Coronavirus Flight Cancellation and Change Policies: What You Need to Know

Sam KemmisSeptember 8, 2020

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Updates:

Sept 8

  • Frontier reintroduces free change policy.

  • Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian and United permanently eliminate change fees on some fares starting in 2021.

  • Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian and United extend current flexible booking policies through the remainder of 2020.

  • JetBlue extends current flexible booking policy through Oct. 15, 2020.

July 31

  • Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and United extend flexible booking windows.

  • Delta restricts changes on previously booked flights.

July 1

  • Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and United extend flexible booking windows through July.

May 29

  • Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and United extend flexible booking windows through June.

  • Southwest extends travel fund expiration through September 2022.

April 27

  • United extends flexible window on new and existing bookings.

April 27

  • Frontier reinstates change and cancellation fees.

  • JetBlue extends flexible window on new bookings through May.

April 23

  • Delta extends flexible window on existing bookings through September 2020, further extends voucher expiration.

April 17

  • Alaska extends flexible window on existing bookings through the end of 2020.

April 9

  • American extends flexible window on existing bookings through September 2020.

  • JetBlue extends flexible policy for travel through Jan. 4, 2021.

  • United allows free changes on existing bookings for all 2020 travel (until April 30, 2020).

April 3

  • Delta extends cancellation voucher expiration through May 2022 and extends flexible booking window through May 2020.

March 31

  • Most airlines extend flexible booking window through April 2020.

  • Hawaiian Airlines extends flexible booking window through May 2020.

March 20

  • Southwest extends the expiration date of "travel funds" from canceled flights.

  • American extends waivers on existing bookings for travel through May.

March 17

  • Frontier waives change and cancel fees for all flights through April.

March 12

  • Hawaiian waives change fees on previously booked flights for travel through April.

March 11

  • JetBlue waives change fees on previously booked flights for travel through April.

  • Alaska waives change fees on previously booked flights for travel through March.

March 10

  • American waives change fees on previously booked flights for travel through April.

  • United waives change fees on previously booked flights for travel through April.

March 9

  • Delta allows free changes on all previous bookings for travel until April 30, 2020.

  • Hawaiian adds flexible change policy.

March 6

  • JetBlue extends flexible travel policy through March, expands travel window through summer 2020.

March 3

  • Alaska expands flexible travel policy through March, adds limit to the number of changes allowed.

  • Delta expands policy to all bookings (not just international flights), adds limit to the number of changes allowed.

  • American expands purchase window through the end of March.

As the coronavirus and COVID-19 illness spread globally, 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 Airlines

Alaska has joined other major airlines in eliminating change fees, with a few catches.

  • The new policy technically takes effect in 2021, though Alaska's current flexible policy covers bookings through 2020.

  • Changes are still not allowed for Saver (basic economy) fares, though Saver fares booked through the remainder of 2020 can be canceled without incurring a fee.

In other words, you won't pay a change fee with Alaska anymore, though you won't be able to change Saver fares booked after 2020.

American Airlines

American Airlines has introduced one of the most generous change fee policies of the major airlines, though it still has two separate policies based on when you book:

  • For flights booked through the remainder of 2020: Change fees are waived on all bookings, including basic economy fares. You can only make one free change under this policy.

  • For flights booked in 2021 and after: Change fees are waived on all North American, non-basic-economy flights. Changes on flights to other international destinations will still carry a fee.

Delta Air Lines

Delta has jumped on the change fee elimination bandwagon, with some wrinkles. The new changes effectively kick in starting in 2021, since Delta has expanded its COVID flexibility policy through 2020. In other words:

  • For new bookings made through the remainder of 2020: All fares, including basic economy, may be changed or cancelled without incurring a fee. Unlimited changes are allowed, though they must be made within a year of original booking.

  • For bookings made in 2021 and after: Domestic, non-basic-economy fares may be changed without incurring a fee. Delta is still ironing out this policy, so expect more updates.

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 Airlines

Frontier is now allowing change fee waivers on all bookings made in Sept. 2020, with a few caveats:

  • Only one change is allowed.

  • Changes must be made more than 7 days before travel.

  • Cancellations still carry a fee.

In other words, if you book a Frontier flight in September, you can change it once in the future (at least a week before traveling) without incurring a fee.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian has also eliminated change fees on some future fares, though the existing COVID remain in effect, and offer more flexibility.

  • For flights booked through the remainder of 2020: 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 flight booked in 2021 and after: Change fees are waived on all non-basic-economy fares, including international destinations.

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.

JetBlue Airways

Unlike other domestic airlines, JetBlue has not yet extended change fee cancellation waivers indefinitely, and has not expanded its current flexible policy through the rest of the year. This makes its policy more restrictive but simpler than others:

  • If you book a new ticket on or before Oct. 15, 2020, you can change it later without incurring a fee.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest always offers an extremely flexible change/cancellation policy, and remains a good option for booking travel in uncertain times. The airline has sweetened its generous policy further by extending the expiration date of any "travel funds" earned from canceled flights through September 2022.

Basically, if you cancel a flight any time before Sept. 30, 2020, you will receive a "travel fund" credit to book another flight. The value of this credit will not expire until September 2022. This policy even applies to Southwest's (usually nonrefundable) "Wanna Get Away" fares.

Spirit Airlines

Spirit does not currently offer a flexible booking policy.

United Airlines

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 flights booked through the remainder of 2020: Change and cancelation fees made before Dec. 31, 2020 are waived. That is, these policy only applies to flights booked and changed or canceled within 2020.

  • For flight booked in 2021 and after: Change fees are waived on all domestic, non-basic-economy fares.

United does not have a limit on how many times you can make free changes under either policy.

The bottom line

The coronavirus threat is hitting the airline industry hard, and domestic airlines are scrambling to offer greater flexibility (and keep bookings from dropping off a cliff).

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. Keep in mind that these policies are changing daily, so make sure to check the airline website for the latest policy announcement before making any decisions.

NerdWallet Guide to COVID-19

Get answers about stimulus checks, debt relief, changing travel policies and managing your finances.

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: How to find the best travel insurance The top credit card offers for travel protection Should you insure your cruise?

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