One positive development we’ve seen in the aviation industry as a result of the coronavirus pandemic is the elimination of change fees on most types of tickets. Not only have airlines temporarily waived change fees, but the big airlines have eliminated change fees “permanently” (whatever that means, because nothing in life is permanent).
United Airlines was the first major U.S. airline to announce it would permanently cut change fees during the pandemic, but the airline’s policies went from fantastic to not very competitive in a matter of hours. That has finally changed.
United is now issuing remaining vouchers for changes
If you book an eligible ticket and no longer wish to travel, you can cancel your itinerary and then apply the value of the ticket to future trips. To be clear, tickets will not be fully refunded to the original payment method, instead you will be given a voucher for a future ticket.
However, until recently, there was one big catch with United’s policy: if you’ve rebooked your itinerary and your new flight costs less than the original, you’ve lost the price difference. This was in contrast to the guidelines at American and Delta, which issue residual vouchers when exchanging tickets.
To give just one example, let’s say you booked a $ 500 ticket, canceled it, and then used your credit on a $ 200 flight:
- At United, you could use that credit on the flight, but you would lose $ 300 in value
- American and Delta allow you to use this credit on the flight and then receive an additional $ 300 coupon to use on future travel
Well, United Airlines has finally updated its policies on this – United Airlines will now issue a voucher if the itinerary you rebooked costs less than your original itinerary. There are a few things to keep in mind:
- This feature is only available when booking direct with United. It is initially only available via the United app and by phone
- The voucher is valid for one year from the original date of issue and is non-transferable
That are great news. United led the way when it first announced plans to get rid of change fees, and ultimately, even as they lost in residual value, consumers still led the way when compared to old policies. However, with other airlines in place more generous policies, United quickly became quite uncompetitive.
You will now keep the residual value on United Vouchers when you switch flights
An interesting travel agency variant
Brett Snyder makes an interesting note about United’s new change fee policy. You will only receive a remaining voucher if you book directly through United and not if you book through a travel agent.
What if you book through a travel agent? Well, all non-easy United tickets booked through travel agents are refundable for a fee. The fee is between $ 100 and $ 400, depending on the tariff type:
This may be of great concern and may be an incentive for some people to book through a travel agent. To be clear, we are talking about tickets being refundable, in the sense that this is money that will be returned to your credit card, not a voucher for a future ticket.
Why is this useful? For example, let’s say you’re a business traveler booking a $ 5,000 business class ticket that is non-cash refundable. I’m sure a lot of people would rather pay $ 400 to have cash in their pockets than a United voucher on a future flight.
This is a very interesting aspect as virtually all United tariffs are refundable to the original method of payment for a fee and not just changeable for free.
Now I should mention that I have no first-hand experience with the implementation. In other words, I’m not 100% sure if this applies equally to online travel agents and if so what the refund process would be like.
Most United tickets booked through travel agents are refundable for a fee
United Airlines has improved its policy for unchanged fees. If you cancel a ticket and rebook a cheaper flight, you will now receive a voucher for the price difference, which was not the case before. This is a great development, and it was ultimately necessary because the Americans and Delta have had this generous policy all along.
What I also find interesting is that tickets booked through travel agencies can be refunded in cash for a fee. For those willing to pay to get cash back rather than a voucher for future trips, this could be a reason to book through a travel agent.
What do you think of United’s changes to the unchanged fees policy?