The incredible but true story of Alaska Airlines’ change fee reversal

Debbie Winsett’s trip to Seattle was up in the air.

And so was her Alaska Airlines ticket. She knew in advance her family’s plans and return flights could change without warning. And they did.

While Winsett braced for the onslaught of coach ticket change fees, Alaska Airlines blindsided her by not charging any.

If Winsett sounds familiar, it’s because she’s a regular contributor to our help forum. She’s also the lucky passenger whose Air New Zealand story got the Good News Guy treatment.

Talk about Karma.

What these air carrier tales also have in common is that their good news is simply that everything exceeds expectations — a recurring theme worthy of debate and consideration at a time when fees are out of control.

One of our forum’s favorite oxymoronic phrases seems to be getting a refund for a nonrefundable ticket.

Airlines balance lower, nonrefundable coach fares with the sky-high prices of refundable tickets in response to supply and demand. And let’s be honest — some fliers accept the risk of cheap, nonrefundable fares only to complain later when they miss their flight. Voluntary refunds for a nonrefundable ticket (there’s that phrase again) are typically provided only when there is a death in the family or unexpected medical predicament preventing travel.

Except with Alaska Air.

Winsett’s son and his team made the NCAA soccer playoffs in Seattle, and with only three days notice needed family air reservations from their home in Fresno, Calif. Adding to the uncertainty was not knowing which team would win or lose, affecting when they would fly back.

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“If we lost the game on Thursday, we would return Friday since no one wanted to spend a cold, wet weekend there if we didn’t have to. Love the city, but…,” said Winsett. “If we won, the team played again and would return Sunday.”

Their team unfortunately lost, so Winsett’s family needed to change their return flight on the fly. Alaska Air’s fees are clearly stated and, at $125 per change, they’re somewhere between Southwest’s and the rest of the legacies.

Yet, they graciously changed all of Winsett’s tickets without penalty.

While no one was looking, this modest air carrier has quietly crept into a world of premium consumer reviews, including Skytrax and Airline Ratings.

Who knew?

This is refreshing at a time when airline conglomerates are on the hot seat from megamergers that are raking in record profits while reducing service quality. Perhaps we can do our part to help by recognizing such acts of consideration, as Winsett consistently does.

But what about the rest of the flight experience?

“Each time I spoke with a rep, they did what they said they would with no hassle,” she concluded. “The check-in crews were extremely friendly, the hosts on board were pleasant and efficient, and we enjoyed comfortable flights on clean, on-time planes.”

Nice work, Alaska.

Andrew Der

Der is an environmental consultant and travel journalist specializing in water science, nature, eco-travel, and cultural destinations

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