Alaska Airlines becomes the latest carrier to permanently eliminate change fees

Category: Business

Alaska Airlines becomes the latest carrier to permanently eliminate change fees

United got the ball rolling on Sunday afternoon when it shocked industry observers by “permanently” dropping change fees. Less than 24 hours later, American and Delta matched. And now, Alaska Airlines is doing the same.

Let’s take a look at how Alaska’s policy breaks down.

Like the Big 3 (and Southwest), Alaska is permanently dropping change fees effective immediately. Alaska’s offer includes tickets to all destinations the carrier flies, including the carrier’s international flights to Canada, Costa Rica and Mexico.

All tickets types are included in the no-change-fee policy, except for Alaska’s version of basic economy, known as Saver fares. (All tickets purchased through Dec. 31, 2020, including Saver fares, can be changed with no fee.)

Alaska’s Mileage Plan loyalty program is one of our favorites thanks to its breadth of partners. Going forward, all awards will be changeable at no cost, making the program an especially lucrative option for redemptions.

Just because Alaksa is eliminating change fees doesn’t mean that all fares are immediately refundable. You’ll still need to purchase a refundable ticket to enjoy that privilege (or hope that the airline significantly delays or cancels your flight). Otherwise, you’ll receive a future travel credit should you decide to cancel your flight.

Alaska’s offer is likely going to be more generous than United’s.

In the past, when changing to a cheaper Alaska flight, you’ve historically been given the fare difference back in the form of a future travel credit. Though Alaska didn’t specify, it’ll likely do the same with its new no-change-fee policy. We’ve reached out to the airline to clarify and will update this post accordingly.

If you end up changing to a more expensive flight, you’ll be on the hook for the fare difference. You won’t, however, need to pay the pesky $125 change fee.

When American, Delta and United announced no-change-fee policies, they broke with the long-standing industry practice of charging $200 (or more) to change a ticket. With the legacy network carriers, getting the change fee waived wasn’t really in the cards. You’d have to hope for a limited-time travel waiver or a schedule change.

With Alaska (and JetBlue), waived change fees is a core value proposition to elite status. Top-tier Mileage Plan MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members never have to pay ticketing fees (except on basic economy tickets).

Now, with Alaska removing change fees going forward, it’ll be interesting to see if the carrier adds new perks for elites. Of course, the value of elite status is diminished during the pandemic, but there’s definitely one less reason to strive to top-tier status right now.

Related: Will travelers remain loyal to loyalty programs when ‘normal’ returns?

Bottom line

Alaska becomes the fourth major U.S. carrier to permanently eliminate change fees since Sunday, joining American, Delta and United. A fifth — Southwest — did not charge them in the first place. For Alaska, the carrier’s offer likely means that you’ll be able to receive credit if the fare drops, or you change to a less expensive flight. However, this new policy makes elite status less valuable, since it gives a top-tier-only perk to all travelers.

And now, all eyes are on JetBlue, one of the last U.S. carriers with a traditional fare structure that’s still charging change fees. Will it become the sixth U.S. carrier to spare its customers from change fees?

Let's Get Started

Click here to contact a travel expert