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Airlines Cut Change Fees to Entice Travel

2 MINUTE READ | September 1, 2020

Airlines Cut Change Fees to Entice Travel

Author's headshot

David Gong

With PMG since 2012, David Gong has led marketing initiatives at PMG, drawing on his past experience at agencies, publishers, and industry partners.

As if 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, this week, United announced that it is permanently eliminating change fees for most economy and premium cabin flights within the US. The airline’s goal is to make it easier for consumers to travel when they feel comfortable (though undoubtedly United hopes that “when” is as soon as possible). If you’ve been following the airline industry in recent years, you know this runs smack opposite of its typical behavior — that is, adding fee upon fee, to the point where a statement about airlines charging for oxygen might not be so obvious that it’s a joke.

What was unsurprising about this news was that other airlines quickly followed suit. Delta announced that it would implement essentially the same policy as United. American Airlines’ change (pun intended) was a bit more generous since it covers some international flights, and travelers will get a credit if there’s a difference in fares (versus United’s policy of having travelers eating the difference if the new ticket is cheaper than the one booked initially). And not to be outdone, Alaska Airlines touted its change as being even more generous, since it covers all international flights (though its international coverage includes only Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica).

One can only wonder why Southwest hasn’t come out with something reminding travelers that it never had change fees to begin with.

This is a screenshot of Southwest’s search ad, not a placement via Google AdSense.

This is a very consumer-friendly change by companies not typically known for consumer-friendly practices and policies. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the industry took in $2.8 billion in change fees last year, so these moves reflect the desperation of airlines to eliminate any reason — within their control — consumers might have to not travel as the world deals with the pandemic.

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Personally, I’d bet a billion dollars (if I had that) that these so-called permanent changes are going to return once the economy recovers, but until then, here’s to hoping that the moves work and people get to experience the joy and benefits of going somewhere.

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