The Travel Detective

The Truth About Airline Ticket Change Fees

Do you ever wonder why it costs hundreds of dollars to change a simple airline ticket? In many cases, that fee is more than the cost of the ticket itself. Travel Editor of The Wall Street Journal Scott McCartney has some thoughts on this.

Why does it cost $200 to change a domestic reservation? It was bad enough when it cost $150. It’s just a couple of clicks on a keyboard.

To make matters worse, on international trips, the penalty can be as much as $300. You used to be able to fly to Europe for $300.

What can you do about it? I’ll tell you.

Let’s start with the bad news: Airlines get to change their schedules all the time without penalty. But you can’t change your schedule unless you pay a big penalty on a non-refundable fare.

Why not just make it like a sporting event, where you could sell your ticket to someone else or give your ticket to a friend if you couldn’t make it.

Airlines have always been able to change the names on tickets. Some even charge a fee for that. It’s not a security issue.

In fact, airlines protect themselves by overbooking. They’re already protected. They get to sell your seat twice, and when you don’t show up, they score big.

How big? Delta, American, United, and US Airways together took in $2.3 billion in change fees last year.

But it’s not all bad news. There are some things you can do to avoid or reduce change fees.

American Airlines has a program called Choice Essential where you pay $68 round trip, and you get one free change.

You have to get used to the notion of paying a fee to avoid a fee.

Better yet, Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge change fees. So if your plans aren’t certai, and you’re going somewhere Southwest goes, you may want to consider that. But remember, Southwest says it doesn’t charge change fees—yet.

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