The airline industry has largely reinstated change fees on Hawaii flights for their lowest-priced tickets. We’ve checked all the airlines flying to and from Hawaii from the US mainland, and the news is not exactly what you want to hear at this time. There are three windows of opportunity for free changes on basic economy tickets, and two of those will close next week.
Read on for a potentially big Gotcha on hidden “fare difference” fees.
Airlines started eliminating change fees in 2020, then started reinstating them.
That was true even on their normally non-changeable and cheapest, basic economy to Hawaii fares. Last year, the airlines moved to a more flexible, cancellable environment due to uncertain times. When Alaska Air eliminated change fees, they said, “Covid has taught us that flexibility in travel is key. As we evolve our approach to travel… it’s important to give our guests flexibility when they book by eliminating change fees.” — Andrew Harison, E.VP., Alaska Airlines.
But travel times have changed yet again, and quickly. Unless something happens, which is not at all likely, every airline that flies to Hawaii, except one, will have reinstated change fees on their cheapest tickets as of January 1, 2022.
The fee elimination during COVID was designed in part to help keep people off planes who didn’t feel well. The industry’s previously exorbitant change fees made it costly to not show up for a flight.
Alaska Airlines: If you purchase a Saver fare (basic economy ticket), “no changes, including same-day confirmed changes, are allowed.”
Alaska’s Main economy fares to Hawaii are normally $40 more each way than Alaska’s Saver fares. Paying the added money assures you of assigned seating, not being last to board, as well as the ability to change plans at will and without cost other than a fare change if applicable.
American Airlines: American no longer allow changes for their Basic Economy fare tickets.
Delta Airlines: Earlier this year Delta “eliminated change and cancel fees for tickets originating in North America (excluding Basic Economy tickets… which are non-refundable and non-changeable). However, then waffled, saying, “for those with upcoming Basic Economy travel through December 31, 2021, you can now make changes to your upcoming flight through our temporary 2021 Basic Economy Changeability Waiver.” While Basic Economy tickets are normally non-changeable, you can adjust your eligible travel without paying a change fee. It applies only to travel scheduled by December 31, and tickets can be changed to dates through December 2022.
Hawaiian Airlines: Hawaiian says, “Main Cabin Basic tickets are non-changeable and non-refundable.” All other tickets on Hawaiian are changeable at no cost except for any potential change in fare. The difference in price between Main Cabin Basic and Main Cabin is $30-$40. Worth noting too is that on some routes, Hawaiian only offers Main Cabin, so that those cheapest fares are still changeable. Hawaiian offers meals, snacks, beverages, and in-flight entertainment on Main Cabin Basic fares. However, “Seat selection is not available until you check-in, no flight changes or refunds… and last group to board.”
Southwest Airlines: Southwest has the most flexible policy in the industry and does not assess change fees. You can cancel any ticket and obtain a credit valid for 12 months from the original purchase date.
United Airlines. UAL says, “Basic Economy tickets can only be changed if they’re issued by December 31, 2021, for travel commencing by December 31, 2021. Otherwise, all other ticket classes are changeable.
How do change fees impact us on Hawaii flights?
You may recall that up to $200 per person was the previous charge for ticket changes, as indicated below. That was before all of the airlines announced plans to eliminate change fees permanently on all but their cheapest tickets.
Beat of Hawaii’s thoughts:
This is another reminder to pay close attention to what you are buying when it comes to Hawaii flights. If regular economy fares aren’t significantly higher-priced, you should take advantage of those both now and well into the future.
As a case in point mentioned above, Alaska Basic Economy and Hawaii Main Cabin Basic typically only saved $30-$40 each way compared with the regular economy. Full fare offers the ability to have pre-assigned seats and free changes among other perks, which makes it a no-brainer to opt for whenever possible.
Big Gotcha on hidden “difference in fare” fees.
We have found that airlines will frequently not offer their best fares when making “free” changes. So when traveling recently, we still found it cheaper to buy a new ticket rather than to do a free change of dates which would have resulted in moving into a much higher fare bucket.
What’s your take on airlines fees to Hawaii?