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Updates

April 3

  • Delta extends cancellation vouchers through May 2022 and jumps in the rankings.


The coronavirus pandemic has brought air travel to a screeching halt. Flights are cancelled, borders are closed, and now one of the big questions is: When will we travel again?

Airlines are offering flexible travel policies to help with this uncertainty. For example, if you’re set to attend a wedding this summer but are unsure whether it will happen or not, you can still book a flight now and reschedule it later for free under these policies.

However, not all airlines are offering the same policies, and some are more generous than others. Here we’ve rated the flexible booking policies for eight major U.S. airlines on several criteria, and ranked them from most flexible to least. We’ve also included some tips for when, how and whether to book your upcoming flights.

Note: These policies are changing daily. We will do our best to update this page, but make sure to check the specific policy for a given airline before booking your travel.

NerdWallet Guide to COVID-19

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

Airlines with the best flexible travel policies

If you have the option to book future air travel with several airlines, here are our current rankings of which ones offer the most flexible policies:

Airline

Rank

Southwest

1 (best)

Delta

2

United

3 (tied)

Hawaiian

3 (tied)

Alaska

5

American

6

JetBlue

7

Frontier

8

These rankings are based on the policies outlined below. For many travelers, even the more restrictive policies will still offer plenty of value, so compare this table against your own travel plans and uncertainties.

Flexible booking policy applies if purchased before:

For travel until:

Cancellation explicitly allowed?

Number of changes allowed

Alaska

April 30, 2020

Feb. 28, 2021

Yes

Unlimited

American

April 30, 2020

Feb. 28, 2021

Yes

1

Delta

May 31, 2020

Feb. 25, 2021

Yes, and cancellation vouchers now usable through May 2022

Unlimited

Frontier

April 15, 2020

Nov. 9, 2020

Yes, but credit must be used within 90 days

1

Hawaiian

May 31, 2020

Any date

Yes

1

JetBlue

April 30, 2020

Sep. 8, 2020

Yes

Unlimited

Southwest

Any time

Any date

Yes, and credit extended through June 30, 2021

Unlimited

United

April 30, 2020

Any date

Yes

Unlimited

Tips for booking

  • Book directly through the airline. Generally, using a third party like Expedia, Orbitz or a credit card rewards portal is a fine alternative to purchasing directly through the airline. However, as anyone who has tried to deal with these online travel agencies this month can tell you, it adds an extra layer of uncertainty and customer support wrangling for changes and cancellations. Given how slammed these phone lines are likely to remain for the foreseeable future, we recommend booking directly from the airline.

  • Canceling a ticket doesn’t mean you get your money back. Most airlines issue a credit for canceled bookings that can be used for some amount of time (often 12 months) after the cancellation. So you shouldn’t book a dozen flights for this year assuming you can cancel them and simply get your money back.

  • Award flights (using miles) have the same flexible policies as cash flights. And booking last-minute one-way flights with miles is often a good strategy.

  • Don’t worry too much about airline cancellations. Airlines are suspending service on both domestic and international routes at a stupendous rate, and there’s some chance that any flight you book will be canceled. Don’t worry — if this happens, the airline will either rebook you on an alternate flight or fully refund your ticket.