Updated March 19, 2019: Daylight saving time began on March 10 this year and that means the sun is shining on us a bit longer every day — and summer travel isn't that far away. To be fair, I'm always dreaming of my next vacation and these warmer months are all the inspiration I need to plan my next getaway.
But with that, comes booking flights — the often least exciting part of traveling. There are plenty of different policies you have to follow, as well as an assortment of fees to consider. So we took an in-depth look at what the policies are for all the major airlines in the U.S., including if you can bring your emotional support goat on your travels with you (Spoiler: Probably won’t happen).
Check out everything you could want to know about policies, fees and even hidden ways to save on each of the major airlines in America.
Traveling with service & emotional support animals
First up, let’s talk pets. Most airlines don’t consider a service or emotional support animal a pet and have different policies for them, usually allowing them to fly at no extra cost. And woo-boy, has this become controversial. I’m looking at you, Dexter the peacock.
Per the U.S. Department of Transportation, there are animals airlines don't have to accept, including snakes, reptiles, ferrets, rodents, sugar gliders and spiders, but each airline can add to that list as they see fit. There are also destination restrictions with each airlines, so this is something to look into ahead of time.
Airlines typically require documentation showing you need this animal for travel and/or at your final destination and the doctor’s note typically has to include their medical license, proof you’re their patient and be dated within the past year. Most airlines won’t let you sit in the exit row when you bring a service or support animal. Beyond these, here are the individual policies among major airlines.
Alaska Airlines: Cats, dogs and miniature horses are accepted as trained service animals; just cats and dogs are approved as emotional support animals. Qualified travelers with disabilities are required to provide additional documentation to bring their pet on board. Your personal required documentation must be on the letterhead of the medical doctor or mental health professional treating you. Beyond that, animals "must not exceed the ‘footprint’ of the guest’s seat."
Allegiant Airlines: Allegiant no longer accepts pit bull type breeds in the cabin and the service or support animal must fit in the passenger's foot space. There are three required forms to bring emotional support animals and a single form for service animals, which can be downloaded on the Allegiant Air website.
American Airlines: Animals must be "smaller than a 2-year-old child" and fit on your lap, at your feet or under the seat without blocking the aisle. However, the airline doesn't allow insects, hedgehogs or goats. Passengers need to provide a reservation agent with a doctor’s note within 48 hours of a flight, as well as a request form, which you can find here.
Delta Airlines: Emotional support animals aren't allowed on flights more than eight hours and the animals must be older than four months to fly. Beyond that, Delta only allows one emotional support animal per passenger. In addition to DOT guidelines, Delta does not allow pit bull type dogs, hedgehogs, insects, amphibians, goats, non-household birds (farm poultry, waterfowl, game birds and birds of prey) or animals with tusks, horns or hooves.
Passengers bringing service animals need to have a health form or immunization record for the animal and they're encouraged to submit/bring this form, but it is not required. Passengers bringing emotional support animals need to upload this emotional support animal PDF to My Trips at least 48 ahead of the flight, as well as bring it for travel. Service animals in training only fly free when they’re on their way to their new owner.
Frontier Airlines: Frontier allows cats and dogs that fit in a carrier stowed under the seat or miniature horses as emotional support animals. To bring an emotional support animal, passengers have to submit an animal behavior acknowledgment form and medical/mental health professional form at least 48 hours before the flight.
Hawaiian Airlines: Service animals are limited to dogs, cats and miniature horses. Health certificates are required when you're flying from North America mainland to the islands and must be dated within 14-days of travel. Dogs and cats will need a State of Hawaii direct airport release permit as well. To travel with a service animal, you'll need to notify the airline at least 48 hours before your flight and will need to check in one hour early.
JetBlue Airways: Only dogs, cats and miniature horses are accepted as emotional support and service animals and you're limited to one per passenger. You must submit three documents online at least 48 hours prior to your flight — health professional form, veterinary health form and confirmation of animal behavior form.
Southwest Airlines: Southwest only considers dogs, cats and miniature horses as service animals (dogs and cats only as emotional support animals). You may only bring one animal and it must be in a carrier or on a leash. Documentation for traveling with one of these animals is required.
Spirit Airlines: Spirit requires passengers provide at least 48 hours notices they are bringing an emotional support or service animal and requires three forms — certification from a licensed mental health professional treating the passenger for a mental health related disability; certification from a licensed veterinarian; and a liability form.
United Airlines: Starting Jan. 7, service or emotional support animals cannot travel on flights more than eight hours long and animals younger than four months old are not allowed. Passengers are required to submit documentation from a mental health professional saying the support animal is essential for the passenger’s “mental health or treatment.” The airline must have this documentation at least 48 hours prior to the flight.
Virgin America: Policies for Virgin America throughout this piece are the same as Alaska Airlines, unless otherwise noted, as these two airlines officially merged in early 2018.
Traveling with pets
Most airlines have restrictions to how many pets are allowed per flight (and the type of carrier they need to be in), so it’s a good idea to call the airline as soon as you know you’re bringing your pet. Also, some states require health documents when bringing in a pet, so make sure you find out if that’s required wherever you’re going.
Here’s what else you need to know about bringing your fur baby on a domestic flight with the major airlines.
Alaska Airlines: Passengers 18 and older may bring certain animals in the cabin and the carrier counts toward your carry on bag allotment. There is a $100 fee each way, whether your pet travels in the cabin or in cargo.
Allegiant Airlines: Only domestic cats and dogs are permitted to fly in the cabin on a flight within the main land of the U.S. There is a $100 fee per flight, per animal. Travelers must be at least 15-years-old to bring a pet on a flight and may not sit in an exit row or one row before/after exit rows.
American Airlines: American Airlines stopped allowing Chow Chow dogs as a checked pet at the end of 2018. Brachycephalic cats and dogs or snub-nosed dogs are also not permitted. Pets must be at least eight weeks old and you’ll need to provide a health certificate that your vet issued within 10 days of travel (60 days when returning on the same ticket). Carry on pets will cost $125 per kennel; checked pets cost $200 per kennel or $150 to/from Brazil.
Delta Airlines: Carrying on a dog, cat or household bird comes with a $125 fee each way when flying in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. It's $75 each way when flying to/from Brazil and $200 when flying internationally or to/from the U.S. Virgin Islands. It's important to note that if you bring your pet to your seat with you, that will count as your personal item for carry-on luggage. The other option is to ship your pet as cargo, which comes with a fee and does not guarantee your pet will be on your same flight. You can book a cargo ticket here.
Frontier Airlines: Pets are only allowed in the cabin — no checking or cargo here. The fee to bring a pet aboard is $75 and the pet must stay in their carrier the entire time. Speaking of carriers, Frontier specifies that it “must be large enough for the pet to stand, turn around and lie down in a natural position.”
Hawaiian Airlines: Dogs and cats weighing less than 25 pounds are allowed in the cabin on Hawaiian flights departing Hawaii, but can't join you on flights to/from JFK or Boston or flying into Hawaii. No pets are ever allowed in first class. A health certificate dated within 14 days of travel dates is required and if you’re traveling within the state of Hawaii, there’s a $35 fee; travel from Hawaii to the mainland comes with a $175 fee. Birds cannot come in the cabin but can be checked as a checked item. Checked pets must not weigh more than 70 pounds (pet and kennel combined). If they do, they’ll be moved to cargo. Snubbed nose dogs and cats are highly discouraged and pets are not accepted during yearly embargo periods from Sacramento and San Jose, California, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
JetBlue Airways: JetPaws, the free pet program with JetBlue, includes a carrier bag tag and 300 TrueBlue points on each flight segment. There are a few destinations that don't allow pets, so make sure you verify ahead of time. It's also best to book pet travel early, as there are limitations on how many are allowed per flight. Small cats and dogs can travel in the cabin, as long as the combined weight of the pet and carrier isn’t more than 20 pounds. There is a $125 fee each way.
Southwest Airlines: Small cats and dogs who’re at least eight weeks old and up to date on their vaccinations may travel in cabin on domestic flights. There is a $95 fee for each leg of the flight and spaces are on a first come, first serve basis, as only six animals are allowed per flight. Pets cannot travel in cargo, with unaccompanied minors or on international flights.
Spirit Airlines: You can bring dogs, cats and small household birds in the cabin on domestic flights (except to/from Puerto Rico and St. Thomas) as long as the combined weight of the pet and carrier does not exceed 40 pounds. Spirit notes the following birds are not permitted: farm poultry, waterfowl, game birds, birds of prey and flightless birds. They also call out that “exotic pets, such as snakes, spiders, rodents, etc. will not be accepted.” There is a $110 fee per pet, per flight, and only four animals are allowed per flight.
United Airlines: Domesticated cats, dogs, rabbits and household birds (except for cockatoos) are allowed in the cabin on most U.S. flights, as long as they remain in kennels with the door secured during the flight. There is a $125 fee for each flight segment and, if you have a layover that lasts more than four hours, there's another $125 fee for the next flight segment.
For any dogs or cats not eligible to travel in the cabin, United has a program for transporting them in cargo called PetSafe. You need to book PetSafe travel ahead of time, as well as submit documentation including two copies of the completed customer acknowledgement form, two photos of your pet and health certificates.
Traveling with allergies
While we’re talking pets, it’s worth pointing out that no airline can guarantee an allergen-free flight for several reasons, including animals being allowed on flights, as well as in-flight snacks and meals processed in facilities where there are also nuts. Plus, airlines only have so much control over what snacks others bring aboard. So, if you’ve spoken with your doctor and can safely travel, it’s up to you to do what you can to have a comfortable flight.
“When you get to your seat, use an antibacterial wipe to clean all surfaces you may touch, including the seat, arms and the tray table in front of you,” Tanya Bumgardner, content editor and manager for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, said.
Even if the airline has taken precautions to remove your allergen triggers, like pets or peanuts, there could be remnants from previous passengers. Some airlines may allow you to board early to disinfect your immediate vicinity, so check with your gate agent when you arrive.
In the first three quarters of 2018, airlines made $3.6 billion in baggage fees, per the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. And, unless you have an airline credit card or frequent flier status that exempts you, you’ll contribute to that sum when you fly. Here are the fee policies for each major airline.
Alaska Airlines: For flights booked on or after Dec. 5, 2018, standard bag fees are $30 for the first bag; $40 for the second; $100 thereafter. Any oversize or overweight bags (more than 50 pounds) have an additional $100 fee. Strollers, car seats and (oddly) pineapple from Hawaii all travel free.
If you booked your flight before Dec. 5, 2018, standard bag fees are $25 for the first two bags; $75 thereafter. Any oversize or overweight bags (more than 50 pounds) have an additional $75 fee.
Allegiant Airlines: Your checked baggage fee will vary based on your route, when you add the bag to your itinerary, weight and size of the bag and whether you’re checking it or carrying it on. A personal item in the cabin is free, but other carry-on bags can cost anywhere from $10 to $75. Check specifics here.
American Airlines: When flying domestically, your first checked bag is $30; bag two is $40; bag three is $150; bag four and beyond is $200. During busy travel seasons — like the holidays — the airline places limitations on checked bags on select flights.
Delta Airlines: The most common fees for domestic travels is $30 for the first checked bag (under 50 pounds) and $40 for each bag thereafter. You get one carry on item and personal item for free. For other rates based on departure location and destination, go here.
Frontier Airlines: Paying for your bag online at booking is the best value, $35 for a carry-on; $30 for your first checked bag; $45 for your second checked bag; $85 thereafter. If you wait to pay for a checked bag at the airport, you'll be paying $50 for carry-on and your first checked bag, $55 for your second checked bag, $95 thereafter.
Online after booking/up to 24-hours before departure is $38 for your carry-on or first checked bag; $45 for your second checked bag; $85 thereafter. If you use the call center or purchase on web check-in, you’ll pay $40 for your carry-on or first checked bag; $50 for your second call center checked bag or $45 for your second web check-in bag; $90 thereafter.
Waiting until you get to the departure gate will be the priciest option, as it’s $60 for your carry-on bag and $60 for any bags that have to be checked because they exceed size requirements.
Hawaiian Airlines: If flying to a neighbor island, your first bag is $25 ($15 for HawaiianMiles members), second bag is $35 ($20 for HawaiianMiles members) and each additional bag is $50. If flying to any other states in North America, your first bag is $30, second bag is $40 and each additional bag is $100. Excess weight fees range from $35 to $200. Pualani Platinum members can bring three bags free of charge. If flying internationally or in first class, your first two bags are free and each additional bag is $150. Each passenger can bring one carry-on and a personal item at no cost.
JetBlue Airways: JetBlue baggage fees depend on what type of fare you booked. Blue pays $30 for the first bag and $40 for the second. Blue Plus and Blue Flex get the first bag free and second bag for $40 or free (respectively). All three tiers pay $150 for the third or any additional bags.
Southwest Airlines: There are no fees for one carry-on bag and one smaller personal item or the first two checked bags. However, anything beyond that, as well as any overweight or oversized bags, have a $75 fee per bag.
Spirit Airlines: All passengers can carry on a personal item (purse, laptop bag, etc.) for free. Beyond that, things start to get tricky. Prices will vary based on if they're a standard ticket or if you're part of the $9 fare club (by $9, of course) as well as when you book your bag. You'll get the best deal when paying for your baggage at the time of booking your flight online (and pay the most when paying at the gate). Log onto the Spirit site and enter your travel origin/destination to see fee specifics for your trip.
United Airlines: Most passengers can bring one carry-on bag and a personal item on board for free. However, Basic Economy passengers who aren’t Premier members or haven't used a qualifying MileagePlus credit card to book the ticket, can only bring a personal item at no charge. Checked baggage fees vary by location, but a lot of domestic flights come with a $30 fee for the first bag and $40 for the second.
There’s a lot that can happen to your bag during travel. If it’s lost, airlines are required to reimburse your baggage fee, plus what was inside, up to $3,500 per passenger. If your bag is damaged beyond normal wear and tear, you may be able to get the airline to pay for repairs or give you some other compensation. And if your bag missed the flight or went to the wrong destination (aka, it’s late), the airlines must cover reasonable expenses for items you need immediately, like a toothbrush or contact solution.
You’ll want to report any problems right away — some airlines only recognize a problem reported four hours after it arose — so make sure you head straight to the baggage service office of your airline to file a claim. All that said, a couple airlines have additional policies for baggage problems, which are highlighted below.
Alaska Airlines: Alaska guarantees your bag will be at baggage claim within 20 minutes of when your plane gets to the gate. Not the case? You’ll get a discount code for $25 off on your next Alaska Airlines flight or 2,500 bonus miles added to your account. But make sure you call customer service within two hours of this happening or else you won’t get comped.
Delta Airlines: If your bag is 12 or more hours late, you may be eligible for a baggage fee refund. SkyMiles members are eligible for 2,500 bonus miles if their bags don’t make it to the carousel in 20 minutes or less (after a domestic flight only).
Flight delays & cancellations
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that almost 19% of flights were delayed in 2018. Some airports are more reliable than others about getting flights out on time, but if you face a less-than-punctual takeoff time, airlines are required to do certain things, like provide working bathrooms (thankfully) as well as food and non-alcoholic drinks if you’re stuck on the tarmac. Plus, once that plane backs away from the gate, they have three hours (four for international flights) to be wheels up, or else the airline will get hit with a major fine.
If you’re in the airport, all airlines are required to give you are regular updates to a new departure time, and many will try to keep you happy with free snacks or water bottles while you wait (although this isn’t required).
Beyond these federal obligations, some airlines offer additional things in the event of a delay or cancellation. There are some exceptions to most of these, like if the delay is caused by weather or extraordinary circumstances, so be prepared.
Alaska Airlines: If your delay will be three hours or more, Alaska’s website says their customer care team will “reach out to you with an apology and relevant discount code” for a future flight. If your flight is canceled, and you are 100 miles or more from home, the airline may provide accommodations, including a hotel room and ground transportation to and from the hotel.
American Airlines: If your delay or cancellation causes you to miss your connection, American will rebook you on the next flight with available seats. If you aren’t boarded to your final destination before 11:59 p.m. local time, the airline will arrange for a hotel stay.
Delta Airlines: As of May 2018, Delta says that anyone with a four hour or more delay between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. local time will get a voucher for a room at a nearby hotel, as well as comped transportation to and from that hotel. This also applies if your flight was canceled and you can’t get rebooked on a flight until the following day.
Frontier Airlines: For delays lasting one to three hours, you may keep your flight or change for one within 72 hours of the original flight for no fee. If the delay is for more than three hours, you can do the same or request a full refund.
Hawaiian Airlines: Hawaiian Airlines will provide hotel accommodations for anyone who has a flight delay exceeding four hours, as long as they aren’t residents of the place where the delay occurs and the delay happens between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. local time. Those facing a delay of four hours or more will also get a meal voucher, transportation to the hotel and one long distance call as long as it’s to somewhere in the U.S.
JetBlue Airways: Delays can get you up to a $250 credit compensation, as long as it’s not prompted by a security event. You can see the full compensation breakdown here. If your flight is canceled, you can either request a full refund or get on the next available flight at no additional cost. But that’s not all — if your flight is canceled due to a “controllable irregularity” and there isn’t a flight out within an hour, you can get compensation for a future flight. That’s a $50 credit for flights canceled within four hours of your flight and $100 if it’s after your scheduled departure.
Southwest Airlines: If there’s a delay or cancellation, Southwest will try to get you on the next available flight. If there isn’t one that day, they may provide lodging and transportation to the hotel.
Spirit Airlines: Spirit may provide accommodations for passengers on select canceled flights, but only if they are non-local customers.
United Airlines: You may request a refund of your ticket price and baggage fees if your flight is canceled or delayed by two hours or more. You may receive a refund if your flight is canceled/delayed overnight. You may also receive a toiletry kit if you have to stay overnight and you can’t access your checked baggage. Flights canceled due to mechanical issue or circumstances within their control, you may be provided with a room at a nearby hotel.
Cancellation & changes fees
Things change, including your need for a certain flight. You can do this without a penalty within 24 hours of originally booking the ticket, as long as your flight is a week or more away. Otherwise, you’ll be looking at your airline’s cancellation policy (or thanking yourself for getting travel insurance.)
Alaska Airlines: Cancellations more than 60 days before departure won’t incur a fee. Any closer than that and you’ll pay $125 on standard fares. Same rules apply for changes, unless your whole flight is within Alaska.
Allegiant Airlines: If your purchase TripFlex, you can cancel your flight without fees up to an hour before the flight. Otherwise, you’ll pay a $75 fee per segment. No credits will be issued if you don't show up or if you cancel your flight within seven days of departure.
American Airlines: If you used reward points to pay for the flight, you’ll pay $150 for the first award ticket and $25 thereafter. These fees are waived for Executive Platinum members. If you paid for the ticket, however, you’ll get hit with a $200 fee ($750 for international flights).
Delta Airlines: Changes aren't allowed after the 24-hour period or within 24-hours of departure if you have a basic economy ticket. There’s a $200 fee for non-refundable tickets on domestic flights (up to $500 for international flights) plus the fare difference after the 24-hour cancellation period. Non-refundable, refundable and flex tickets come with a fee starting at $75 when you want to change or cancel within 24 hours of departure. You can read more here.
Frontier Airlines: There’s no charge for anyone who paid for a The Works fare and wants to cancel their flight prior to departure. You can either request a full refund or save the amount to use on a flight within one year of the transaction date. Otherwise, any cancellations after the 24-hour grace period or flights made within seven days of travel, comes with a $99 fee. Flights canceled or changed 14 to 89 days before departure have a $49 fee.
Hawaiian Airlines: Depending on where you’re traveling, your fee will be up to $200.
JetBlue Airways: For fares booked booked on or after Aug. 27, 2018, Blue and Blue Plus fees are based on your ticket price — fares less than $100 have a $75 fee (plus difference in fare), $100 to $149 fares have $100 fee (plus difference in fare), $150 to $199.99 fares have $150 fees (plus difference in fare) and fares more than $200 have $200 fees (plus difference in fare). Blue Flex fares pay the difference in fare only and Mint fares pay $200 plus the difference in fare.
Southwest Airlines: No fees here, but you will have to pay any fare differences if you're changing flights. Refunds are issued as a travel credit.
Spirit Airlines: The fee structure varies based on where you make the adjustment — $90 online and $100 over the phone or at the airport.
United Airlines: Changing a flight means you'll be paying a fee and any difference in fare price. Canceling a ticket will also carry a fee, but the amount will vary based on if it's a domestic or international flight, as well as your membership tier, type of ticket booked and how far you are from the flight date.
Getting bumped from a flight
There are two types of “bumps” from a flight — voluntary and involuntary. If a flight is oversold, gate agents may ask if anyone is willing to give up their seat in exchange for a compensation. If no one does, the agents are forced to select people to involuntarily take a later flight, usually based on check-in times or priority status.
“If a passenger isn’t in a hurry and volunteers to take a later flight I would try to bargain for a first class seat, lounge access and also ask for cash rather than a voucher,” George Hobica, travel expert and creator of Airfarewatchdog, said. He also said involuntary bumping is less common now because many airlines recently changed their policies and “now offer up to $10,000 to entice passengers to volunteer.”
That amount sound tempting? A Policygenius survey found that just over 1 in 5 Americans say no amount of money makes up for losing their seat on a flight. Most airlines don’t show their hand by publishing the amounts they’re authorized to offer in exchange for passengers voluntarily taking a bump. However, if you’re bumped involuntarily, you have rights.
Per the U.S. Department of Transportation, compensation is based on the price of your tickets and how long the bump delays you. If you’re rebooked on a flight that is less than an hour later, no compensation is required. If your new flight is one to two hours (one to four on international flights), you will get 200% of the one-way fare (up to $675). If your delay is two or more hours (four or more on international flights), or canceled all together, you’ll get 400% of the one-way fare (up to $1,350).
JetBlue: Passengers who are involuntarily denied boarding due to overbooking (which is defined in JetBlue's contract of carriage) will receive $1,350 in compensation.
Emergency & bereavement fares
In the event of a loss of an immediate family member, you may be able to receive a discounted flight, often referred to as a bereavement fare. These may not always be the best option, so it still pays to shop around, even if you are in a rush to catch a flight. It's also worth noting that each airline has their own definition of who is considered "immediate" family, so you'll want to verify that with your specific airline.
Alaska Airlines: There’s a 10% discount for Mileage Plan members who have lost someone in their immediate family. Travel must happen within seven days of booking the flight and tickets must be booked by phone.
Allegiant Airlines: Bereavement fares are not offered by Allegiant Airlines.
American Airlines: Bereavement fares are not offered by American Airlines.
Delta Airlines: Discounts are available to SkyMiles members, but tickets must be booked over the phone (800-221-1212 for domestic flights; 800-241-4141 for international flights). To be eligible, the loss has to be of an immediate family member and you will be required to provide certain documentation including the name of the deceased, your relationship to them, as well as the name and phone number of the funeral home, hospital or hospice that can confirm their passing.
Frontier Airlines: Bereavement fares are not offered by Frontier Airlines.
Hawaiian Airlines: Bereavement fares are offered for neighbor island travel between the Hawaiian Islands only.
JetBlue Airways: Bereavement fares are not offered by JetBlue Airlines.
Southwest Airlines: Bereavement fares are not offered by Southwest Airlines.
Spirit Airlines: Bereavement fares are not offered by Spirit Airlines.
United Airlines: United stopped offering bereavement fares in March 2014.
Easy ways to save on each airline
We don’t recommend wearing all your clothes to avoid a checked bag fee — but there are some easy things you can do to save with each airline.
Alaska Airlines: If your frequent flier account is inactive for two years, you may lose your miles. You can reclaim them within a year but, of course, this comes with a fee (currently $75). Avoid this by making sure you have activity on your account at least once every two years (shouldn’t be that hard, right?).
Allegiant Airlines: This airline charges $5 to print a boarding pass at the airport. To avoid this, download the free app and get a digital pass instead. Prefer having a ticket in hand? Print it out at home.
American Airlines: If you can book your own ticket instead of getting help from Reservations, you'll save anywhere from $25 to $50.
Delta Airlines: Want to stay connected while at 30,000 feet? If you’re only going to be sending text messages, many Delta flights offer a messaging connection for free. Check with your flight before buying an internet package.
Frontier Airlines: Pay for your baggage when you book your ticket online and you can save a bundle. We’re talking paying $35 for a carry-on bag compared to $60 if you wait pay at the departure gate.
Hawaiian Airlines: Bringing a surfboard or something similar? You can bring it on the flight (for a fee, of course) but you may be able to save by putting more than one in a board bag, as long as the bag weighs less than 50 pounds.
JetBlue Airways: Flights booked over the phone can come with a $25 fee. Ditch this added expense by booking online.
Southwest Airlines: Have to switch your flight? Southwest is the only major airline that doesn’t charge a fee to change your ticket, even if you booked it with rewards. You’ll still have to pay any difference in the base price of the ticket, so make sure you find one that’s the same, or close, to the original price.
Spirit Airlines: Print your boarding pass at home at no cost. Otherwise, you’ll pay $2 to print a pass at a kiosk or $10 to have an agent print a pass.
United Airlines: Avoid a service charge for booking your ticket by doing it yourself online. Otherwise, you’ll pay $25 to have someone help you on the phone, $30 at a city ticket office or $50 in person at the airport.
Frequent flyer programs
Most airlines offer similar reward programs where you rack up miles with flights (either based on amount spent or distance traveled). Some also reward you for shopping with their partners or using their affiliated credit cards. You can redeem the earned miles for another flight, upgrade or other rewards.
With most programs, there are different tiers and the higher you are in the program, the more miles and perks you get. Technically, all of these programs are free to join, but think about it — flights aren’t cheap and you have to book a flight to get rewards. Let’s take a look at the basic way to earn miles with each airline.
Alaska Airlines: With the Mileage Plan loyalty program, you will earn miles based on miles traveled. Plus, if you are a Mileage Plan member and live in Alaska, you can join the free Club 49 program. This gets you some added perks, including two free checked bags for each passenger on Club 49 member reservations on flights to/from Alaska.
Allegiant Airlines: Allegiant does not have a basic frequent flyer program — only Allegiant World MasterCard holders can earn myAllegiant points.
American Airlines: AAdvantage members earn miles when they fly with the airline or its partners. As of Jan. 1, 2019, members have to earn $15,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) instead of $12,000 to reach Platinum status, bringing the program to match with both Delta and United. You can read more about the program updates here.
Delta Airlines: SkyMiles rewards are based on dollars spent for a flight (you earn five miles per $1 spent on a Delta flight or 11 miles per $1 spent if you have Medallion status).
Frontier Airlines: Frontier replaced EarlyReturns with Frontier Miles in Aug. 2018, which came with new Elite Status tiers, family benefits and credit card rewards. Passengers still earn one mile for every mile flown.
Hawaiian Airlines: With HawaiianMiles, you earn miles based on miles traveled. Plus, if you’re traveling between islands, you can save on checked bag fees.
JetBlue Airways: TrueBlue members earn three base TrueBlue points per dollar spent, plus three to six bonus points per dollar spent on jetblue.com.
Southwest Airlines: Rapid Rewards members earn points for every dollar spent, which will be multiplied by either 12, 10 or six based on the fare type.
Spirit Airlines: FREE SPIRIT members earn various percentages of miles flown based on their tier level — Somebody earns 50% rewards for miles flown, Elite and VIP get 100% of miles flown.
United Airlines: MileagePlus members earn miles for each dollar spent on a flight with bonus miles awarded based on your status.
Virgin America: Elevate Gold and Silver programs ended Dec. 31, 2017 and members had their points moved to the Mileage Plan program at a rate of one point per 1.3 miles.
Need to know more?
Still have questions or want to talk with an agent about booking a flight? Reach out to your particular airline, which you can find the numbers for below. (Remember, booking online may save you from paying a fee.)
Alaska Airlines: For reservations or general customer service, call 1-800-252-7522. For baggage-related issues, call 1-877-815-8253. You can also text questions to 82008.
Allegiant Airlines: For reservations or general customer service, call 1-702-505-888. For baggage-related issues, call 1-866-719-3910.
American Airlines: For reservations or general customer service, call 1-800-433-7300. For baggage-related issues, call 1-800-535-5225.
Delta Airlines: For reservations or general customer service, call 1-800-221-1212. For baggage-related issues, call 1-800-325-8224.
Frontier Airlines: For reservations or general customer service, call 1-801-401-9000. For baggage-related issues, call 1-801-401-9000.
Hawaiian Airlines: For reservations or general customer service, call 1-800-367-5320. For baggage-related issues, call 1-808-835-3466.
JetBlue Airways: For reservations or general customer service, call 1-800-538-2583. For baggage-related issues, call 1-800-538-2583.
Southwest Airlines: For reservations or general customer service, call 1-800-435-9792. For baggage-related issues, call 1-888-202-1024.
Spirit Airlines: For reservations or general customer service, call 1-801-401-2222. For baggage-related issues, call 1-877-888-5926.
United Airlines: For reservations or general customer service, call 1-800-864-8331. For baggage-related issues, call 1-800-335-2247.
Virgin America: See contact information for Alaska Airlines.