Can airlines continue to extract $2 billion a year in change fees from us?


It’s not your imagination: Fixing your airline ticket is more expensive these days. A lot more expensive.

This data from the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics confirms what many airline passengers already know: That the travel industry, particularly airlines, is profiting on one of the most common human impulses: Changing your mind.

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Back in 1990, the industry collected a paltry $50 million in change fees. In total. In 2009, it demanded an eye-popping $2.3 billion.

Notice the big spike in 2007? That’s around about the time airlines raised their change fees to $150 and tightened their ticket change policies. Long-time readers of this site noticed a shift in airline attitudes toward change fees just after 9/11, the era of “no waivers, no favors” when, in many cases, it the amount of the change fee exceeded the value of their tickets.

I took the liberty of estimating the 2010 figure based on the first-quarter numbers, which suggests passengers have put the brakes on paying these fees this year.


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If my estimates are correct, then passengers are starting to get wise to these fees and either refusing to pay them or finding a way around them. Either way, I don’t think the airline industry can continue extracting $2 billion in change fees from its customers indefinitely.

Or … can it?

(The chart, above is in thousands — thanks to commenter JS for pointing that out.)

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