Travel requires a lot of confidence and certainty because, despite the kind of people we wish we were, travel rarely brings out the spontaneity in us. There is simply too much to plan — you need to make sure you have somewhere to sleep, understand the language, have the local currency, know what places are safe. And if you so much as dare to change your plans, expect to blow your budget on fees, fees, and more fees.
We're currently experiencing a level of sweeping change that nobody expected. Countries and states are reopening, then closing, then reopening. You could buy a ticket when the coast is clear and have your plans fall apart by the time you leave for the airport. Traveling in a pandemic is risky, and usually unnecessary, but it's made all the worse by how committed airlines are to making any kind of change very expensive.
This week, however, several major U.S. airlines announced they're doing away with change fees, for good. On Sunday, United Airlines announced that it's getting rid of its $200 change fee. From now on, you can change any domestic flight for free. American Airlines followed with no change fees on domestic flights and one-upped United by canceling change fees on short-haul international flights as well. Delta's $200 change fee is also a thing of the past.
Travel expert Ashley Les explains how you can best use this to your advantage: "This doesn't mean that they'll refund your ticket. If you book a flight, you're not going to get a refund, you just do not have to pay a change fee if you change your destination." As an example, Les noted that a few weeks ago, the Bahamas opened then COVID-19 cases went through the roof, and travel closed once again. "If you were flying on United, you could see the Bahamas closed and change your flight to another destination," she explains, "It doesn't mean you get a refund and it doesn't mean there won't be a difference in fare (which you'll have to pay for). You just don't have to pay a change fee."
Anyone that held onto their wishful flight tracking alerts through the spring will tell you it's heartbreaking to see costs drop for months only for them to soar when it's finally safe to book. But Les warns that it doesn't make sense to book a random ticket for the sake of locking in a cheap flight. There are smarter ways to take advantage of the no change fee.
"If you're thinking about traveling in December or for February vacation or next summer, yes, there are some places where prices will be rock-bottom, but what's going to happen is, next summer, people are going to start rebooking all the vacations that were canceled. It will get really busy, prices will be really high because people are trying to get out and they haven't traveled in over a year." So if you are confident things will be better next year and have the money now, you can book a trip with some peace of mind.