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Current United change/cancellation/FFCs policy for international bookings

I'm hoping to get to Italy next September. Third year's the charm?

I've also promised myself business class this time around. Poking around on United last Saturday I found PDX-SFO-MUC-FLR / FCO-EWR-PDX in Polaris for what I considered a reasonable price. I took the booking through to the payments page (for jollies) and noted the "Book with confidence / no change fees" tag. Following the "Details" link to the info page and FAQ I noted that the free changes and cancel for Future Flight Credits ended January 31. It's unclear if United is now charging for changes and not issuing FFCs, or the page hasn't been updated.

I posted a query on Reddit r/unitedairlines and got a single response that I had trouble parsing; I think the guy tossed in an extra "not."

Currently just watching prices; I will be discussing my progress/prognosis with the Physical Therapist in detail again Tuesday. Final two ASTYM treatments this week. Things are currently looking good, but I don't want to get stuck with a ticket I cannot use and have to eat. Fully-refundable puts it out of budget, and the partially-detached hamstring tendon is a pre-existing condition, which is problematical for travel insurance.

Posted by
5561 posts

Alan, I have spent a lot of time peering at the language on United's website about change fees, and have followed online discussions of the subject.

**Disclaimer: I am neither a lawyer nor an expert on the subject, just an interested observer. You will need to do your own homework and decide what's best for you. I believe United has some conflicting language on this subject on their various websites, making it less than crystal clear (as you have already observed).

That said, I think you can book with some confidence, at least within specific circumstances (below),

To cut to the chase: I think if you book your travel as a round trip (or multi-city trip), AND as long as the travel ORIGINATES in the US, you should not be charged a "change fee." You won't get a refund if you simply cancel, but you can change to a different/later flight and you should receive credit for what you paid.

If the flight you change to costs more, you will need to pay the difference; if the new flight costs less, you will receive FFC (future flight credit), not a refund. It also appears that you can keep "changing" the flight repeatedly if you want to just sit on the credit and use it later (but you won't get a refund); there appears to be no limit (at least none discovered and reported yet) to the number of times you can "change" your flight.

Where it would get sticky would be if you wanted to book two separate one-way tickets - one outbound, one return (the outbound would be eligible for no-change fees, but the return would not), or if you wanted to book a flight from Europe to the USA (one-way or round-trip). They clearly specify that only travel "originating" in the USA gets the no-change-fee credits. A round trip that starts in the USA would qualify.

Based on my reading of their rules, and also based on what I am seeing reported online, I believe the above to be true. No guarantees, but that's what I've seen. The firsthand reports of people since February 1 seem to confirm this.

Here's the critical bits on United's website: see United's website page, "No more change fees", and note the first paragraph (bolding is mine):

Enjoy more flexibility when you fly with us. We’ve permanently gotten rid of change fees for most Economy and premium cabin tickets for flights within the U.S., or between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean. You also won’t pay change fees for international travel originating in the U.S.

The last 13 words seem pretty clear. I've got a screenshot, suggest you take one too. 😉

Hope that's useful. Good luck.

Posted by
515 posts

Hi Alan and David -- I posted a similar inquiry on this forum a week or so ago. Checked back today and United's webpage still says international travel has no change fee if booked by Jan 31, 2022. So I got on their live chat. The agent I spoke with said something completely different -- that as of January 1, 2022 there is a charge of $300 per ticket for a change made to an international flight. I'm not sure whether to believe that, because it's pretty clear on the website there would NOT have been a change fee if booked before Jan 31, not before Jan 1. This is super frustrating, as I would like to book a flight but definitely want the ability to make changes if necessary. I just wish they'd post a policy on their web site that made it clear one way or the other!

Posted by
226 posts

saw this while checking out United flights today:
"Changes are not permitted on Basic Economy tickets if travel begins on or after January 1, 2022" All other international travel won't have change fees if the ticket is issued by January 31, 2022. Also this: "../ option to add the benefits of a United Economy® fare ... including: The option to change or cancel your flight without paying a change fee."

So to summarize, for business class, you will be able to change without a fee. there are classes within business, please check if it shows up when you book - the class within business class may have restrictions but i can't imagine them being stricter than economy.

On Lufthansa (same team) Economy Basic (which is one level above economy Light), its "rebooking without fee, plus fare difference"

Posted by
5561 posts

I absolutely agree that United has not done a great job of presenting a single, comprehensive source for clear, up-to-date info about this stuff. Part of the problem, I think, is that their policy evolved over time, different aspects of the policy were documented on multiple different web pages, and those have not all been updated consistently, resulting in plenty of apparent contradictions, too many gray areas, and customers left scratching their heads. Having call center/chat agents who are not always completely informed (this has always been too common) doesn't help, either.

@Ruth - Your experience with an agent telling you there would be a $300 fee to change an "international" flight seems completely bat-guano crazy to me; I have never seen/heard of anyone else running into that. It's possible that is a new policy, but I would expect to hear howls of protest if that was rolled out, and I have not noticed any such reaction. I would seek a second opinion from a United employee (and maybe a third or fourth) before accepting it as gospel.

United's muddled messaging on this is a great example of how a big, powerful company can completely botch their public messaging on a topic that's critically important to their customers. While I generally like United (for a US domestic airline) and I end up flying them more than a little, they have a stunningly awful PR track record.

Posted by
515 posts

Hi again -- I just spent about 40 minutes (mostly on hold) with United, and got different information from the live chat. I honestly think their agents are as confused as we are. After first telling me there is a $300 change fee, the agent put me on hold and said there were no change fees for flights originating in the US.
I then asked about fully refundable fares (which are several hundred dollars more expensive) and she said "they are fully refundable but there is a cancellation fee of $300." If it costs $300 per ticket, how is it fully refundable?????? I'd say it's refundable less $300. Anyway, I asked if she could put all of this in an email, because I wanted something in writing and she said they are not permitted to send any emails.
So honestly I'm more confused than ever. I don't have confidence about the change fees OR about the fully refundable fares. I just wish there were something on the website with policies clearly delineated! It's super frustrating, because I am seeing what I think is a good fare ($2100 r/t, Polaris class to Rome (fully refundable) and economy class return OR $2400 Polaris to Rome/economy return with the whole thing being fully refundable. I would love to jump on this now, but so much could change between now and September, especially as a small regional airport is part of the mix, and I want to have some flexibility.

Posted by
5561 posts

First, the good news:

Hey, you were able to get through to a US airline on the phone while only waiting 40 minutes? That's a big improvement (the norm has bee more like 40 hours, not 40 minutes...). If that's the new normal, it makes HUCA ("Hang Up and Call Again") more viable.

Now the bad news: As you have observed, the folks whose job it is to help you are sometimes (often are) completely clueless, and they sometimes (often do) get important stuff wrong. You may not get an absolute, iron-clad, crystal clear answer that satisfies you.

I would try HUCA once or twice more, and see what the overall trend is among the 4 or 5 agents you poll on the subject. Yeah, that's crazy and it sucks you have to go through this, but you have skin in the game and I'm not aware of any completely fool-proof way to get the 100% official and correct info.

United's website (linked in a previous post) is quite clear: as long as your travel originates in the US, there's no change fees (that does not mean they will refund your cash, you get flight credit). Take a screen shot of that web page and bookmark the URL, just in case.

As long as the following conditions are all true, I would feel pretty confident about booking the flights you want:

  1. Your travel does originate in the US (round-trip travel on a single ticket booked by United does qualify, as long as you begin that trip from a US airport). Two separate tickets booked as one-ways does NOT qualify.
  2. If you decide not to take this trip, you will eventually be able to make use of the travel credit by booking some future travel through United. Doesn't need to be anytime soon, just eventually.
  3. You can afford to 'float" the money -- in the event that you decide not to take this trip, you can afford to leave the money you paid for this ticket "in the bank" in the form of a United flight credit. If you need the money to pay your rent next month, don't do this.

If it were me, and those three conditions were all true, I'd feel comfortable booking the trip. But of course, it's your call.

Hope some of this is helpful. Good luck!

Posted by
515 posts

If you read further on that United page, under FAQs it says:
What about other international flights and Basic Economy domestic tickets?
We’re allowing changes without a fee for international travel if the ticket is issued by January 31, 2022. Basic Economy tickets can only be changed if they’re issued by December 31, 2021, for travel commencing by December 31, 2021.
So I feel like even though it says something broader at the top of the page, if you did deeper there is nothing in writing that says there are no change fees.
I just had another conversation with someone on live chat asking about purchasing "fully refundable" fares and whether there is a cancellation fee. The live chat person said there is no cancellation fee, because of Covid. I clarified this was for travel 7 months in the future and the live chat person again said there is no cancellation fee. This is the opposite of what the person on the phone (looking at my specific "fully refundable" flights told me -- She said there was a $300 fee to cancel a fully refundable flight.) I asked the live chat person if they could direct me to somewhere on the website to verify this. Nope. I asked if a written transcript of our chat be sufficient if I needed to cancel and not be charged a fee, and she said yes. I have a written transcript and screen shots, but I'm not sure they'd actually be considered valid down the road should I decide to cancel. What do you think?
....Sorry to be going on and on about this, but a $600 cancellation fee for two tickets is quite a bit of money for nothing.

Posted by
226 posts

I have another idea. book the ticket or pay to put it on hold (is that even an option anymore?) if you book, you have 24 hours to cancel.

once the ticket is issued, go to the fine print (you know the unreadable courier font, cancellation policy details), and read what it is. call United if you wish. and then decide - you will have a whole working day and they release the hold on the credit card pretty quickly.

good luck with your therapist appointments!

Posted by
218 posts

Thank you all.

I had a discussion with the Physical Therapist today re: my trip. Basically it's too early to commit to anything and I should know better how things will be in 4-6 weeks. There may be more clarity from the airline(s) on cancellations and changes by then. Or not.

The good news is that the PT and assistant were very pleased with my progress. They should be. My life revolves around my "homework." #retiredlife

Posted by
515 posts

Jis Ganga -- thanks for the great suggestion! Found what seems to be a really great fare on Monday; it disappeared for a couple of days but popped back up today, so we booked. Spent an extra $100 for fully refundable, and the ticket info clearly reads REFUNDABLE. Also, even though United's website hasn't been updated, they are sending me Facebook ads about no change fees to Europe, so I took a dated screen shot of that, as well. I'm still nervous about the choice, mainly because I usually avoid our small regional airport since there are so few flights per day....but the convenience factor and lower price were strongly compelling arguments. Also, I don't think I've ever ever booked a flight and not felt anxious immediately afterwards. Go figure.
As a side note, I'd encourage everyone to explore different routes before booking. Our flights to/from our small town to Newark (on regional jets) and then nonstop flights Newark-Rome/Rome-Newark, were $900 less per ticket than taking the exact same Newark-Rome/Rome-Newark flights had we chosen to drive to Newark and begin plane travel there. We had a similar situation in 2011, but have only seen fares starting at our regional airport costing thousands more in the intervening years.