American Airlines Offers Free Name Changes On Flight Bookings

American Airlines is allowing even more flexibility on some tickets. COVID-19 has seen many airlines implement flexible change and refund policies. American Airlines is no exception. Last week, the airline stepped its new-found flexibility up a notch by allowing selected customers to make no-cost name changes on existing bookings.

American Airlines is allowing some customers to make no-cost name changes on existing bookings. Photo: Charlotte Douglas International Airport Newsroom

No-cost name changes for corporate customers

On American’s website for travel agents and travel partners, an update on the airline’s current flexible travel policy appeared last week. In it, the airline is extending a little known COVID-19 inspired flexible rule for corporate customers, Business Extra accounts, and On Business accounts. On applicable tickets, American Airlines is allowing a no-cost name change.

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Airlines don’t usually allow complimentary name changes. Instead, they charge a hefty fee. While not alone here, American Airlines has form in this area, reputedly charging hundreds of dollars to correct a typo, let alone change a name altogether.

American Airlines management had long argued that ticket inflexibility made sound commercial sense. If a passenger couldn’t travel because the ticketed name was incorrect, or for some other reason, American Airlines’ longstanding view was, well, tough luck.

The stance was particularly stringent around cheaper tickets. So, this policy is a new frontier for American Airlines. You might like to think it was because the airline has decided to become less Grinch-like. More likely, it is driven by cold hard commercial imperatives.

The no-cost name change policy extends to corporate customers, Business Extra accounts, and On Business accounts Photo: American Airlines Newsroom

The perk only applies to a narrow band of customers

It should be emphasized that no-cost name changes do not extend to all tickets. Instead, the policy explicitly targets the all-important corporate market. As noted, the waiver applies to corporate customers, Business Extra accounts, and On Business accounts only.

Two other conditions further narrow the range of passengers who stand to benefit from this waiver. First, a contracted Corporate Travel Agreement, Business Extra, or On Business account must be active. Second, tickets must contain a valid CART/Business Extra number or an On Business number in the Tour Code box.

That rules out the majority of passengers, particularly the average Joe who is flying from A to B on an inexpensive ticket. Perhaps that explains why American Airlines has not been trumpeting this policy, and the media have largely ignored it.

The policy will not benefit the average passenger at this stage. Photo: Denver International Airport Newsroom

Change and innovation always trickles down

But innovation and change have to start somewhere. Historically, product and service improvements in the airline industry have first appeared in the premium cabins, then gradually filtered down to the back of the plane. Seatback entertainment screens are an example.

Likewise, improvements in ticket flexibility have to start somewhere. A corporate customer usually generates a far higher financial return for an airline than the average traveler.  And corporate customers don’t just travel a few times a year; they keep on coming back. So, even if it doesn’t benefit most passengers, it makes sense for American Airlines to roll out the policy among this customer base.

With a bit of luck, the no-cost name change policy will trickle down into other ticket types.

COVID-19 and the travel downturn has seen the airline industry discover flexibility and reasonableness. From a passenger perspective, that’s a really good thing. But, when travel does bounce back, can the genie be put back into the bottle? Will this new-found flexibility, including no-cost name changes, disappear as fast as it arrived? Unwinding these policies might be easier said than done. That’s good news for passengers down the track.

That means new policies like no-cost name changes could be here to stay. It also means that, over time, the policy may apply to more and more ticket types.