In what may be a sign of things to come, American Airlines has quietly announced "easier" same day standby policies, but what they fail to mention is that it appears you will no longer be able to do a non-confirmed same day standby.

Most US airlines have offered two same day standby options: if you want to take an earlier or later flight on the same day of your original flight, you can either pay for a confirmed seat (typically for a fee of $25 to $50), or you can take your chances and hope that there's a seat available without asking for a confirmed seat (the free option). But it appears that for fares bought after Feb. 22, 2010, only confirmed seats are available on American Airlines, for a fee of $50.

The alternate flights must be for your same itinerary and your flight change can only be confirmed within 12 hours of departure of the desired flight. This option is subject to availability of eligible seats. Also, American continues to offer the same-day option of standing by for an earlier or later domestic flight for certain customers (see below) at no charge. The new policy applies only to travel within and between the US and Canada.

So basically what's happened here is yet another fee "upgrade" and Airfarewatchdog wouldn't be surprised if other airlines will take note and change their policies as well, eliminating free same day standby where it exists.

The following American Airlines passengers may standby at no charge based on seat availability:

  • Customers traveling within and between the U.S., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands or Canada with tickets purchased before February 22, 2010
  • Customers who purchase unrestricted Economy Class fares (Y, B, H class of service)
  • Customers who purchase Business or First Class tickets
  • Active U.S. Military personnel traveling on orders or personal travel
  • Active U.S. Military dependents traveling on orders
  • American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum®, AAdvantage Platinum® or AAdvantage Gold® members
  • oneworld® Alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby members
  • Customers flying on the same reservation as an American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum or AAdvantage Gold member or oneworld Alliance Emerald, Sapphire or Ruby member regardless of frequent flier status or fare type
  • AAirpass® members
  • First and Business Class MileSAAver® Awards
  • First, Business and Economy Class AAnytime® Awards

Airline policies differ

Some airlines still offer free same day flight changes on a standby basis. JetBlue, for example, makes a distinction between a same day flight change, for which it currently charges a fee of $40 to travel on a later or earlier flight in a confirmed seat, and same day standby travel; you may travel on an earlier flight only, at no charge, on a standby basis; if you want to get a confirmed seat on an earlier or later flight on the same day as your original reservation, then the charge kicks in. However, Southwest Airlines' official policy, which is sometimes waived by kindly personnel, is to charge the difference between what you originally paid for your discount fare and the then current last minute (walk up) fare when you request a same day flight change.

Currently, United, Continental, US Air and Delta allow both same day confirmed flight changes and no-fee same day standby. United charges $75 for confirmed same day changes.

And whatever the airlines' official policy, fees are sometimes waived, even for passengers without special status. For example, if your flight is overbooked and you've shown up for an earlier flight, airlines have an incentive to book you on the earlier flight with no fee.

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