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Jan. 8, 2021
Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian and Spirit extend fully flexible policies through the winter.
Frontier waives change fees for travel through Jan. 7, 2021.
Spirit waives change fees for travel booked through Dec. 31, 2020.
Frontier removes free change policy.
JetBlue extends free change policy through February 2021.
Southwest removes extension of travel funds for Wanna Get Away fares.
As the coronavirus and COVID-19 illness continues to dominate the travel world, domestic airlines have introduced flexible change and cancellation policies for both existing and new bookings.
Many airlines have now permanently eliminated change fees, though these policies do not effectively go into place until 2021. Until then, these ad-hoc flexible booking policies, which are generally more generous, remain in effect.
Here we untangle these policies to help you manage your upcoming air travel plans. To learn more about canceling an existing reservation, check out our roundup of coronavirus-related policies, our guide to travel insurance and how to decide whether to cancel your trip.
Nerd tip: All change fee waivers apply only to the fee associated with changing a booking, not the difference in cost of the airfare. For example, if the new fare is $200 higher than the previous fare, and would usually come with an additional $100 change fee, only this $100 is waived. You still have to pay the $200 difference for the more expensive ticket.
Alaska has joined other major airlines in eliminating change and cancellation fees on most fares starting in spring 2021. However, its "saver" basic economy fares cannot be changed or canceled.
For new bookings through Mar. 31, 2021: Saver fares can be canceled without a fee. All other fares can be changed or canceled without a fee.
For new bookings made after Mar. 31, 2021: All fares except saver fares can be changed or canceled without a fee.
For existing bookings: Most fares, including saver fares booked in 2020 for travel in 2021 should still be eligible for free changes and cancellation, per the COVID policies Alaska had in place at the time of booking.
American Airlines has introduced one of the most generous change fee policies of the major airlines and has bumped out its fully flexible policy through January 2021.
For new bookings made through Jan. 31, 2021: All change and cancellation fees are waived on all fares, including basic economy.
For new bookings made after Jan. 31, 2021: Change fees are waived on all North American, non-basic-economy fares. Changes on tickets to other international destinations will still carry a fee.
For existing bookings: Most bookings made in 2020 for travel in 2021 can be changed once without incurring a fee, depending on the COVID policy in place at the time of booking.
Delta Air Lines
Delta has jumped on the change fee elimination bandwagon, with some (generous) wrinkles. The new changes effectively kick in after Mar. 31, 2021, since Delta has expanded its COVID flexibility policy through then. Specifically:
For new bookings made through Mar. 31, 2021: All fares, including basic economy, may be changed or canceled without incurring a fee. Unlimited changes are allowed, though they must be made within a year of original booking.
For new bookings made after Mar. 31, 2021: Non-basic-economy fares originating in North America may be changed without incurring a fee. Previously, this policy applied only to domestic tickets.
For existing bookings: All flights booked between Apr. 17, 2020, and Mar. 31, 2021, can be changed or canceled without a fee.
Delta has (further) extended the expiration date on the vouchers (credits) earned by canceling flights. Vouchers are now usable through September 2022. That is, if you cancel a new or existing reservation, you'll get a voucher with Delta that is now usable through September 2022.
Frontier has altered its change fee policy throughout the pandemic and is now waiving change fees for travel through Feb. 28, 2021. Previously, Frontier had applied this policy based on the booking time frame, not the travel time frame. Changes made to travel after Feb. 28, 2021, are subject to its tiered change policy, based on when the change is made:
13 or fewer days before departure: $59
14 to 59 days before departure: $39
60+ days before departure: $0
Hawaiian has also eliminated change fees on some future fares, though the existing COVID policies remain in effect, and offer more flexibility.
For new bookings made through Mar. 31, 2021: Change and cancelation fees are waived on all fares for changes made within two years of the original booking. Only one change is allowed.
For new bookings made after Mar. 31, 2021: Change fees are waived on all non-basic-economy fares, including international destinations.
For existing bookings: Most tickets booked in 2020 will be fully flexible, and subject to the policy in place at time of booking.
Note: The state of Hawaii has issued strict quarantine regulations for visitors. Make sure to check current limitations and dates before purchasing or completing any travel to Hawaii.
Unlike other domestic airlines, JetBlue has not yet extended change fee cancellation waivers indefinitely, but has extended its flexible policy through February 2021. This makes its policy simpler than others, for now:
For new bookings made until Feb. 28, 2021: You can change or cancel any ticket, including blue basic fares, without incurring a fee.
For new bookings made after Feb. 28, 2021: JetBlue's standard change and cancellation fees apply.
For existing bookings: Most bookings made in 2020 for travel in 2021 will be fully flexible, depending on the policy in place at time of booking.
Southwest always offers an extremely flexible change/cancellation policy, and remains a good option for booking travel in uncertain times. Previously, Southwest had extended the expiration date on vouchers earned from canceled Wanna Get Away fares through 2022, but that offer has now expired and these funds are now good for one year.
In other words, Southwest fares have always been fully flexible and will continue to be so.
Spirit didn't offer any flexible booking options for most of the year but is now waiving change fees for all flights booked through Feb 28, 2021. This is more generous than Frontier's policy, since it applies to future travel.
United started the trend of permanently eliminating change fees on some fares, though it is more restrictive than some others It now offers two policies, depending on booking date.
For new bookings: Change fees are waived on all domestic, non-basic-economy fares. Other fares still carry change and cancellation fees.
For existing bookings: Most tickets booked in 2020 for travel in 2021 will not carry change or cancellation fees, depending on the policy in place at time of booking.
The bottom line
The coronavirus threat is hitting the airline industry hard, and domestic airlines are offering greater booking flexibility than ever.
If you’re thinking about booking travel in the coming months, check which airline offers the most flexible travel and change/cancellation fees waiver policy based on your plans. These policies change often, so check the airline's website for the latest policy announcement before making any decisions.