The pandemic has sent airlines scrambling to convince wary travelers to purchase tickets for future travel. For most of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, nearly all airlines were offering waivers that allowed customers to change tickets free of charge—even the most restrictive Basic Economy fares.
In the spring of 2021, passenger bookings started to pick back up with the positive news of vaccines and most airlines brought back restrictive Basic Economy fares that could not be changed after ticketing. Since the Delta variant has caused another surge in COVID-19 cases, travel demand is slowing and a few airlines are once again allowing free changes for passengers that have booked or presently book Basic Economy tickets.
Airlines Allowing Free Changes for Basic Economy Tickets
While some airlines are limiting these waivers to certain markets, others are applying the waiver across all tickets for travel and/or bookings through a certain date, so read the fine print carefully before you buy.
Due to the Governor of Hawaii’s request that visitors and residents reduce travel to the islands, Alaska Airlines is allowing passengers who booked tickets issued by the airline to change or cancel flights to/from the following Hawaiian airports:
- Honolulu, Oahu (HNL)
- Kona, Big Island (KOA)
- Lihue, Kauai (LIH)
- Kahului, Maui (OGG)
This waiver applies to all tickets to/from Hawaii purchased directly with Alaska Airlines on or before August 31, 2021, with original travel dates through October 31, 2021.
You must change or cancel your flight prior to the scheduled departure and the restriction for Saver fares is being waived, which means all tickets to Hawaii within the above parameters can be changed. However, Saver tickets for other destinations still cannot be changed or cancelled.
If you cancel your Hawaii trip, you will receive a future travel credit valid for one year from the original date of purchase, which can be used to book travel up to 11 months from the certificate’s expiration. As always, a fare difference may still apply even though there are no change fees.
At the end of July, Delta issued a new 2021 Basic Economy Changeability Waiver. This new policy allows all Basic Economy tickets purchased directly from Delta to be changed without a fee as long as it falls within the following parameters.
- Ticketed between May 1, 2021 – December 31, 2021
- Original travel dates through December 31, 2021
- Ticket reissued on/before December 31, 2021
- New travel dates through December 31, 2022
Basic Economy tickets purchased prior to May would fall under Delta’s previous COVID-19 travel waiver and would be able to be changed regardless of travel dates.
Basically, all new and previously purchased Delta tickets can be changed without a fee as long as your travel dates are in 2021. And you can change them to new travel dates through 2022. However, if you purchase a Basic Economy ticket now, for travel dates in 2022, the restrictive “no changes allowed” policy still applies.
Any changes are still subject to a fare difference and if the fare happens to be less, you’ll receive an eCredit, which can be redeemed for future travel.
In mid-August, Frontier eliminated change/cancel fees for new bookings through September. To be eligible for this waiver, the following parameters must be met.
- Ticket purchased between August 12, 2021 – September 30, 2021, regardless of travel dates
- Change or cancellation must be made prior to required check-in time
- All changes or cancellations must be made by September 30, 2021, regardless of travel dates
Changes or cancellations made outside of these parameters would follow Frontier’s standard change policy unless another previous waiver applies.
Hawaiian Airlines has also made its Main Cabin Basic tickets more flexible in light of the governor’s plea that travelers refrain from visiting the Aloha State at this time. The new waiver policy allows Main Cabin Basic fares to be changed as long as the ticket was:
- Purchased between May 1, 2021 – August 16, 2021, for travel dates through October 31, 2021
- Purchased between August 17, 2021 – October 31, 2021, for any travel date on or after August 17, 2021.
Tickets purchased prior to May would fall under a previous waiver policy that also allows Main Cabin Basic tickets to be changed before the ticket’s expiration date, regardless of travel dates.
On August 25, 2021, JetBlue announced a new booking fee waiver for changes or cancellations to new Blue Basic bookings. Fees will be waived for changes made to the following bookings:
- New Blue Basic bookings made between August 25, 2021 – October 31, 2021, regardless of travel dates
Notably, this does not include previous bookings you may have made this summer for fall travel dates. However, JetBlue’s standard policy still allows changes to be made to Blue Basic tickets — although a fee does apply. Blue Basic bookings made between June 8, 2021 – August 24, 2021, require a $100 change fee for flights within the U.S., Mexico, or Caribbean, and $200 for all other routes.
Flights booked prior to June 8, 2021, would fall under JetBlue’s previous no change fee waiver policy.
Southwest doesn’t sell Basic Economy tickets, and as standard policy, all of its fares can be changed without a fee.
Recently, United quietly updated its change policy for Basic Economy tickets to generally copy what Delta implemented at the end of July. If you’ve purchased or plan to purchase a Basic Economy ticket with United, you’ll be able to make a free change as long as:
- Ticket is issued by December 31, 2021
- Original travel dates commence by December 31, 2021
However, refunds are not allowed after the 24-hour flexible booking policy. This means you’ll be able to change your United flight if your travel dates fall within 2021, regardless of which type of ticket you book. Of course, a fare difference may still apply and this waiver policy may only apply to tickets booked directly with United.
Related: What Type of Flyer Are You?
Airlines Without Waivers for Basic Economy Tickets
While nearly all airlines jumped on the no change fee bandwagon for all tickets during the height of the pandemic in 2020, the new waiver policies are not being copied by all in 2021.
The other major U.S. airline, American, still has a strict “no changes allowed” policy for Basic Economy tickets purchased on or after April 1, 2021. For this reason, you’ll want to compare your choices carefully when booking new tickets.
Since travel restrictions are still a moving target, it may be worth the peace of mind to upgrade to a Main Cabin ticket when flying American. However, it should be noted that American has suspended selling Basic Economy tickets in domestic markets and several short-haul international markets for the time being. This means the lowest prices you see in these markets will likely already be a flexible Main Cabin ticket.
You’ll still find Basic Economy fares on American Airlines for most long-haul international routes and in certain short-haul markets in the Caribbean and Latin America. Therefore, you’ll need to be diligent when booking to know if your ticket can be changed or not. It may be possible to book the Basic Economy fare on the same AA flights via a partner airline, such as British Airways, and still be able to make changes to your ticket.
Other popular U.S. airlines like Allegiant, Spirit, and Sun Country, still have their usual policies regarding flight changes. Changes can be made to any ticket, though it will usually require a fee unless you make the change well in advance, purchased your ticket during a previous waiver period, or purchase a special flexibility add-on during booking.
America’s newest airlines, Avelo and Breeze, have adopted Southwest’s generous policy that allows free changes to all tickets. As long as you change your reservation at least 15 minutes prior (10 min for Southwest) to scheduled departure, flights can be changed without a fee. Only a fare difference applies.