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15 Oct 2021

Which airlines offer best flexible tickets from the UK to US?

We compare JetBlue, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways flexible booking policies to find those that won't leave you out of pocket if the rules change again
Aeroplane taking off

After a long wait, the US will finally reopen to fully vaccinated UK residents on November 8th.

Until now, most of us were unable to fly to the US, but the rule relaxation means travellers from the UK, as well as from more than 30 other countries, will be permitted entry - provided they've had two eligible coronavirus vaccines. You will also need to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test.

It follows the news that fully jabbed residents of England will not need to take a pre-departure test before flying home from 4 October. Day two tests will still be required, although from October 24th it will be possible to use cheaper lateral flow tests rather than PCR tests.

You might now be planning a visit to the US, but Which? recommends you book a package holiday or pick an airline with a good flexible booking policy, in case restrictions are reintroduced.

From what date in November can I fly to the USA?

UK residents who have been double jabbed will be able to visit the USA from November 8th, the White House has announced. But Which? still advises that you book a package holiday or with an airline that offers maximum flexibility, in case restrictions change again in future and you can't take the trip.

Choose a UK-US airline with a flexible booking policy

Travel rules within the UK as well as other countries could change again with little notice. If you are booking a flight to the US, do so with an airline that offers customers the chance to rebook without being charged a change fee, or to receive a voucher in the event that changing travel restrictions disrupt your travel plans.

Below we've compared the policies of British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, JetBlue, Delta and American Airlines to help you choose the best.

Should I book a flight to the US with British Airways?

Yes, if you're flying by 31 August 2022 - ie within British Airways' current period for flexible booking (it dates back to bookings made from 3 March 2020 onwards). During this period British Airways is allowing customers to rebook flights right up until check-in without paying a change fee, although you'll pay any difference in fare price on new tickets. You can also choose a voucher rather than rebooking tickets - helpful if you're not sure when to rebook for.

Should I book a flight to the US with Virgin Atlantic?

Virgin's current policy - which applies to flights booked on or after 3 March 2021 - allows you to change the dates, destination, or name on your ticket with no change fee, although as with British Airways, you'll have to pay the fare difference. The policy states that any rebooked flight must be completed by 30 April 2023. Alternatively, you can choose a voucher. These changes can be made right up until check-in closes for any reason, whether you catch Covid-19 or simply don't wish to travel. If you booked prior to 3 March 2021 you need to check what Virgin Atlantic's policies were at the time of booking.

Should I book a flight to the US with JetBlue?

JetBlue might or might not offer fee free rebooking in its basic economy class. We couldn't work it out because its website has contradictory information. JetBlue did not respond to our request for clarification. JetBlue directs customers to its Travel Alerts section for 'current travel advisories and fee waiver information'. If you're considering booking with JetBlue, contact the company to discuss your flexibility options - maybe it will give you an answer.

Should I book a flight to the US with Delta?

You'll find flexibility with Delta but for a shorter period than BA or Virgin, with Delta waiving change fees until the end of the year, although you'll need to pay for any difference in fare. Alternatively, you can opt for an e-credit. For those whose travel dates are in 2022, whose ticket type is basic economy and who bought tickets after April 2021, tickets are non changeable and non-refundable.

Should I book a flight to the US with American Airlines?

The least flexible carrier. If you're on a budget and will be booking a basic economy ticket, you won't see much flexibility with American Airlines. The company won't allow you to rebook without paying a change fee in economy (you can in Premium Cabin, Premium Economy and Main Cabin), unless your ticket was bought before April 1 2021. After this date, basic economy tickets are considered non-refundable and non-changeable, meaning that if your travel plans are disrupted by Covid, you could lose your money.

Who would the Which? experts book with?

We'd advise you to book with a UK-based airline, as you'll benefit from additional EU legislation protection for delayed flights. British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, for example, would be obliged to compensate you if your flight is more than three hours late on either leg of your journey. Non-European airlines, such as Delta and American Airlines, will only have to compensate you when flying from the UK.

British Airways and Virgin have the best flexible booking because in addition to offering rebooking you can instead choose a voucher. That's useful because, if new restrictions are introduced, it can be difficult to know which new dates to book for - and the fare difference can be expensive. British Airways had a better track record on refunds during the first round of Covid-19 related flight cancellations, so our advice is to book with them via the British Airways website.

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