For travelers who want to lock in some of the cheapest airfares this year and still have the flexibility to change them without a fee, the next couple of days would be a good time to book. Airlines are poised to remove some of the flexibility they’ve introduced over the past year, just as a growing number of travelers are feeling confident stepping back onto planes.
For tickets in basic economy, the rock-bottom fare class that is normally subject to a host of additional restrictions, the ability to make itinerary changes without paying a fee is set to end at the end of March on many U.S. carriers.
The changes come as more and more passengers have been flying in recent days. More than 1.5 million people boarded planes on March 28 alone, according to the latest data from the TSA—a huge increase from January, a month in which numbers consistently hovered around 600,000 daily fliers.
Most major U.S. carriers are making updates to their change fee policies for basic economy fares in the coming week. American Airlines, for instance, is ending no-charge changes and refunds for tickets in the fare class purchased on or after April 1. Likewise, Delta is reverting all basic economy tickets back to being non-refundable and non-changeable, as they were pre-pandemic, starting on March 30.
Similarly, United and Hawaiian airlines will only be allowing free changes on basic economy fares issued by March 31. JetBlue is instituting a change and cancellation fee structure on its Blue Basic tickets beginning on April 1: a $100 fee for travel within the U.S., Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America, and $200 for all other routes. (Southwest Airlines has never charged change fees, and the carrier hasn't changed that policy.)
If you book a basic economy fare before the airline's deadline, you will be able to change your travel dates for free or cancel and receive a travel voucher for the value of the ticket.
On the majority of U.S. airlines—with the exception of ultra-low-cost carriers like Spirit or Frontier—change fees have been permanently eliminated for other fares, such as main cabin economy and business class, for travel within the U.S. and some international flights.
Book now, travel later
There's another reason why this week is a key time to make future bookings. In addition to the tightening basic economy rules, many fliers are realizing their flight vouchers from canceled trips in 2020 are also about to expire.
If your travel voucher is set to expire soon and the airline won't extend it, then it's a good idea to use it to book a future flight—one that can still be adjusted if plans or circumstances change. One thing to keep in mind is that while there won't be a fee to change the travel dates on the ticket, most airline policies state that travelers will have to pay any difference in fare if prices increase later in the year. Remember to always read the fine print on the airfare before you decided to buy.
Rainbow Travel reporting on how COVID-19 impacts travel on a daily basis.