Given the current coronavirus situation, which was discussed in detail on Episode 31 of the AFF on AIR podcast, many airlines are now in a tough situation. Many businesses have suspended all work travel, many leisure travellers are too scared to book flights right now, and new COVID-19 prevention measures introduced by many governments mean that some people are not allowed to travel overseas. For airlines, this means that forward bookings are way down – resulting in potential cash flow problems.
In order to boost the travelling public’s confidence and stimulate new bookings, many airlines have decided to waive all change fees for flights booked this month. Almost every U.S. airline has already released a new change fee policy to this effect, and many other overseas airlines have started following in recent days.
Most of the current coronavirus change fee policies cover bookings made until 31 March 2020. This could be extended depending on the global situation at the end of this month.
At this time, Qantas and Virgin Australia have waivers in place for travellers with bookings to mainland China, as well for passengers that can no longer fly due to the Australian government’s ban on travellers arriving from China, Iran and South Korea. This is not unusual – almost all major airlines have introduced some sort of travel waiver for passengers with existing bookings for travel to affected areas.
However, Australia’s local airlines are yet to introduce more generous and far-reaching policies regarding the removal of change and cancellation fees for new bookings.
Qantas did unexpectedly release a Double Status Credits offer last month, which may have helped boost forward bookings. But, if the coronavirus crisis is prolonged further, this may not be enough. It is likely that both Qantas and Virgin Australia will be forced to do more in the near future… so watch this space.
What are U.S. airlines doing?
jetBlue was the first of the major U.S. airlines to suspend cancellation and change fees due to the coronavirus situation, for new bookings made between 27 February and 11 March 2020, and for travel until 1 June 2020. (This has since been extended to bookings made until 31 March 2020, for travel until 8 September 2020.) Customers that book during that window have the right to change their flight for free, although any fare difference applicable to the new booking would need to be paid. Alternatively, customers can cancel and receive a jetBlue credit voucher that is valid for one year (but not a refund). This applies to tickets across the airline’s entire network.
Most other U.S. airlines – including American Airlines, Delta & United – have now introduced similar policies. But the specific details of each policy vary. With United Airlines, for example, all bookings made between 3-31 March 2020 can be changed for free over the next 12 months – regardless of the destination or travel date.
Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines are also currently offering change fee waivers on new bookings made until 31 March 2020. (That’s good news if you’re thinking about booking one of the current Hawaiian Airlines Business class sale fares to Honolulu!)
With some airlines, changes can be made for free right up until the date of departure. With others, it’s only possible if you change your flight at least 2-3 weeks in advance. Be sure to check with your airline before booking.
What are other overseas airlines doing?
Over the last few days, many other global airlines have announced new policies of their own.
The Lufthansa Group (which includes Lufthansa, Swiss, Brussels Airlines, Eurowings and Austrian Airlines) is allowing passengers that make a new booking by 31 March 2020 to change their flight once, free of charge, to a new flight that departs any time in 2020. In addition, customers with existing bookings for travel prior to 30 April 2020 are allowed a one-time free change. (The Lufthansa Group plans to cancel around 50% of all flights in the coming months, so many existing bookings will be affected anyway.)
At this stage, British Airways is currently waiving change fees for customers that make new bookings by 16 March 2020. And Virgin Atlantic is waiving change fees for travel booked by 31 March, for travel dates until 30 September 2020 only.
At the time of writing, Air New Zealand, Emirates, Are Lingus, Air France and KLM have introduced similar policies. More airlines are likely to follow. (Emirates has also reduced the number of tier miles that Skywards members require to qualify this year by 20%, and members can earn 20% bonus tier miles on all Emirates flights taken until 30 June 2020.)
Australian Frequent Flyer has set up a new forum dedicated to coronavirus news & discussion.