With the coronavirus surging again in the United States, many people are rethinking their holiday travel plans this year, especially after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to stay home this Thanksgiving. But one thing making that easier is that airlines have adjusted their cancellation policies to be more flexible (and fee-free) than they were pre-pandemic.
That means canceling your flights could cost you nothing if you are okay with receiving a credit for future travel. Deadlines to use credits have changed on a rolling basis this year and could continue to update until air travel returns to more normal levels, so check airline websites for the most up-to-date policies. (If you booked with a third-party site, check with that service for its rules.)
Here are the six major U.S. airlines’ current policies for canceling travel because of coronavirus uncertainty.
Alaska Airlines passengers who cancel flights “due to COVID-19 impacts between March 1 and December 31, 2020” will receive a credit that can be used before July 5, 2021. You don’t need to travel by then; the credit can be applied for travel dates through May 31, 2022.
The Next-Level Care section of Alaska’s website has more information on its cancellation and coronavirus policies. “Saver” fares, Alaska Airlines’ version of “basic economy,” can’t be changed, but it can be canceled for future credit.
American Airlines tickets booked between March 1 and Dec. 31 are eligible for fee-free change or cancellation for a travel credit “regardless of fare type or itinerary,” the company’s policy states. That includes basic economy and tickets purchased with points.
A spokesperson for American Airlines said that the length of time for which the travel credit is valid varies, depending on the ticket and when it was purchased.
A spokesperson for Delta, which recently announced it will block middle seats on its flights through March 2021, says its policy is: “If a customer purchased their ticket between March 2020 through the end of the year, they can cancel their ticket and receive an e-Credit for future use.”
Basic economy fares are the only kind of ticket that do not qualify. (“Nonrefundable” tickets do.)
The credit is valid for up to one year from the date of purchase, and the cancellation can be done online. Delta’s full refund policy can be found on its website.
JetBlue is waiving all “change and cancel fees on all fares for new bookings on both flights and JetBlue Vacations packages made by February 28, 2021,” according to its website. A credit for the amount “will be valid for 12 months.”
Travelers can voluntarily cancel a trip for the credit by visiting the Manage Trips section of the airline’s website.
Southwest, which has had a free-change policy since before the pandemic, says its standard and nonrefundable (Wanna Get Away) tickets can all be canceled for a credit applied to future travel up to one year from the original purchase date. Southwest does not offer basic economy.
Travel credits with an expiration date of Sept. 7, 2022, can be converted into Rapid Rewards points at the same rate you would be able to purchase a ticket with points. Southwest Rapid Rewards points never expire.
United had gotten rid of change fees for most economy and premium cabin tickets.
“Because of the uncertainty around future travel, we’ve adjusted our policies to make it easier for our customers to change or cancel their flights,” a spokesperson for United said. “Customers can visit ‘My Trips’ to make adjustments without change fees or cancel for flight credit.”
Basic economy tickets do not qualify. United’s entire cancellation policy can be found here.
Traveling during the pandemic:
Tips: Safe holiday travel | Coronavirus testing | Sanitizing your hotel | Using Uber and Airbnb
Flying: Pandemic packing | Airport protocol | Staying healthy on plane | Fly or drive | Best days to fly
Road trips: Tips | Rental cars | Best snacks | Long-haul trains | Foliage finder | Art road trips
Camping: First-time | Camping alone | Meal planning | Glamping | National parks
Places: Hawaii | Machu Picchu | New York | Private islands | Caribbean | Mexico | Europe