International Flight Change Fees Scrapped By American Airlines

American Airlines is axing change fees for nearly all long-haul international flying when travel originates in North or South America. Only travelers on Basic Economy tickets will continue to pay change fees for long-haul international flights. It’s a noteworthy reversal for an airline that until recently was notorious for its high change fees.

American Airlines is dropping change fees on long-haul routes. Photo: Denver International Airport Newsroom

In a media statement, American’s Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja said;

“We are committed to making travel easier for our customers who fly on American. By eliminating change fees, we’re giving customers more flexibility no matter when or where they plan to travel.”

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American Airlines has dropped a range of fees this year

Today’s announcement follows an earlier decision by American Airlines to ax change fees on domestic and short-haul international flying. Like today’s announcement, the policy applied to all fare types except Basic Economy tickets.

The passenger-friendly policy is part of a push by American Airlines to encourage forward bookings when it’s hard to forward plan for travel purposes. Leading up to 2020, American Airlines was often subjected to criticism for excessive change fees. But this year, the airline has dropped the US$200 change fee on most domestic and international tickets when traveling in North and South America, dropped the $150 mileage reinstatement fee when a passenger cancels an award ticket, dropped the $75 standby fee for same-day domestic standby travel, and axed the $35 service fee when you phone to book a ticket.

There are a couple of caveats. Firstly, a change fee will still apply for travelers on Basic Economy tickets, whether traveling domestic, short-haul international, or long-haul international. Secondly, if the fare is higher on the flight a traveler wishes to change onto, the fare difference is payable.

Passengers traveling on Basic Economy fares will still have to pay change fees. Photo: Denver International Airport Newsroom

Will this be a permanent or temporary change?

American Airlines won’t be criticized for removing the unpopular fees. However, not everyone is convinced it’s a permanent change. Loyalty Lobby’s John Ollila expects the fees to get reinstated when the airline business returns to normal.

“There is just so much easy revenue that AA is foregoing by removing these (fees).”

Passengers widely loathed not just the excessive change fee, but the range of other fees American and its competitor airlines had been applying up until 2020. It was, as Ollila notes, money for jam. It’s not just American Airlines that has axed change fees this year. Nearly all the US carriers have. You could say it’s one of the few upsides of 2020.

Whether the fresh new fee free-flying environment sticks or is temporary, as Ollila thinks it might be, is up for debate.

Will the axing of the change fees be permanent or temporary? Photo: Denver International Airport Newsroom

United Airlines may have set a trend

American Airlines hasn’t said axing fees was going to be permanent. But United Airlines has said it would permanently drop change fees.

“Getting rid of this fee is often the top (passenger) request,” said Scott Kirby, United Airlines CEO, in late August.  Saying United Airlines was looking at ways to serve passengers better, the airline said in a statement on August 30;

“… That it is permanently getting rid of change fees on all standard economy and premium cabin tickets for travel within the US, effective immediately.”

While you could later walk back from that statement, you would also expect a lot of customer backlash for doing so. An alternative view is that by mentioning the “permanent” word, United Airlines has opened the door to other airlines permanently dropping change fees. Other competitor airlines, American Airlines included, will have little choice but to follow. The airline industry keeps evolving, and this is one evolution that looks like being long term good news for passengers.

What do you think? Will axing change fees be a permanent or temporary policy at airlines? Post a comment and let us know.