Over the weekend I summarized the stopover and open jaw policies of the four major US carriers. I figured I’d provide a similar quick rundown of the award ticket change policies of those airlines, along with the corresponding fees for non-elites to make those changes.
American will let you make changes to your itinerary even after travel commences. As long as your award type and origin and destination remain the same there’s no fee for making the change. However, if the origin or destination change, there’s a fee of $150 per passenger for making the change.
In order to change the type of award (either regions, saver vs. standard, or class of service) you have to redeposit the current award and book a new one, which costs $150 for the first passenger and $25 for each additional passenger. It’s a bit odd that it’s more expensive to change an award than it is to redeposit an award, if you ask me.
The exception to this is American’s distance based awards, where no routing changes are allowed once the reservation is ticketed.
Delta won’t allow any changes to award tickets within 72 hours of departure. You can make a change to the return of the itinerary once travel commences, as long as it’s more than 72 hours from your travel date.
Delta also charges a $150 per person fee for any changes outside of 72 hours, be it a date, flight, routing, or airline change. If you change the award type (regions or class of service) you need to redeposit the award and start from scratch, which also comes with a $150 per person change fee.
United will let you make changes to your itinerary even after travel commences. If you make a routing change (meaning origin, destination, and type of award remain the same) more than 21 days before departure there’s no fee for making the change. However, for any changes made within 21 days of departure there’s a $75 per person change fee. That fee also applies for changes made to the origin, destination, airline, class of service, etc., more than 21 days before departure.
It’s worth noting, however, that making class of service and zone changes on a United award is much easier than with any other program. If you wanted to switch from a business to first class award with American and US Airways, for example, you’d have to redeposit your existing ticket and book a new one. Meanwhile United is able to “reprice” itineraries and deduct the difference in miles, which is very useful for complex itineraries.
US Airways allows absolutely no changes once travel commences, and charges $150 per person for any date, routing, or flight change prior to departure. In the past if you had booked a business class award and were in coach on one segment, you could call US Airways if business class opened up and they’d let you “upgrade” to the cabin you paid for for free. Nowadays 99% of agents even charge for that change.
I’d say United has the most generous policy for changes thanks to their low fees and liberal change policies both before or after departure. I’d say American ranks second, given the free changes they allow to routings, while it’s frustrating that if you change regions or class of service you have to start from scratch and redeposit your award. Next is Delta, I’d say, which is fine in that they allow changes after departure, though the 72 hour rule is quite frustrating. And last is US Airways, in my opinion, given that they allow no changes once travel commences.