The Best Ways to Avoid Airline Change & Cancellation Fees

Things change a bit when you are looking to make a last-minute flight change, generally on the day of your departure. Many airlines offer same-day changes at a much lower price than if you make changes in advance, and these are often waived for certain tiers of elite status. Each airline handles same-day changes differently, but they are almost always cheaper than if you were to change your flight in advance.

In this travel guide prepared by Treknova, we shall take a look at a few possible ways you can avoid paying an airline change fee for your trip.

Things to Know About Airline Change Regulations

There are a couple of important things that travellers must take note of before booking flight reservations. This is because sometimes, there are the so-called “hidden fees” that may apply when you purchase products or services of any given airline carrier. For example, many people were compelled to pay airline change fees, even within 24 hours after booking their flight ticket, which should not have happened.

As you may already know, airline carriers in the United States are administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Hence, the contract of carriage set by the U.S. DOT applies to all airlines in the U.S. In addition to this, airline carriers have also laid down other regulations and policies that customers are obliged to comply.

Ways You Can Avoid Paying An Airline Change Fee

Having understood the regulations issued by airline carriers, which are quite similar for most airline’s contract of carriage, we will now provide you a few sure ways through which you can avoid paying airline change fees for your trip.

  • Travel waivers
  • Get updates for flight schedule changes
  • The 24-hour rule
  • Book a one-way flight instead of round-trip
  • Come up with a good reason
  • Consider your credit card coverage
  • Earn elite status
  • Use a credit card travel credit to cover your fees
  • Avoid paying change fees unless you have to

These have been explained below.

Travel Waivers

Generally, travel waivers can be issued to travellers at times when airlines anticipate significant numbers of flight delays or even cancellations. For example, this could arise due to bad weather, natural disaster or more recently, COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. As such, several airlines may adjust their operations, and may provide flexibility for travellers in advance than try to accommodate you at the airport. The specifics of travel waivers can vary by airline along with the reason for the waiver, however, they may let you change or even cancel your flight without incurring hefty fees.

You can find travel waivers on the airline’s website. These will show at the top of the website and on-screen when check-in for your flight. The airline may even e-mail you if you are eligible for a travel waiver, so make sure to check your inbox before you travel.

Get Updates for Flight Schedule Changes

Another way to avoid paying change fees is when your flight schedule suddenly changes after you book a ticket. For example, if your flight was scheduled to depart at 1 pm, but now departs at 2:30 pm, you may be eligible to change or cancel your flight for free. The schedule changes are sent to you via e-mail, however it is also important to frequently review your trips to identify these on your own.

Schedule changes are frequent, especially if you book a flight far out from the date of travel. This is because airlines usually finalise their flight schedules at the start of each season, and flights booked before these schedules are finalised are generally based on the airline’s current and historical schedule.

Many airlines based in the United States will offer you a full refund if your flight’s departure or arrival time is changed by 90 minutes or more. However, schedule change policies vary among airline carriers. Therefore, you must check out schedule changes for specific information for your airline.

The 24-hour Rule

Airline carriers are required by law to offer refunds within 24 hours of booking as long as the flight is more than seven days in the future. This can really come in handy if the price drops or you are still nailing down some travel details. This is also applicable to tickets booked through credit card sites like Amex Travel and the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

Book a One-Way Flight Instead of Round-Trip

Most airlines may charge the same total price regardless of whether you book two one-way tickets or a round-trip. However, the implications for change fees can be dramatically different. For example, if you book a $300 round-trip flight on American, Delta or United and then need to change the first flight, you will incur a $200 change fee, since you are making a change to the first. However, if you instead, book two $150 one-way tickets, you could simply discard the first flight and purchase a new one-way ticket with the same airline or another carrier. Here, you will be sacrificing only what you already paid for the first flight.

On the other hand, booking a round-trip flight could allow you to change dates on both ends of the trip for a single change fee. Thus, it makes more sense to book flights as round-trip tickets when the total cost of the trip is significantly more than double the change fee. In some cases though, airlines may charge more for a one-way ticket than two round-trip tickets. So, make sure to do your research before you book a one-way ticket. The round trip can be easily converted into Open Jaw trips as well, to know more about open-jaw trips click here.

Come Up with a Good Reason

Travellers can have change fees waived in the event of illness, a death in the family or other extraordinary circumstances like a natural disaster. Therefore, you must try to be prepared to come up with legitimate reasons and providing supporting documentation.

Consider your Credit Card Coverage

Trip cancellation and interruption insurance provides travel rewards or airline credit cards, if you used it to pay for booking your flight. However, this protection may cover any change or cancellation fees you would incur in addition to other eligible, non-refundable expenses. For example, if you have a covered reason such as jury duty or serious illness for needing to cancel or change your trip and you booked with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, then you could be eligible for up to $10,000 in reimbursement per trip.

However, also keep in mind that if an emergency arises that allows you to invoke your credit card’s trip delay or cancellation coverage, then you are probably worried about more than just airline change or cancellation fees. But, it is also good to know that these protections exist should you need them. You will need to pay for at least a portion of the covered trip with your card to receive this coverage. This often may include paying for award taxes and fees with your credit card or using points to purchase a ticket through a site like the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

Earn Elite Status

An advantages of having airline elite status is that certain tiers with select carriers will waive change fees and mileage redeposit fees on award tickets. Elite status is not just good for first-class upgrades. It can also avoid cancellation and change fees in certain situations. For instance airlines like JetBlue and Alaska airlines even offer these waivers on paid tickets. Additionally, most airline loyalty programs also offer discounted or waived same-day flight changes for elite members on paid tickets. Travellers with elite status are also more likely to be granted a waiver from a sympathetic airline representative, especially if you call your elite customer service centre.

Use a Credit Card Travel Credit or Redemption to Cover Your Fees

You can use travel credits from a premium travel credit card to cover your change or cancellation fees. Such cards include The Platinum Card from American Express or the Chase Sapphire Reserve or you could also redeem miles from a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. You will still be subject to paying the fees, but you may be able to cover them with a statement credit or your miles.

This is applicable to award tickets, since the change or cancellation fees are often an additional out-of-pocket expense in such situations. With paid flights, the fees are deducted from the value of your ticket. Using the Amex Platinum card, you can only cover the change or cancellation fee for the airline that you have selected to use for your $200 annual airline fee credit. You can choose this airline when you first get your Platinum card and once per year thereafter. It is also worth noting that Amex’s system will determine which purchases are and are not eligible for the credit.

If you are required to pay a change or cancellation fee from your pocket, you could always charge it to a card like the Capital One Venture card and then use your miles at a fixed value to cover the cost. This feature of the Venture Card is very popular, though transferring your Capital One miles to travel partners will likely get you a much higher redemption value.

Avoid Paying Change Fees Unless You Have To

If you book a flight and you need to change the trip later, you should not pay that change fee any earlier than you need to. You never know when the airline might announce their flight schedule change, delay or cancellation that will entitle you to change or cancel your trip without paying the fee. However, if an airline initiates cancellation of service, it could result in a refund to your original form of payment, not a travel voucher. This makes it a powerful tool in your arsenal, if the airline can no longer provide the service you booked.

Also, keep in mind the certain specific policies of your airline carrier. Unused tickets can sometimes be rebooked after the flight by paying the same change fee you would have paid in advance, though some carriers require you to cancel or change your flight before the scheduled departure.

Conclusion

Changing or cancelling a flight is not free from complications, especially if you had planned to go on a holiday. This may result in a hefty change or cancellation fee, so it is always good to know your options for avoiding change fees when you can.