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United Airlines drops ticket change fees for domestic flights

David Brancaccio, Meredith Garretson, Erika Soderstrom, and Alex Schroeder Aug 31, 2020
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This could be the first move in more permanent changes to airline ticket pricing. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
COVID-19

United Airlines drops ticket change fees for domestic flights

David Brancaccio, Meredith Garretson, Erika Soderstrom, and Alex Schroeder Aug 31, 2020
Heard on:
This could be the first move in more permanent changes to airline ticket pricing. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Given the uncertainties of COVID-19, major airlines stopped charging penalties to change your ticket through the end of 2020. Now, United Airlines says it’s locking in the policy — it’ll be free to change in 2021 as well, as long as you didn’t book the low-price basic economy seats fare.

United made more than $600 million on these change penalties last year. Doug Cameron, deputy Chicago bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, spoke with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio about this. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Doug Cameron: It will be permanent till it’s not. The biggest contributor to these change fees were business people traveling, and they just have not come back. And if you listen to company earnings calls, everyone’s cut back on the travel, and probably will do so in some permanent fashion. There’s going to have to be a wholesale change in pricing strategies. And I think, David, this is just the first move.

David Brancaccio: Now, you have to be a little bit careful, right? Because when you search for your best ticket price, what often comes up first is the
“basic economy” fare, that’s what United calls it. And the change fee still applies to this very entry-level ticket price.

Cameron: That’s right. United, Delta and American all introduced these kind of stripped-down, basic economy fares to compete with the likes of Southwest and Spirit. The thinking is actually this is United trying to kind of hold on to this basic economy, competitive weapon against the low-cost carriers.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What do vaccines mean for economic recovery?

COVID-19 is not going anywhere anytime soon, according to expert witnesses who testified at a recent hearing held by the Joint Economic Committee. Put simply, we can’t eradicate the virus because it infects other species, and there will also be folks who choose not to get the vaccine or don’t mount an immune response, according to Dr. Céline Gounder at NYU School of Medicine & Bellevue Hospital. “That means we can’t only rely on vaccination,” Gounder said. She said the four phases of recovering from the pandemic are ending the emergency, relaxing mitigation measures, getting to herd immunity and having long-term control.

Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?

As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy begins reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

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