Flexible Flying in 2021: Take Advantage of Relaxed Airline Policies with Free Ticket Changes, Cancellations, and Travel Vouchers
Has the era of flexible flights just arrived? Let's clear up all the doubts and confusions about flexible plane tickets and travel credits/vouchers. We will show you how to book flights with change fees waived, and which airlines provide the most relaxed policies when it comes to cancellations and refunds. Our goal is to make this article your guide to flying in the COVID-19 era – when ticket prices are falling and airlines finally understand that your travel plans can be fluid.
With flights to several destinations around the world suspended and travel restrictions implemented by countries trying to contain the outbreak, planning your travels may seem like a challenge. A trip that seems certain today may prove impossible tomorrow.
Fortunately, many airlines already realized that their customers’ travel plans may be fluid. In their attempt to re-inspire confidence and encourage flight bookings, they have implemented numerous passenger-friendly strategies. The most important one is more ticket flexibility, allowing travelers to book their flights with peace of mind.
What is a flexible plane ticket?
A flexible plane ticket is an airline ticket that allows changing the time and date of the flight. The new ticket is usually issued free of charge, although the passenger may need to pay the fare difference. Flexible tickets became a popular way for airlines to encourage flying during the uncertain times of coronavirus pandemic.
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Historically, airlines make a lot of money on fees, including the change fee charged when a customer needed to move it’s trip to another date on non-refundable plane tickets. These change fees are levied on top of any fare difference between the original and the new flight. For example, Qantas charges A$10 change fee for Australian domestic flights, and A$77 when the traveler changes the travel date of an international flight.
In the recent past, the rivalry between airlines used to be focused on flash sales and time-limited promotions to edge out their competition’s cheaper offers and fill flights. But now, with most travelers grounded and airlines struggling for bookings regardless of the price, we can see a new type of race: to drop infamous change fees.
In 2021 relaxed ticket-change rules allow travelers to rebook without a penalty anywhere from a few to even 24 months out – as in the case of Emirates. As some airlines waive the change fee, not all of them do the same with the price difference (if the new flight costs more than the original one). For longer flights, where this price difference exceeds several hundred dollars, passengers may still want to consider paying more for a fully flexible ticket (like Flexible Premium Economy) just to feel insured against any sudden plans change.
Given the current market, this new strategy is a matter of survival rather than benevolence. Uncertain travelers are now uncomfortable booking a trip without built-in flexibility – the old model of airline tickets that locked you into a single flight is now obsolete.
For some airlines, it may be just a temporary move. Others like American Airlines, Delta, United, have already announced that the elimination of change fees would continue beyond the pandemic times, setting the new standard in airline policies. For the time being, we should celebrate the newfound flexibility and not expect fees to pop up anytime soon.
In the further part of the article, we will look at the details of the change fee policies of the largest airlines.
AirAsia: not entirely flexible tickets
AirAsia offers just partially flexible bookings, as only flights that were canceled by the airline itself are subject to a full refund. The refund comes in a form of credits to be used for future bookings. For any other situation that a traveler may face (sudden change of plans due to pandemic, for instance), AirAsia applies the rules from the pre-covid era, and that usually means no flexibility and high cancellation fees.
Cancellations and refunds
AirAsia flights are fully refunded but only if the flight was canceled by the airline. The full amount you paid for the ticket will be refunded to the credit account (in a form of AirAsia BIG credits) available through the AirAsia website or mobile app. The credit is valid for 2 years and can be used to make any future flight booking, extra baggage allowance, seat selections, inflight meals, and any other optional services provided by the airline.
In a case where the ticket cancellation comes from the passenger, the refund policy is not that generous and you will be charged the cancellation fee. The rules are quite complex and depend on the route, flight date, refund method (cash or credit), and how early before the departure date the cancellation was reported. For example, a refund request for domestic in Indonesia will cost you up to 90% of the ticket fare (!).
If a flight is canceled by the airline, the passenger is entitled to “unlimited flight changes”. We have used quotation marks here due to strict restrictions: the free date change only applies to bookings made before April August 2020, and the latest possible reschedule date is December 31 December 2020. Fortunately, you can first ask for a full refund, then use credits to buy a new flight (at a new price).
For date changes that were not forced by the flight cancellation, the standard AirAsia fees apply. Additionally, a fare difference must be paid.
AirAsia does not allow route changes.
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As AirAsia doesn’t have call centers anymore, the process of getting a refund or changing the date can be made online, using AVA live chat. To check your credit account, you just need to login on the AirAsia website or their mobile app.
Emirates: free change of date and destination for 2 years
Emirates has one of the most generous policies regarding ticket flexibility. In fact, the airline could be an example of a customer-focused airline that goes the extra mile to give its passengers the peace of mind so much needed during those unusual times. Emirates not only offers 2 years of ticket validity and free of charge change of destination but also provides travelers with 30-days free travel insurance that covers any medical expenses and quarantine costs related to COVID-19.
The flexible tickets are issued automatically for all bookings until 31 March 2021 (this deadline may be extended in the future). There are some other conditions attached, so please read on.
Cancellations and refunds
If your plans have been affected by COVID‑19, you can easily cancel your Emirates ticket and request a refund using a simple online form.
There will be no cancellation fee applied if your situation falls under the requirements of Emirates’ relaxed policies due to the COVID‑19 outbreak. Otherwise, you still may be charged a standard cancellation fee (the amount depends on the fare rules of your ticket).
The valid reason to apply for charge-free cancellation/refund are:
Flight cancellation by Emirates
Travel restrictions: entry ban or mandatory quarantine at your destination
Travel warnings and stay-at-home orders preventing you from leaving the country
Here’s the best part of the new Emirates’ policies: instead of canceling your ticket, you can keep it with the flexibility of flying at any time in the next 24 months. There are no rebooking fees and no fare difference to be paid.
However, to dodge the price difference, tickets in the same booking class must still be available on the flight you wish to change to. You cannot change your booking class (economy, business, first).
Please note: similar to flight cancellation, you need to have a valid reason to apply for a charge-free flight date change.
The new airline’s policies of a 2-years ticket’s validity give you the option to change the flight destination free of charge. There is one condition though – the new destination must be within the same region as the original one.
The Emirates regions are:
The Far East
The Gulf, Middle East, and Iran
Indian Ocean Islands
For example, if your original booking was for Kuala Lumpur (The Far East), you can rebook it for Singapore, Jakarta, or Bangkok for no extra charge. But if you’d like to fly to Sydney or Auckland, it will cost you, as Australia and New Zealand belong to a different region (Australasia).
Just remember that to rebook your ticket to a new destination, your original booking must be for travel on or before 31 March 2021.
Please note: similar to flight cancellation, you need to have a valid reason to apply for a charge-free route change.
Etihad: cancel the flight and keep fare as travel credit
If you book the flight before 31 December 2020 to travel any time until 31 March 2021 your Ethiad ticket is fully flexible. If your trip has been affected by COVID-19 you can change your flight to a later date or to another destination with no fee. You can also cancel your flight, and receive a travel credit (with some bonuses) which can be used towards any flights at any time within 2 years.
Ethiad goes the extra mile to keep the passengers protected by including complimentary COVID-19 global insurance cover with every booking. If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 while traveling the insurance cover will cover the medical expenses and up to 14 days of overseas quarantine.
Cancellations and refunds
You are entitled to a full refund if the flight has been canceled by Etihad or if you are unable to travel due to a positive COVID-19 test result. Start the refund process by visiting the Request a Refund page. Refunds take between 14 to 30 working days to appear on your card or bank statement.
Date change with an open ticket
If your flight has been canceled by Ethiad, you don’t have to go through the refund process or convert your ticket into travel credits. You can simply keep your ticket open instead. There is no need to contact the airline or do anything until you’re ready to travel again. The ticket will stay open and you can rebook it anytime until 31 October 2021. Changing the trip date is free and the airline removes the fare difference even if you pick another destination (but it must be within the same zone) if you travel before 31 March 2021.
If you don’t use the ticket within 12 months of your first canceled flight, you will be entitled to a refund.
Cancel and get travel credit
If you can’t travel at all, you can cancel your flight anytime and for any reason without a punishment fee if you agree to receive Etihad Credits (a travel voucher system) and use their value to book your next flight. To encourage passengers to use this form of flexible tickets, Ethiad will even increase the value of your credit from $40 to $400 and will throw in some extra miles (2500 for economy and 5000 for business/first). You will have 2 years to use the credit for your next journey. You can even buy a flight for someone else.
To claim Etihad Credit, the booking must have been made before 31 December 2020, with the departure date before 31 March 2021 (these deadlines may be extended in the future).
Garuda Indonesia: rebook without penalty in November
Garuda Indonesia uses its flexible ticket policy more as short-lived promotion than a long term strategy to attract customers. Flexible tickets are only offered for bookings during November 2020 and with a travel period from 1 November 2020 to 20 June 2021. Group bookings and international flights to Middle Eastern countries are excluded.
Those who book their flights during the promotional period are eligible for up to 3 reschedules (time windows closes on 31 March 2021), and during each one, the fare difference and tax will need to be paid. Alternatively, a free refund in a form of a travel voucher is available (with validity until 31 December 2021).