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It used to be that you were locked into a plane ticket when buying a plane ticket – and there would be hefty fees for any changes to your itinerary (up to $200 and the fare difference, depending on Thrifty Traveler). But then COVID changed all that. Airlines have been forced to waive change fees and rebooking policies to allow flexibility for passengers who may have fallen ill or been barred from travel due to CDC guidelines.
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Even as the pandemic subsides with readily available vaccines, these airfare policy changes appear to persist as a way to further motivate people to travel again, especially as the airline industry struggles to recover losses that topped $200 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Due to the new flexible booking policies, it is actually beneficial to change your itinerary by taking advantage of ever-fluctuating flight price cuts after you have booked your ticket. As Forbes noted, “Essentially, if the cost of a ticket drops from what you paid, you may be able to cancel and rebook at the lower price, locking in the difference as credit for future flights.”
First, it’s important to keep in mind that airlines rarely issue refunds in dollars; when they take advantage of the cost savings that can now be realized from rebooking flights, this will usually be provided as a credit or voucher for future travel. Still, if you’re traveling a lot or booking for a large family, it could add up.
Another important aspect to remember now is that almost all airlines have instituted ticket tiers, generally the non-standard and non-premium ‘economy’ options will not allow any changes. Forbes said that Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta and United are all currently offering modifications to the main cabin and premium/business/first class cabins at no additional charge for US flights (some, like American, even offer this on international routes from North and South America).
Even for low-cost airlines, Spirit offers no change fees up to 60 days before travel, Forbes noted, and Southwest has a completely flexible policy allowing itineraries to be changed at any time without penalties.
If you’re taking advantage of a lower priced re-booking, be aware that the best time to “go shopping” and grab a bargain is around 5am, and usually on Sunday depending Travel + Leisure. A CheapAir.com survey also found that, on average, booking 64 dates before domestic travel departures is the best time to get a deal.
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Travel + Leisure, citing the survey, also clarified that flight prices are most expensive when first made public (usually a year in advance) and drop for up to 21 days. before take off. The sweet spot, they said, is between 95 and 21 days before leaving town. After that, last-minute hikes kick in. You might want to continue monitoring prices in that 3-month window and even use an app like Hopper that provides real-time alerts for price drops.
Just be aware that if you rebook a flight, there are usually conditions that must be met – as Forbes noted, you can usually only redeem credits or vouchers within a year of booking. of the original flight. So if you booked a flight in January 2022 but found a better deal in September, you only have a few months left to use the credits on another flight. The article is quick to note, however, that is not the case with Southwest (where the credits never expire) and Delta which has since allowed all credits to be used through the end of 2023.
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