United Airlines is making some changes so that customers can enjoy more flexible travel, including ditching change fees for virtually all domestic flights — for good.
Earlier this year, United, along with most other domestic airlines, began temporarily waiving change and cancellation fees for virtually all flights scheduled in or after March 2020 due to COVID-19. This allowed United passengers who had already booked (or who were considering booking travel) to change or cancel flights without the usual fees, but only for travel scheduled until Dec. 31, 2020. Now, United has declared that it has removed change fees permanently on most domestic flights, effective immediately.
» Learn more: NerdWallet's best travel credit cards
Which flights are affected?
Most domestic flights are included in the changes, including travel to and from Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, but not Guam. Most classes — Economy, Economy Plus, United First, United Business and United Premium Plus — are included, too. It applies to flights paid for in cash and award travel bookings, so no matter how you booked your travel, you’re covered.
However, Basic Economy tickets, United’s cheapest booking option that’s only available on select routes, and international flights aren’t included in the new change fee policy. (But they are covered under the airline’s special COVID-19 fee waivers until Dec. 31, 2020.)
Other charges, flight credits and refundable flights
One key thing to note is that other charges might still apply. While you can change your flight as many times as you want without incurring change fees on the included flights, you will still have to pay for the difference in fares. That means if your new flight is more expensive than the original flight you booked, you’ll have to pay the additional cost.
If you aren’t ready to reschedule a new flight, you can opt for a flight credit that you can use on any future United flight 12 months from the date of the originally scheduled flight.
Refundable flights will also continue to be an option. You can find refundable domestic Economy fares under the “flexible” tab when booking online.
What if my new flight is cheaper?
If your new flight costs less, you won’t receive a refund for the difference. This is a stark difference to what some flyers may be used to with Southwest Airlines, which also has a no-change-fee policy.
» Learn More: The guide to Southwest baggage and other fees
Same-day benefits and redeposit fees
No change fees aren't the only new policy United customers will see. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, passengers can opt for a standby flight for no extra cost. If you’ve already booked your flight but would like to try for an earlier travel time, you can, and if there are seats available, United will assign you one before departure. This offers even more travel flexibility and, according to United, it is the only U.S. airline to allow any passenger, traveling in any class of service, to fly standby for free.
You can add yourself to a standby list on the United app, United.com, or at the airport at least 30 minutes before your scheduled domestic flight or one hour before your international flight.
If you’re a MileagePlus Premier member, you’re also in luck: While same-day change fees currently start at $75, starting Jan. 1, 2021, MileagePlus Premier members can request a same-day change for no extra charge, as long as the new flight is within 24 hours of the originally scheduled flight, has the same origin and destination, and the same fare class is available. However, if you do make a change to your flight class, you will have to pay the difference.
More benefits for Premier members: Redeposit fees on all award travel that is canceled or rescheduled at least 30 days before your scheduled flight will be waived. You'll get your miles back and save money with no redeposit fee.
» Learn More: United Airlines MileagePlus Program: The complete guide
How does this new policy compare to other airlines?
American and Delta, both of which normally charge $200 per ticket (or more) to make schedule changes, are temporarily waiving fees on flights departing before Dec. 31, 2020, due to COVID-19. The day after United's announcement, both airlines rolled out similar no-change fee policies. Read more on Delta's here and American's here.
Southwest has previously been the only major domestic airline with a permanent no-change fee policy. This might mean Southwest customers, who have remained loyal to the brand because of free changes, have a new reason to consider United, Delta or American.
The bottom line
For United customers, booking domestic travel now comes with a little more peace of mind and flexibility, making the airline a more attractive option for travelers who like to be prepared for every eventuality. They will however, be in competition with all the other airlines that followed suit with new policies.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card