The very best airways to e book for 2021 journey to get probably the most flexibility

  • Airlines offer travelers unprecedented flexibility to get them back to heaven.
  • American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines have eliminated all domestic and international change fees, albeit with some restrictions.
  • Even low-cost airlines like Allegiant Air and Frontier Airlines waive some fees.
  • You can find more stories on the Business Insider homepage.

There has never been a better time to be a smart consumer when it comes to booking flights.

The coronavirus pandemic brought the industry a devastating 2020 with consistently below average flyer numbers for almost 10 months, and airlines are desperate to get flyers back in the air. Fortunately, a perfect combination of cheap flights and flexible booking policies puts consumers in the driver’s seat when booking travel for 2021.

With several COVID-19 vaccines nearing emergency clearance, experts predict a return to normal around this time next year and possibly by the end of summer, reopening the door to travel. And while there’s no set date for the end of the pandemic, the good news is that airlines are offering consumers an unprecedented level of flexibility.

The three major US airlines, including American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, and Alaska Airlines, have eliminated all changes and cancellation fees for domestic and international flights, albeit with some restrictions. Even the notoriously capricious ultra-low-cost carriers have changed their rules so that flyers can make some changes for free.

But it is not the airlines that jump on the trend, with varying degrees of flexibility in the industry.

Here is a list of the top 11 major US airlines to book for 2021.

Bound for the first time: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines in LAX

Alaska Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines planes at Los Angeles International Airport.

Philip Pilosian / Shutterstock.com

American Airlines will no longer charge change and cancellation fees for domestic flights and short-haul international flights to the Caribbean, Canada or Mexico. International change fees for trips originating in North or South America to Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, South America and the UK have also been eliminated.

However, Basic Economy tickets will still need to change fees for all flights. The exception is that all tickets booked before December 31, 2020, including the Economy Basic Fares, are exempt from the change fees.

Award tickets purchased with AAdvantage miles are subject to the same rules, including basic Economy Fares booked after December 31, 2020. Using miles, points, or travel credit can be an easy way to maximize flexibility.

Delta Air Lines announced on Wednesday that it will end change fees for all international flights when traveling originating in North America. This is an extension of an earlier abolition of all domestic change fees. The rule does not apply to basic economy tickets or travel outside North America, although Delta waives change fees for tickets purchased by March 30, 2021.

Award tickets purchased with Delta Sky Miles on all flights originating in North America can be changed and canceled free of charge up to departure. However, base prices for economy rewards are excluded and fees continue to apply.

Alaska Airlines has also removed change fees on all flights. However, this includes domestic and international travel routes while Alaska flies to cities in Latin America. Basic economy tickets, so-called “Spar” tariffs, are not included.

Long before the pandemic, Southwest Airlines cut rebooking and cancellation fees on all international and domestic flights and for this reason remains one of the most flexible airlines to book with.

Second place: United Airlines

United Airlines Boeing 767-300ER

A United Airlines Boeing 767-300ER.

Lukas Wunderlich / Shutterstock.com

United Airlines pioneered the trend to remove change fees on domestic flights, including Mexico and the Caribbean, and recently expanded its policy to include international flights when traveling originating in the United States. This doesn’t apply to basic economy tickets, of course, and the rest of the Western Hemisphere is sadly out of luck.

However, basic economy tickets and non-US tickets booked by March 31, 2021 are still exempt from change fees as long as the trip is rebooked to a date within 12 months of the original ticket issue.

While this seems the same as the guidelines offered by American and Delta, there are two key differentiators that put United in second place.

Award tickets booked with the airline must be canceled more than 30 days in advance in order to waive the “Award Refund Fee” which would otherwise be a $ 125 fee. United will also not issue credit if a flight is changed if the new itinerary is cheaper, while American and Delta will issue travel credits that can be used on future travel.

United is still a great option in terms of flexibility, but the airlines that offer the most flexibility on international flights and award tickets are American, Delta, Alaska, and Southwest.

Third place: Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines Airbus A321

A Frontier Airlines Airbus A321.

Carlos Yudica / Shutterstock.com

Frontier Airlines hasn’t completely eliminated change fees, but has new flexible booking policies in place to give passengers better control over their travel. The first is a 2019 policy that eliminated flight change and cancellation fees as long as the change or cancellation is made more than 60 days prior to departure.

Flights changed between 59 and seven days prior to departure will incur an exchange or cancellation fee of $ 39. Flights changed within a week of departure will be charged $ 59.

However, some Frontier flights are cheap enough that in some cases buying a new ticket is less expensive than paying the exchange or cancellation fee.

Frontier is also eliminating change fees on current flights as long as the trip is rebooked for a date by January 7, 2021, which unfortunately doesn’t help travelers looking to book spring or summer trips.

Fourth place: Sun Country Airlines

Sun Country Airlines

A Sun Country Airlines Boeing 737-800.

Sun Country Airlines

Sun Country will not charge change fees if the change is made more than 60 days prior to departure, similar to Frontier Airlines. Changes made between 59-14 days of departure will be charged a fee of $ 50 per segment, while changes made within two weeks of departure will be charged a fee of $ 100 per segment.

It’s not the most flexible policy, but it does offer a greater degree of flexibility through 2021 and is a permanent policy rather than a temporary fee waiver.

Fifth place: JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airways Airbus A321

A JetBlue Airways Airbus A321.

Philip Pilosian / Shutterstock.com

JetBlue has not yet teamed up with its peers to eliminate change and cancellation fees, but has extended its Travel Waiver, which temporarily waived fees on new and existing bookings made through February 28, 2021. The policy applies to all domestic and international flights and can be used to book flights until the end of JetBlue’s flight schedule, currently on September 7, 2021.

Unless JetBlue extends this policy beyond February, flyers must book their spring and summer before March to benefit. With experts still debating when the vaccine will get life back to normal in the US, this may not be flexible enough for summer travel, but it is a good guideline for those who can book before the cut-off time.

A permanent policy, as implemented by the above carriers, always beats out a temporary policy, and that’s why JetBlue is so low on that list, despite offering a generous temporary policy.

Fifth place: Allegiant Air

Allegiant Air Airbus A320

An Allegiant Air Airbus A320.

Markus Mainka / Shutterstock.com

Allegiant is waiving change and cancellation fees for flights booked through December 31, 2020, and allows customers to make a one-time change or cancellation of trip for bookings made through February 2021, a spokesman told Business Insider.

While this is a great gesture for travelers, especially if they’re coming from an ultra-low-cost airline, the one-change policy limits how often a traveler can make a change and the February cut-off hinders flexibility for spring and summer trips.

Last place: Spirit Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines and Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines aircraft.

dejjf82 and Ken Wolter / Shutterstock.com

Hawaiian Airlines and Spirit Airlines both waive change fees for bookings made prior to December 31, 2020. This is a great gesture of the unlikely bedfellows, but it does require travelers to make their travel plans for 2021 before the end of the year if there is still so much uncertainty about how even with a vaccine it will be a long time to get the virus under control.

And while some travelers may be fine with booking with the airline until the end of the year, those who want to wait a bit to book spring and summer trips may find more flexibility elsewhere.

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