Airlines said Monday that they are dropping the fee on most tickets for domestic flights, copying United Airlines' move one day earlier.

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According to Delta, customers can have an easier time booking, changing, or canceling their plans now that the airline has permanently eliminated the change fees. 

The elimination of change fees for Delta is effective immediately and includes tickets purchased for travel within the United States, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands in Delta’s First Class, Delta Premium Select, Delta Comfort+ and Main Cabin, except for Basic Economy tickets. 

American said they have also permanently eliminated change fees for all domestic flights for premium and most economy fares except the lowest fare, called basic economy. American is also dropping the fee on trips to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Additionally, Delta will extend its waiver on change fees for newly purchased flights, including international flights and Basic Economy fares, through the end of the year and will extend its expiration on travel credits through December 2022 for tickets booked before April 17, 2020. American is also extending temporary waivers on change fees for domestic and international flights, so ditching the fees permanently won't make much difference to passengers right away.

Southwest Airlines didn't levy change fees to start with, so Monday's announcements mean that the four biggest U.S. carriers will have roughly similar policies.

Airlines are being battered by the coronavirus pandemic, as travel restrictions and fear of contracting the virus are keeping travelers at home. Normally in summer, 2 million or more people pass through security checkpoints at U.S. airports each day, but that number hasn't been above 900,000 since mid-March, the early days of the pandemic.

Other steps Delta has taken to deliver flexibility and experience to customers include:

  • Blocking middle seats through Jan. 6, 2021, ensuring more space for safer travel, on all flights and including for Basic Economy customers.
  • Giving customers flexibility to plan, re-book and travel. Delta has provided more than $2.6 billion in cash refunds in 2020.
  • Delta was the first airline to Extend Medallion Status through 2021, and offer extensions for Delta Sky Club Memberships and more.
  • Offering a 24-hour risk free cancellation policy when customers purchase a new ticket.
  • Empowering employees to use situational flexibility when customers need it most.

Delta has also created a multi-layer approach to keep the flight safe and clean during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To woo passengers, airlines have required face masks and stepped up cleaning of planes. A few, including Delta, Southwest and JetBlue, limit seating, although American and United try to sell every seat.

Wolfe Research airline analyst Hunter Keay said he believes Delta and United were considering dropping change fees even before the pandemic because they were seen as too punitive.

"This is another example of a crisis accelerating forward thinking ideas," Keay said, adding that United could have gone further and dropped change fees on international itineraries too.

The fee, however, has raised lots of revenue for the airlines at very little cost. Since 2010, Delta has raked in $8.2 billion, American has scooped up just under $7 billion, and United has scored nearly $6.5 billion just from change fees.

Airline shares fell on Monday after United's decision and the expectation that other big airlines would be forced to ditch their change fees too. Delta and United both ended down 3.6%, American lost 4% and Southwest dropped 3.2%.

Even without change fees, plenty of other extra charges will survive. Fees for checking a bag were greatly expanded more than a decade ago. Many airlines also charge extra for seat assignments, more legroom, priority boarding and other perks, and those fees provided a growing source of revenue for airlines until the pandemic hit.


More from KSTP:

Delta Air Lines to continue blocking middle seats into 2021

Delta Air Lines announces plan to furlough nearly 2,000 pilots; American Airlines to cut 19,000 jobs in October

Southwest tightens face-mask rule, Delta steps up testing


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