As we enter 2021 and see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, there’s no escaping that the travel industry looks very, very different than it did a year ago.

lady at flight departures board

Many changes focused on keeping you safe, while other airline changes impacted (and lowered) the cost of travel. One helpful policy change was when the airlines agreed to suspend change and cancellation fees for customers. Now that vaccinations and looming herd immunity are seemingly around the corner, will the airlines revert to the old, inflexible ways?

Some Think Flexible Airline Tickets Are Here to Stay

There’s a school of thought that says the pandemic ushered in a new era for the airlines and that they won’t likely reverse what’s seen as a positive customer service initiative in a time when solid customer support is sorely lacking. Of course, as far as this school of thought goes, the airlines have a myriad of ways to collect fees. They could say that the fees are gone for good, but simply raise flight prices slightly to cover that policy so they don’t lose any money.

In recent years, more airlines have gone to an ‘a la carte’ ticket structure anyway, so you pay a base fee for the ticket (in some cases) and add on other options – like premium seats or a free checked bag – to have a more custom experience.

Also, even though airlines don’t charge a flat cancellation or change fee right now, you’re still on the hook for any change in price for a ticket that you plan to rebook. So there’s that.

Others Suggest Airline Cancellation Fees Will Be Back Again

On the other side of the argument, some industry insiders are speculating that the airlines will quickly slap those change and cancellation fees back on tickets just as soon as it’s safe to do so. It’s an additional revenue stream for the airlines, and no one can argue that the industry took a huge hit in 2020. Would you really be surprised if they brought those fees back?

We’re just not sure which way the chips are going to fall on this one. If you have a trip on the horizon you can buy ahead now knowing that ticket is changeable.

If it’s important that you buy a ticket with free changes built in, it could be a good idea to buy sooner rather than later. After all, if you buy now you know you can change if you need to do so for free. If you wait until later this year, you might be stuck with a different deal.

How do you feel about this possibility? If the airlines started charging change and cancellation fees would it be upsetting? Irritating but not surprising? Fine with you and expected? Let us know how you’re feeling in the comments section.

11 Comments

  1. Gerardo Reyes

    My schedule to travel on May 5, 2020 was canceled by the Eva Air bound to US. The agent re-scheduled my flight on June 2, 2020 & paid $630 one way ticket, & again was cancelled.

    I’m trying to contact the airline & the agent but no clear answers, no refund or response received as of today.

    Please help . Thank you

    Reply ·
    • cheapair

      Hi Gerardo, I don’t see any EVA bookings in your name? Did you book with us? If you did please contact us via email at help@CheapAir.com and one of our Travel Advisors will try to help you. Thank you!

      Reply ·
  2. joan paolercio

    We booked 3 trips in the past 6 months which because of the uncertainty during the pandemic we probably would not have booked if we thought we could not cancel without change fees. This no charge cancellation policy is a very important airline policy to us, especially now!

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  3. Wanda Smith

    I remembered when airlines didn’t charge change or cancellation fees,& served meals at mealtime free of charge.Customer service was the priority in the good old days of the 60’s.

    Reply ·
    • Christy Wiseman

      I remember those days when good meals were served. Recently I took an American Airlines flight on first class from Reno to Guadalajara which had advertised a meal and wi-fi. Reality – no meal and no wi-fi, but
      alcohol if you wanted it and some kind of cheap hard cookie thing. COVID was the excuse. Hey! if you can remove your mask to drink and to eat a cookie, why not a meal? I later took Alaska Airlines, also on first, 10 days later as got a scheduled time for the vaccine and guess what? A choice of a nice sandwich or a fruit and cheese tray – still no wi-fi, but definitely the winner in my book! Guess which airlines I’ll choose when possible next time?!

      Reply ·
  4. SusieQ

    There are still too many unknowns with Covid-19 and the vaccines to take away the safety net of free cancellations and changes. We could fine the vaccine doesn’t last long. If they want to show goodwill they should not add those fees back into the equation for a very long time, if ever. It would definitely keep me from booking for the next couple years.

    Reply ·
  5. Barbara Moorhouse/Ingrid Rushton

    Of course they’ll be hard nosed and NO passenger consideration. With Air Canada paying $190 million to buy Air Transat.. there goes some of the competition. Only one left is Alberta based airline Air travel will become more cost, less service, less everything. I used to travel frequently to European Countries and Egypt and.Latin America . Even after the virus I doubt that I will afford flights to anywhere. Barb (Moorhouse) and Ingrid (Rushton)

    Reply ·
  6. Ira Cochran

    For the most part, airlines survived the pandemic while millions remain unemployed from businesses that are gone for good and the companies that remain have found creative ways to conduct their business, Zoom meetings, and work-from-home options that kept people safe. I don’t think there is any reason to go back to business as normal because what’s normal has changed. Companies will continue to use work-from-home options, flex schedules, an online presence, and reduced need for business travel. So if airlines want to survive in the post-pandemic world, they will have to keep prices low and policies that are adaptable to our new-normal.

    Reply ·
  7. Gary Y

    It would b a mistake to go back to charging change fees and cause a lot of resentment the airlines can not afford from a loyalty standpoint.

    Reply ·
  8. Sofia Vivo

    I worked many years for an airline company, and I already thought this charges companies were doing was absurd and an abuse to customers. Charges fo rebooking, for a ticket you already paid…extra charges for different classes in ECONOMY, when all economy is just the same!!! Comfort seat!!! Thats emergency seat, it always existed , and was never considered a more expensive seat …just a wider emergency exit! Meals was an included charge, you face a 12hr flight, and u are obliged to carry with you an extra load of foods and beverages!Yes , I do think companies should keep this flexible tickets and add some services , life has changed, and it’s uncertain for all of us.

    Reply ·
  9. Jennifer Martin

    IT has been sooooo long since airlines GAVE anything. To return to cancellation fees is really not appropriate. The vaccine has not been around long enough to prove that is the solution. I think cancellation fees should be eliminated forever. We already pay for everything else, luggage, a bit of comfort, something to eat. How can one feel any loyalty towards any airline or booking service?

    Reply ·

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