How to Avoid Airline Change Fees

Save hundreds of dollars by avoiding airline change fees.

Airline change fees can be a nightmare. Whether your schedule changed or you made a mistake during the booking process, you may end up paying a couple hundred dollars to change your flight. Yes, in some cases the change fee may actually cost more or almost as much as your original ticket. In fact, airlines are making a huge profit on change and cancellation fees, to the tune of $3 billion in 2014, according to the US Department of Transportation.

8 Tips for Avoiding Airline Change Fees

1.Cancel within 24 hours of booking. As long as you have booked your flight seven days or more ahead of your travel date, you can cancel within 24 hours for a full refund. For more details check out this guide by the US Department of Transportation.

2. Purchase a refundable or flexible ticket. Most airlines offer a (more expensive) refundable fare. If you are not 100% committed to your trip, this may be a safer option, especially if your airline is one that charges $200 to change a ticket.  Some airlines offer a flexible ticket that lets you pay more for the ticket and then have the ability to change it at no additional cost. Just remember, a ticket that lets you change your flight for free may not be a refundable ticket. Make sure you understand before your book your flight.

3. Purchase a brand new ticket. If you can find a new ticket for less than $200, it may be cheaper to just buy a new ticket instead of canceling the original ticket. This is especially a good option for a one-way flight change.

4. Choose an airline with no change fee. This seems like a no-brainer, but many people do not realize Southwest will let you change your ticket for free. If the ticket that you select is less than your original ticket you will receive a credit for future travel.

5. Change your ticket on the same day. This is risky, but same day change fees are significantly less than advance change fees. This could backfire if the flight time you want is not available and is not going to be as easy during peak travel times. If your desire to change your flight is simply to arrive earlier or later than originally planned, this may be the best bet.

6. Call your airline before you book with questions. If you are uncertain of the type of ticket required to cover a change fee, or simply want to understand your preferred airline cancellation policy in more detail, call the airline and ask. Write down the agent number and name of the person you speak with in case you encounter any trouble down the road.

7. Book directly with the airline. Third-party booking sites may not be as easy to change or cancel your original reservation with, and third party sites do not have to follow the 24-hour cancellation policy. For example, Priceline.com does not offer refunds for Name Your Own Price® bookings and Express Deals.

8. Wait it out and hope for a flight interruption. In 2015, only 78% of flights operated on time. This means there is a small chance your flight will experience a delay that warrants a refund or rebooking. And, there is a 2% your flight will be canceled. The odds of a delay or cancellation may increase if you fly out of a busy airport, like Chicago O’Hare, which led the nation in delays in 2014.

Airline Change Fees

Before you book a flight, be aware of the amount your airlines charges to change your flight. Southwest offers the best flight modification policy, offering no charge to change or cancel your flight reservation. Alaska Airlines will allow you to change or cancel for free at least 60 days prior to your departure date. The three major airlines, American Airlines, Delta, and United all charge a hefty fee for modifying a standard ticket. American Airlines and United do not offer very clear information online regarding change fees. Spirit Airlines offers an optional fee when you purchase the ticket that allows for one modification. JetBlue varies in change fee based on the cost and type of ticket you purchase.

Alaska Airlines Change Fees

  • $0 to change or cancel your flight at least 60 days prior to departure date.
  • $125 to change or cancel your flight less than 60 before your departure date, unless you are have purchased a first class ticket or are Mileage Plan™ MVP® Gold or 75K, in which case you pay no fee.
  • More information available on Alaska Airlines.

American Airlines Change Fees

  • $200 for travel within the 50 United States.
  • Up to $450 for international (could not locate exact charges on their website).
  • $75 for same-day travel change on flights between the 50 United States, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), Canada, and the Caribbean.
  • Refundable fares can be changed without paying a change fee. If you do not wish to reschedule your travel, you can apply for a refund.
  • Choice Plus fare offers no addition change fee.
  •  More information available on American Airlines.

 

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American Airlines offers a Choice Plus changeable ticket and a different, complete refundable ticket (shown below).

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Delta Airlines Change Fees

  • $200 for travel within the 50 United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • $50 for same-day travel change (waived for Platinum & Gold Medallion Members)
  • $200-$500 for travel outside the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (may vary based on location and type of fare).
  • Refundable fares can be changed without paying a change fee. If you do not wish to reschedule your travel, you can apply for a refund.
  • More information available on Delta Airlines.

Frontier Airlines Change Fees

  • $99 to modify your reservation.
  • $99 for same-day travel changes.
  • $0 to change or cancel when “The Works” bundle is purchased during online booking.
  • More information available on Frontier Airlines.

Hawaiian Airlines Change Fees

  • Up to $300 based on your route.
  • $30 change fee for inner-island change fees.
  • More information available on Hawaiian Airlines.

JetBlue Airlines Change Fees

  • $60-$135 based on the type of ticket purchased and price of the original ticket. See breakdown here.
  • $0 to change or cancel a Blue Flex fee.
  • More information available on JetBlue Airlines.

Southwest Airlines Change Fees

  • $0 to change your flight at any time (must be changed a least 10 minutes prior to scheduled departure of the flight).
  • If you prefer to cancel, you eligible to receive 100% of your ticket value as a refund to your original form of payment.
  • More information available on Southwest Airlines.

Spirit Airlines Change Fees

  • $90 to modify or cancel your reservation online.
  • $100 to modify or cancel your reservation over the phone or at the airport.
  • For $35 to $45, you can add “Flex Fare” to your ticket, which will allow you to modify the reservation one time.
  • More information available on Spirit Airlines.

United Airlines Change Fees

  • $200 for travel within the 50 United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
  • $75 for same-day travel change (waived for Premier Gold,  Premier Platinum & Premier 1K Members)
  • $200-$500 for travel outside the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (may vary based on location and type of fare).
  • More information available on United Airlines.
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United Airlines offers the flexible fee, which may be more expensive than paying for a change fee.

Virgin America Change Fees

  • $100-$150 depending on the length of flight for main cabin and main cabin select.
  • $0 to change first class ticket.
  • Purchase a main cabin refundable or first class refundable to receive no change fees and full refund if desired.
  • $25-$50 for same-day travel.
  • More information available on Virgin America.

This information was updated as of August 10th, 2016.

What tips do you have for avoiding airline change fees? Please comment below!

avoid airline change fees business travel life

Business Travel Life

Business Travel Life is an online resource supporting the road warrior lifestyle. We give business travelers the tools they need to maintain their wellness and productivity when traveling. The topics we cover include business travel tips, travel workouts, healthy travel hacks, travel products, general travel tips, and industry trends. Our goal is to make business travel a healthier experience – and to make healthy travel practices more accessible to all road warriors.

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Kristina Portillo, CPT, MS

Kristina is the founder of Business Travel Life. Her love of fitness and travel unified to create a resource for business travelers and road warriors who want to take a healthier approach to business travel. She has traveled for business on and off for the past eight years. Kristina received a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Colorado State University and received her Bachelors of Arts in Business Marketing from Chaminade University of Honolulu.

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