Bowing to competitive pressure and scrambling to encourage people to return to flying, Alaska Airlines announced Tuesday it will match its rivals and eliminate permanently its standard $125 ticket change fee on all bookings except for the cheapest basic economy fares, known as “Saver” fares.
Due to the precipitous drop in air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, Alaska and other major carriers had already temporarily dropped ticket change fees through the end of this year, even on Saver fare bookings.
Saver fares are non-refundable, and Alaska will revert to not allowing changes on those tickets starting Jan. 1.
Alaska’s move to permanently end the change fees, which also applies to flights on regional subsidiary Horizon Air, comes a day after American and Delta followed United in doing so.
Travelers have long seen the hefty charges for changing flight plans as excessive. Alaska’s other major competitor, Southwest Airlines, has never had ticket change fees.
Like the other major legacy carriers, Alaska will continue to charge other ancillary fees including $30 for the first checked bag and $40 for a second checked bag.
Southwest is the only major airline with no bag fees.
U.S. Department of Transportation data shows Alaska took in $192 million in ticket cancellation and change fees in 2019.
Alaska said its total 2019 ancillary fees, which include ticket change fees, checked-bag fees, and on-board food and beverage sales, tallied $567 million, or 7% of total passenger revenue.
Faced with the calamitous impact of the pandemic, airlines are ready to forgo the change fee income to try to lure passengers back to air travel.
In July, Alaska’s passenger revenue, though slightly improved from previous months, was still down 73% compared to the same month last year. The airline projects a similar percentage drop for August, marking the end of what is typically the year’s peak travel season.