With summer travel plans in jeopardy as the coronavirus crisis drags on, major U.S. airlines are allowing travelers to change or cancel their tickets without paying a hefty change fee.
United Airlines moved first Tuesday, becoming the first major U.S. airline to extend its coronavirus travel waivers to cover flights through the end of the year.
The waiver applies to travelers holding tickets bought before March 3.Travelers who booked, say, a summer flight from New York to Los Angeles or Europe last fall, can change their flight to another date or cancel their trip and receive an electronic travel credit, all without paying ticket change fees that start at $200 a person.
The new fee waiver policy does not cover travelers who bought or will buy tickets between March 3 and April 30. United already offers them a fee-free change for travel into next year.
Until Tuesday, United’s change fee waiver for tickets bought before the coronavirus outbreak deepened only applied to travelers with flights through May 31. That meant passengers who voluntarily canceled summer, fall and even holiday flights they booked well in advance had to pay a change fee when they redeemed their travel credit.
There is a catch to United’s new policy: travelers must make a decision and change or cancel their flight by April 30. (Travelers due to fly before May 31 don’t have to meet this deadline.)
“Many customers’ previous plans for travel, including summer vacations, conferences and events have changed or are uncertain due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” the airline said in a statement. “To help with the uncertainty around their future travel, customers who wish to change their dates of travel can do so without paying a change fee.”
Late Tuesday, American Airlines said it was extending its change-fee waiver for travel through Sept. 30 for tickets purchased prior to April 7. The previous waiver only covered flights through May 31, which excludes the busy summer travel season.
Unlike United, American ticket holders don’t have a deadline to decide whether to change or cancel their ticket,
Like United, American has a separate fee-change waiver for travelers who bought tickets more recently.
At United and American, travelers who change their ticket to another date will pay any applicable fare difference. And those who cancel their trips will not receive a refund unless it’s a refundable ticket. They will receive a voucher for the value of the ticket.
Cancel or change your ticket now? Or wait?
Some travel experts, including Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights, have been advising travelers who want a cash refund to hold off on canceling their flights until the last minute in hopes the airline cancels it first or makes a significant change to the flight times. In those cases, travelers are entitled to a cash refund instead of just a travel voucher or credit, which airlines are pushing as they try to conserve cash.
The U.S. Department of Aviation last week warned airlines that they must provide a prompt refund in those cases, even during the unprecedented coronavirus crisis. United has been heavily criticized for not offering refunds to those with canceled flights or big schedule changes. Earlier this week, a passenger filed a class-action lawsuit against United for not providing a refund.
Check which waivers apply to your flights before making any decisions
Airlines have been issuing – and extending – a variety of waivers since coronavirus outbreak began in January.
Last week, United and Delta extended the expiration date of travel credits to two years.
Airline cancel your flight due to coronavirus crisis? You’re still due a refund, DOT says
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: United, American waive change fees through later periods this year