Changing your United Airlines flight? Here’s how to reduce the change fee

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If you have confirmed ticket with United Airlines, and would like  to move your flight to an earlier flight on the same day, there’s a way for you to make that change without paying an arm and leg to make that change. 


If you’ve ever attempted to change your flight, you know that it gets expensive. Changing your flight normally means paying the difference of the price of the ticket (which is always higher), a change fee, and another ticket fee. In my case, I was attempting a same-day flight change with United. More specifically, I wanted to get on the exact same flight (a direct flight from Newark to San Francisco) on the same day, but just two hours earlier. Going through the change process, I would have been charged an additional $495 for just that segment.

It wasn’t really a surprise that United wanted to charge me a $500 for a flight a mere two hours earlier (3:20 PM as opposed to 5:35 PM) on the same day. It wasn’t out of left field. I knew going into it that it was going to be costly, but I wanted to roll the dice in case for whatever reason it would have been reasonable. Clearly, it wasn’t.

The $500 fee was not an option so I thought about other potential ways to get on an earlier flight.  I thought about going to the airport earlier so I could get on via standby. If there’s room on a flight, United allows passengers to jump on an earlier flgith for a $75 change fee – much more reasonable.

Before diving in, I wanted a better sense of what my chances were, so I asked the agent how many seats were still available for the flight I was interested in. Even with 8+ seats available and just 6 hours before said flight took off, I was still hesitant to go to the airport without a guaranteed seat.


That’s when the customer service agent told me that I could still guarantee a seat on the earlier flight. She informed me that that within 3 hours of the flight’s departure time, United opens up all the unconfirmed seats. At that point, passengers can change their flights and reserve a seat without having to wait on standby nor pay a crazy change fee. All it takes is a little patience and a far more respectable $75.

It’s a no-brainer for airlines; their ultimate goal is to send up full planes. With that in mind, at a certain point – in this case, 3 hours — United knows that available seats are not going to sell, and those that have not checked in to the flight at that point, a certain percentage of them are not going to show. By allowing confirmed passengers to change their flights to an earlier flight, they fill up planes that would otherwise have empty seats and that opens up seats on later flights for the opportunity of more ticket sales or change fees. What’s not to like? United fills more seats (and lines their pockets) and passengers get to their destinations earlier for a more reasonable change fee.

With this option you don’t have to go to the airport early to play the standby game, investing time that might not yield a seat and avoid the risk of not catching that earlier flight. Once the flight is within the three-hour window, call United (800-864-8331) and if there are seats, you can jump on that earlier flight for just $75.

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