UPDATED: I’ve canceled all my March and April trips as I’m social distancing as instructed.
After buying hundreds of plane tickets a year for the past 20+ years (for myself, friends and family members), I consider myself an expert at scoring cheap tickets. Although I’m not a travel agent, I’ve learned plenty of tricks from some of the best. I also attended dozens of conferences before I started keynoting them myself, talking about things like how to travel like a rock star for cheap. Some of my top airfare tricks can be found in this article: 17 ways to find cheap flights.
A few days ago, I started writing a post absolutely roasting United Airlines for a new 25-hour refund policy that they ended up walking back (I didn’t publish it). Long story short: Most airlines, including United, would give customers a full refund if their flight was delayed by two hours or more. United changed it to 25 hours, which is outrageous. But thanks to the power of Twitter, they saw the light and modified it. It still sucks but not as badly. Now, they will give customers a credit for delays between two and 25 hours instead of a full refund. But that’s a whole other story.
Fortunately, United, then American, followed Delta’s lead (what else is new, I know) in allowing customers who bought tickets before the previous March 2 cutoff to be able to change them or get a credit for up to a year, regardless of whether their destination was a coronavirus hotspot or not.
Why this is the best time to buy plane tickets for summer
Pretty much everyone I know is freaked out about this COVID-19 virus. Most are afraid for their elderly loved ones and/or that they will get quarantined. So naturally, people don’t want to fly since there are so many unknowns.
The airlines originally came up with a scheme to try to drum up new business by offering customers who purchased tickets between March 2 and March 31 the ability to change tickets for free or get a travel credit for travel through December 31. Well, that sucked for those who bought prior to March 2 and have trips coming up. I’m one of them, as I had 10+ tickets purchased. Most of them are on American Airlines where I hold Executive Platinum status (I fly over 100,000 miles on AA and spend over $15,000 a year on tickets).
Well, in all my years, I don’t recall a time when flights have been as low and the restrictions as loose as they are now (possibly after 9/11 but I can’t remember as it was a blur). Now is the best time to buy plane tickets that I can remember. To give you an example, here’s United’s (other airlines are similar) change fee waiver for tickets purchased on or before March 2, 2020:
“To give our customers flexibility in their travel plans, we are offering a change fee waiver within the following parameters:
- Tickets issued on/before: March 2, 2020
- Original travel dates: March 9 – April 30, 2020
- New ticket must be reissued on/before December 31, 2020 or 12 months from original ticket date, whichever is earlier.
This change fee waiver applies to:
- All fare types, including Basic Economy, bulk, fixed, etc.
- All destinations
- All points-of-sale
- All travel up to 12 months from the original ticket issue date
Future itinerary changes
Customers can change to a flight of equal or lesser value with no change fee. If the new fare is of lesser value, a residual value can be issued. If the new ticket is a higher fare, the customer only pays the fare difference.
Tickets issued between March 3 – 31, 2020
The change fee waiver announced March 3 is still in effect. The fare rules for tickets issued between March 3 – 31, 2020 have a $0 change fee and the change fee is automatically waived. Read March 3 – 31 waiver details.”
This is amazing, right?! One of the big reasons why is that airfares have dropped drastically. I’m talking the west coast to Hawaii or Alaska for $99 each way. Or New York and other major cities to Rome in June for $290 R/T (L.A. is $390)! You can even fly to London and return from Dublin this summer for $292 R/T! These are just a percentage of what most of these flights normally cost.
As I mentioned, I had already purchased a ton of flights for travel this spring, summer, fall, and heck even winter. Yes, I bought my Christmas flights in February as I found a great deal. Well, most of the flights I had already purchased dropped significantly in price. My LAX to JFK R/T in April for $450 for example is now under $250. So, I’ve canceled some of my flights and rebooked them to save even more money and take advantage of the new cancelation policy.
So even if you’re not 100% sure you’re traveling in 2020 or you’ll be able to, now is the time to buy as the prices are so low and you can cancel without penalty. You’ll get your money back in the form of a credit, which will need to be used within a year. Or if the flight gets canceled (which is looking like a good chance it may) you will get a full refund.
You better hurry as I’m already seeing some of the prices go up as the airlines are starting to drastically cut their schedules so there will be less inventory. If you wait until the last minute, fares will most likely be at a premium. Now is the best time to buy plane tickets for summer and fall travel!