Nervous about buying a plane ticket? American waiving change fees amid coronavirus crisis

Skittish about buying a nonrefundable plane ticket given the growing travel fallout from the coronavirus epidemic? 

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: An American Airlines Boeing 777 lands at Miami International Airport on Feb. 24, 2019.

American Airlines and other carriers, worried about soft ticket sales, are taking the unprecedented step of broadly waiving those hefty ticket change and cancellation fees for new ticket purchases.

JetBlue started the trend last week because of “evolving coronavirus concerns” and was quickly joined by Alaska Airlines, which calls it a “peace of mind” waiver.

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American is the first of the big three airlines to announce the fee waiver. Delta and United have not done so but it wouldn’t be surprising if they match the offer, given the competition in the airline industry. Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge change fees. Travelers can cancel or change any Southwest ticket, even those that are nonrefundable, and receive the value of the ticket for future travel.

American’s waiver, announced Sunday, allows travelers who buy tickets through March 16 to change or cancel them without paying fees that start at $200 per person. The new policy covers tickets purchased for travel through late January 2021. Travelers who cancel a trip will receive credit for future travel, not a refund.

How do these free changes work? And are they really free?

There is fine print, of course.

On American, the fee will be waived for changes made up to 14 days prior to travel. So if you buy a ticket for a summer trip and need to change it for lingering coronavirus concerns or any reason, you just have to change it at least two weeks before departure to avoid the fee. 

Fare differences will apply: If you nab a $250round-trip ticket from Chicago to Orlando and the going rate is $400 when you change the ticket to another date, you’ll pay an extra $150.

JetBlue’s temporary change fee waiver, which applies to tickets purchased through March 11, covers travel through June 1. Travelers will receive credit for a future flight. Fare differences will apply on the new tickets.

Alaska’s waiver covers tickets purchased through March 12 for travel through June 1. Travelers who cancel will receive a credit for a future flight. Fare differences will apply on the new ticket.

Related video: American Airlines and Delta cancelling all flights to Milan (Provided by ABC News)

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