I write about this topic with a heavy heart for two reasons.
First, wildfires have wrought destruction across California. The consequences are real. The damage is breathtaking. 42 people have died. Second, what I am about to cover is something I want to draw your attention to, not encourage you to abuse. It is worth writing about, however, to understand a key truth about travel waivers:
Not All Travel Waivers Are Created Equally
American, Delta, and United all have issued travel waivers for airports affected by the destructive wildfires in California.
If you are traveling out of Burbank, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Francisco, American will waive the change fee as long as origin and destination remain the same. You must have booked by November 10th and been originally scheduled to travel through November 13th. Your new travel can be up until November 18th. While the change fee is waived, any differences in fare will apply. More details here.
Delta Air Lines
Delta has a similar policy, though it is a bit more generous. Travel for today or tomorrow (does not have to be booked on November 10th or before) can be postponed until November 18th. The change fee is waived, but any difference in fare does apply. More details here.
But then there is United, who is far more generous than most. United’s travel waiver covers flights out of Burbank, Los Angeles, or San Francisco occurring on or before November 16th. More info here. Travel can be rebooked to any date on or before November 25th:
The change fee and any difference in fare will be waived for new United flights departing on or before November 25, 2018, as long as travel is rescheduled in the originally ticketed cabin (any fare class) and between the same cities as originally ticketed.
Did you catch that? Fare differences are waived. That makes the United travel waiver immensely more valuable than the waiver on American or Delta.
An opportunistic person might book travel immediately at the cheapest price, then change it to a preferred date in a higher fare class at no additional cost to save money. Book an early morning or late night flight on an off-peak day and rebook to prime time on the day before or Sunday after Thanksgiving. Yes, that is possible. And your trip need only connect through a hub like LAX or SFO, it does not have to originate or terminate there.
But don’t do it.
Cue the phrase, “This is why we cannot have nice things.”
Let’s give United some credit for offering such a compassionate waiver for fire-ravaged California. Here, United did not copy Delta but offered a far more generous waiver than either American or Delta. I want you to be aware of it so that if your travel plans truly are impacted by the fires, you know that you have many options on United. But don’t be the kind of person who ruins this for all of us. Please don’t game the system, lest we find ourselves with an equally restrictive waiver as American and Delta next time a natural disaster or storm comes along.
Travel waivers are sometimes of necessity and sometimes of grace. I think American and Delta are on one end of the scale and United is on the other, more graceful end. Let’s not ruin this trend by using this waiver for purposes beyond what it was intended.