How fair are ticket change fees?

windowFrom time to time, every consumer advocate tilts at a few windmills, and when Sheryl North contacted me about her US Airways flight, it was my turn.

North was scheduled to fly from Los Angeles to Kona, Hawaii, late last year. She was using a voucher to pay for the flight.

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“Something arose unexpectedly and I was forced to cancel,” she told me. “I am now trying to use the voucher to rebook the same itinerary.”

US Airways doesn’t just want to charge her $150 to change the itinerary, which surprised her. “I didn’t realize the change fee would apply to use of a voucher,” she says.

Here’s the thing: Her new ticket will cost $100 less than her old ticket. But instead of apply that fare differential as a credit to her new itinerary, US Airways is insisting the pay the $150 change fee, despite the fare difference.

“They are just keeping the extra money,” she says. “I feel that this is not right.”

Call me a “kettle” if you want, but changing a US Airways ticket isn’t something I do every day. I was a little surprised by the funny math, and thought I would check with the airline. I know the carrier wouldn’t hesitate to ask for a fare difference if the price had gone up — so is it possible that someone didn’t understand the terms of North’s voucher and asked her to pay $150 when she shouldn’t have?

So I asked. Here’s what a US Airways representative told me:

We provide a credit for future travel with a non-refundable ticket, but do not refund the difference if the new fare is lower. Change fee still applies.

That is the risk folks take when purchasing a non-refundable fare in order to obtain the lowest rate. Refundable fares avoid this issue.

Just out of curiousity, I asked how much more a refundable ticket would have cost than the type of ticket North had booked with her voucher.

Depends on when she purchases. It will be a fair amount more than the non-refundable. But the money isn’t at risk.

I should have known better than to ask. Of course, none of this is new to me and nor should it be new to you if you read this site. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

I find the “buy a refundable” fare response to be highly frustrating. Truth is, most of those tickets are double, triple, even quadruple the advance-purchase fare. The only folks who buy them are business travelers on a limitless expense account, not the Sheryl North’s of the world.

I can’t change the rules, but you can. By flying on an airline with reasonable ticket-change policies, you send a message to the entire industry that funny math is frowned upon by customers. Now that’s the kind of loyalty that matters.

In the meantime, is it too much to ask for just a little consistency when it comes to ticket changes?

How fair are ticket change fees?

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138 thoughts on “How fair are ticket change fees?

  1. Refundable fares avoid this issue.

    Is that really so, given that the OP originally paid with a voucher (we don’t know the expiration date)?

    (Nevermind that the refundable ticket generally costs more than buying 2 non-refundable tickets and throwing one away).

  2. USAIR changed their polices awhile back to what use to be the way most carriers handled changed fees many years ago. Residual wasn’t allowed toward the change fee, then theyall became lax on that rule. USAIR recently sent us a debit memo on this when Sabre didn’t account for it in a ticket exchange for ARC even though it was correct in the entry and our bookkeeper didn’t catch it. They wouldn’t back down for us on it either and we were fined for the error.

  3. I voted that change fees are not fair. I do not believe that change fees should be a form of revenue. I am happy for the airlines to charge a nominal amount to cover the cost of changing the ticket, but in general, a change fee is a punitive measure, and punitive measures are strongly disfavored in law and in public policy.

    But then airlines get away with business practices that would be illegal, or at least unethical in most other industries. The prohibition on hidden cities, back to back tickets, non-tranferability, cancellation of the entire itinerary for missing one segment, etc. are examples of odd business practices that rarely exist elsewhere.

  4. I vote VERY UNFAIR.

    Here’s USAir typical fare rule for changes:

    NOTE –

    Essentially, even if the fares go lower when you change your flights, then you always lose.
    They not only collect and charge the $150 change fee but they keep any lower fare difference since the passenger forfeits it.

  5. Lowest fare $397.20.
    Cheapest normal fare $1328.60.
    You need to pay almost 1k more to escape the change penalty.

  6. One of the strangest change fee charges I encountered was when we returned from a European trip. The last leg was a very short hop from Detroit to our home. When I booked the trip- from an excess of caution, there was a long layover in Detroit. We arrived early and there was a flight leaving to our final destination that we could make and which had seats. The agent said we could get on- if we paid a change fee. Seriously, there was no lost revenue for the airline to make the change and the cost was a few clicks of a mouse. We declined.

  7. I don’t mind a change fee in most circumstances, but if they are going to charge more for a ticket when the price goes up, then they need to apply credit or refund if the price has gone down.

    I don’t believe change fees should be applied in cases like death of the flyer or someone they’re lying with, weather that means the traveller cannot fly or get to the airport, or documented health issues where the flyer cannot fly. There may be more, but these are instances I can readily think of where a change fee should be waived.

    I’m active duty military, and I can only book leave 14 days in advance. A lot can happen in the time between when I book my tickets and when I can go. Obviously, if I wait to book tickets until my leave is approved, the price would go up. So when I book I know there is a chance I may not be able to go. I have to weigh the cost of refundable or flexible ticketing vs. the cost of the tickets (and hotels, etc) plus any change fees or penalties. I’ve only gotten hit with this once, but took my lump and moved on.

  8. Yeap. Sounds fair to me. Spend $1k extra to insure you don’t have to pay $150 fee in the rare case you have to make a change. Airline funny math at it’s best. You ever wondered where that kid in elementary who couldn’t do simple arithmetic went? They’re working for the airline pricing department. *grin*

  9. Personally, I think all change fees and time limits on vouchers should be waived for active duty members of the armed forces for just those reasons you mentioned.

  10. Some companies do waiver and I’m grateful. But I understand those who don’t. As long as they are up front about it, I don’t have a problem with it.

  11. I’m probably one of the few people here that actually think the Change Fee is “fair”.

    People seem to forget that when you book a flight, you are reserving a space on that flight that no one else can book, assuming they don’t over book. If you cancel it, there is a decent probability that they will not be able to resell that ticket.

    So that change fee not only covers the minimal admin time it actually takes to switch the flight in their systems, it also pays for the risk of them not being able to rebook that flight. Most people seem to forget that and only look the fact that it took someone 5 minutes to switch a flight around and it cost $150.

    The questions I have for the OP here:

    1) How often does she travel? If she travels frequently, then I would personally simply buy a new ticket at the lower rate and hold onto the voucher for a later travel when I can get the most bang for my buck. We do that all the time here at my job when plans change and it becomes cheaper to simply buy a new ticket then to switch flights.

    2) Was the voucher she received a voucher for the same flight or was it simply a set dollar amount? Most vouchers I’ve seen are for a dollar amount equal to the cost of the flight. The one catch with them is that you have to use the entire thing as they do not allow partial use of vouchers.

    I personally think that the real issue is not with the change fee, but with the pricing differential between Flexible Tickets and Non-Refundable tickets. If they made the Flexible Tickets more reasonably priced, say +$100 over the original ticket, the airlines actually might make MORE money because more people might be willing to pay the extra little bit, kinda like travel insurance, for the piece of mind that if something comes up, they are covered…

  12. Want a solution that would be fairest for everybody? I would like to see legislation requiring that any non-refundable travel arrangement be transferable, with the provider getting a nominal and standardized fee for changing the name on the ticket. If, when your plans changed, you could advertise the ticket on eBay or give it to a relative, the problem is solved.

  13. Just what is fair? It’s hard to find a definition which exactly fits this case. I come up with Merriam-Webster’s “marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism.”

    So are these charges fair? Sure are. You know they are there. They warn you before you buy. The warnings are significant and distinctive. They are almost always applied uniformly. Lastly, they are the norm, and not obscure. It be unfair would be to grant numerous and discretionary exceptions, such as this passenger asks for.

    So maybe you do not like the change fees. OK. But that does not make them unfair, unless you are a child, for example, who fails to follow firm parental guidance and has candy taken away. “That’s not fair!,” the child exclaims before crying. The implied definition of that “fair” is an action unfavorable to one’s wishes. But that is not an accepted definition. This is not a discussion of fairness, but the application of the change fees.

    Some here object to the theoretical basis for the change fees. It evolved over time to account for capacity controlled nature of aircraft, and great capital and operating expense in flying them. With substantial advance bookings, airlines can plan for capacity. They also accelerate cash flow. They prevent indiscriminate (and unpunished) passenger rescheduling and un-rescheduled cancellations which would result in aircraft departing half full at the last minute. The current lowest change-fee fares were presumably priced somewhere near cost, so that even in case of cancellations and no-shows, the airline still can make a profit.

    It is a known fact the legacy airlines cannot make money with their current route structure when the entire plane is sold at the deepest discounted change-fee-applied fares. The airlines maintain a consistent route structure, called scheduled service. Used to be, planes flew when they filled up. Empty aircraft with not enough revenue? Then cancel the flight. (Some say this still happens on occasion.) So the routes must follow an established schedule. The airline has little choice. It wants to fill its planes and make sure they are reserved full and stay full. Remember that when a merchant offers a candy bar, when a sale is missed the bar will be sold to another. When a airplane takes off empty, the revenue is lost forever, but the underlying cost structure remains. The airplane seat is perishable, more so than food in a restaurant or fruit at the supermarket.

    Put another way, you are buying a very perishable product. If your actions result in leaving product unused and spoiled for any future use, why do you have the right for the ticket to have any residual value?

    In the last month, I have flown over a dozen segments. Almost every flight was sold out, every fare bucket empty, with no tickets available on the flight’s date. Yet, on take-off, after all stand-bys boarded, seats remained empty. Who ultimately pays for these empty seats which were sold? The passenger or the airline? What is fair?

    One can argue, of course, about full planes, stand-by’s to fill empty seats, and other situations which negate the need for change fees. This sounds good, but airlines operate on an extremely thin profit margin. A few empty seats, as few as two or three, and the profit evaporates.

    Profit? Yes, airlines need profit from somewhere to stay in the air. If you do not like change fees, given the reasoning for them to keep seats full, then where does the revenue come from to make up for unpaid empty seats, as travelers make last-minute decisions not to fly and demand a new reservation with no change fees? Selling more snack bars on board? Unlikely to make up for that empty seat which was supposed to generate $200 in revenue. Tell me how these legacy airlines, with their hub-and-spoke business model, make money if 20 people find it inconvenient to fly and $4000 is lost in revenue? Are 20 people standing by, just in case? Maybe, but how many people really enjoy flying on a stand-by basis?

    It’s a business situation where there is a semblance of reasoning for change-fees to exist. The airlines need the revenue, and presumably the passengers want the exact same low fares but without change fees. Ain’t gonna happen.

    (If you really want to make these fees unfair, think of the word’s definition when you create a system when, if seats are re-sold after a change, then that particular previous passenger does not pay a change fee. But the next guy, whose seat cannot be re-sold, has to pay the entire full fare for failure to fill the seat.)

  14. But look at how every small event operator in the world handles cancellations: for the probability of not being able to resell a cancelled place, a fee is charged that increases as the event draws closer. If the organizers of the Greater Podunk Flower Festival can figure out a sliding scale of cancellation fees, the sophisticated yield-management software used by airlines should have no trouble.

    A central point of the OP, though, is that the airline won’t credit the lower fare for the replacement ticket into the transaction. You can bet that had the new fare been higher, it would have been figured in instantaneously. Heads we win, tails you lose.

  15. I honestly don’t have an issue with change fees on non-refundable tickets as long as they are available on the web site prior to booking. There is an opportunity cost to the airline for you having a seat that you don’t use and as pointed out by others you receive a substantial discount for the fare to be non-refundable. The only issue I have with this policy is the fare difference. If I have to pay when it goes up, I should get the benefit when it goes down.

  16. I think the idea of change fees are fair enough. The fact that the airline will be able to collect some change fees is priced into the ticket. AA, with one of their recent programs, even allows you to specifically “buy” out of them at the time of ticket purchase, while keeping the other ticket restrictions.

    However, I don’t agree with USAir’s practice of “eating” the fare difference. I believe they are the only “major” that does so.

  17. What is exceptionally stupid is that if they put up on that flight, they free up a seat on the later flight. That seat might alleviate an oversold condition or make room for a standby or even be sold at the last minute. Putting you on the next available flight gets you out of their system and done earlier. It’s a win-win for everyone. It used to be a common practice. I would walk up and say, can I get on the earlier flight? If they had room, they were glad to do so. But, the chance that they might miss a single fee is just too frightening for them, now.

  18. I like ala carte buying. That being said do I think I get a lower cost ticket because they charge fees to people who change? Sell me a bridge!!!!!!!!!!

  19. While it might seem that way on the surface, I actually understand the policy based on what occurred at my local hub when I was a kid. In those days, you could fly same day stand by for free. So, what people started doing was just booking the cheapest routing to their destination. They would then show up at the airport early and stand by for the direct flights or better timed flight that others had paid a premium to be on (at that time load factors were low enough that you could almost guarantee getting on any flight stand by). Eventually, the airline calculated the revenue that they were losing by people gaming the system. We had a neighbor that boasted on how much money he saved booking connecting flights but flying same day stand by on the earlier direct flight.

  20. Yeah, esp. if they’re already making $150 off of you, that would be fair to give the current price. But I wonder – if the voucher was like a credit (and you normally can’t get cash back if you don’t spend the entire amount), could the OP have applied that extra $100 towards another flight? I probably would’ve tried that and gone short haul somewhere just for the heck of it.

  21. Airlines charge change fees because they CAN. It’s beyond stupid. A tix should be changed with an admin fee, maybe $25, up to a certain time before the flight, maybe a week, a month, whatever makes sense. The airline will resell the seat, so why are they gouging their passengers? Because they can. The difference between non and refundable fares is astronomical; if the difference were decent, many of us would by refundable tix. This situation is one where I believe the lawyers should get involved and force some change; the airlines are not going to give up this unethical source of revenue on their own.

  22. Chris, given your contempt for scammers on both sides of the counter, this position is a bit unusual for you. If airlines had to refund price differentials, a cottage industry of flyers figuring out how to scam the system will develop overnight.

  23. It’s still not fair! :-D

    I really appreciate reading a post that someone’s taken the time to think about and craft carefully. Your reasoning gives me something to think about. Thank you.

  24. This policy has not always existed, but it was implemented for good reason. In the days when change fees were reasonable or non existent, people would book a flight, then find a cheaper flight on the same route, so they would book the cheaper, cancel the original and in essence cost the airlines considerable money.

    I’m not saying it is right, just saying this is how it came about.

  25. I suppose that they are fair in the sense that everyone is (or should be aware) of them. They are probably a good money maker for airlines if the change occurs far enough ahead of time so that the seat can be resold to someone else.

  26. I would completely agree, except for the fact that the airline will still intentionally overbook that non-refundable seat you purchased. So they aren’t exactly living up to the concept of non-refundable on their end. If I pay for a non-refundable seat, I expect that seat to be there for me 100% of the time when I check in at the airport, especially if I am checking in 24 hours in advance. This has not been my experience.

  27. With nonrefundable tickets so much higher, of course most will buy refundables. This is a blatant ripoff. Airlines know most will pay higher change fees than are needed to earn them profits. In this case the profits are often obscene.

  28. How exactly could that game the system? So you buy a next day ticket to HI, it being last minute it costs $2000. You then immediately change the ticket for another in 2 months and pay a $150 change fee, but the new ticket is only $500 so the airline gives you back $1500 minus the $150 change fee. So in the end you end up paying only $650 for a $500 ticket. What am I missing?

  29. Gaming the system this way is risky. If you are a student, flying alone back to your folks for the summer — sure, you can do as your neighbor did. No standby seats — no problem, I’ll arrive a day later than I could have, I have enough books, my folks will wait. On the other hand, if you have a week-long vacation, trying to fly to Colorado with a family and a ton of ski gear, with lift tickets and lodging reserved in advance — that’s another story. If load factors are so low that standby is always available, the airlines may want to tinker with their schedules and fares. Really, demanding a standard change fee for taking an earlier flight when seats are available and, as the poster below noted, this may alleviate an overbooking situation later — is the definition of stupid.

  30. I also agree with you, except there are punitive measures in place for involuntary bumping.

    Today’s compensation is 400% of your ticket cost if the airline does not get you to your destination within two hours of original scheduled arrival. A maximum of $1300 applies, and they still must get you there to boot!

    A typical $200 one-way fare nets you $800 in cash or airline check compensation plus they still must get you there. Coupons and vouchers are not compensation for involuntary bumping.

    Most times, you have a clue something is afoot when you cannot get a seat assignment. Another clue is checking the fare buckets on a website such as and seeing the flight might be overbooked. These are warnings so you might consider Plan B, but do not absolve the airline of meeting its commitment, of course.

  31. Actually it was very low risk because you still had your seat on the later flight. Doing it this way would save you hundreds of dollars because you could book a non-direct / cheaper routing and then stand by on the direct flight. If you didn’t make the direct, you still had your later flight.

  32. Oh I have always been paid cash for involuntarily bumping, ended up with a $3100 check last time it happened (for 4 people), but it the principal of the thing to me. To me the airline loses the right to make the argument that we need the fee otherwise we’ll lose our revenue when you are a no-show, if they were already secretly attempting to double book that seat. The fact that they have to pay a penalty when they get caught doesn’t really change that, after all how many times are they not caught and that change fee is pure profit as it paid off? I’d guess it must be quite a bit otherwise they wouldn’t risk the involuntary bump charge.

  33. I am voting that hey are fare. Ticket change fees are the whole reason we have cheap discount tickets. Even with 1 or 2 changes, they are cheaper than full fare. I think its a good thing, if the fees went away, or were reduced, the original ticket price woudl go way up!

    As far as charging the fee in addition to the fare difference, that I disagree with. This is something the New United just started doing as well, and I find it quite annoying, it was never done at United pre-merger. I guess the whole industry is going this way. In the past if I had a $500 ticket, and change it for a $400 ticket, I paid $50 ($150 change fee+/- the fare difference). When I tried it on the new United, they charegd me $150 and then gave me a $100 voucher for the fare difference. Very shady in my opinion. Giving a cheap non-refundable ticket with a known change fee is one thing. Refusing to give us credit for the change in fare is a money grab.

  34. Exactly. They are making a calculated risk. Sometimes they lose. The federal government instituted substantial penalties to discourage these “calculated risks.”

    For you, the $3100 still did not remove your objection in principle. Fair enough. You are right. For many, though, it would. I would plan my next vacation!

  35. Good explanation. The system the airlines created where there is constant and wild fluctuations in ticket prices basically requires change fees. It’s simply bizarre how much the price of the same ticket can change, like a yo-yo constantly moving up and down.

  36. The “New” United just started giving the fare difference in a voucher. Pre-merger it was applied towards the change fee, and if greater than the change fee, it was refunded. Not quite as bad a US Air at least.

  37. NO NO NO NO! This time there is no question of fairness. The airlines win by rules and regulations that need to be applied to everybody.

    I do not know how long that you have been following the airlines, but I am in my 50th year. During regulatory days, there were 5 fares: coach and first class, one way, round trip (now super saver), and family plan. EASY! Then airlines went to hell with deregulation. At first a ticket was NONREFUNDABLE. period! Then the cry babies came out and said I got sick, my mom got sick, every excuse that would try to get a refund. The airlines gave in and started charging change fees. At first, the fees could be applied to the new ticket, but then some genius decided that this was no longer a penalty, pay the change fee up front, then worry about a new ticket.

    Now….2-4 super savers equals 1 fully refundable ticket most of the time. I use refundable’s with most of my attorneys that change depositions regularly.

    You can buy emergency cancellation insurance, although North probably could not on a free voucher.

    Rules are rules! It disturbs me greatly that passengers feel that they are the ones that are entitled to have the rules changed for their benefits. The airlines allow 1 year from date of issue to use a ticket. That is fair. A voucher is a ticket, it has the same rules! Pay the penalty or throw it away, but quit belly aching about rules.

  38. Yet again, a case of “I didn’t think they really meant it when they called it non-refundable.” What is it about “non-refundable” that people can’t understand?
    I think the fee is fair, and that’s what the vote is on, though I do think it would be better if they gave her the benefit of the lower price if the fare went down.

  39. Airline profits are obscene? Have you checked what they’ve been over the past couple of decades? Running an airline is one of the worst ways to make money.

  40. I have to disagree, for the reasons that have been in other posts, so I won’t repeat those points. If they didn’t have change fees, people would be seeking to change seats all the time, and it would mean hiring plenty of extra staff to deal with it. Right now, due to the fees, it only happens when the passenger wants it badly enough to pay. And I can’t agree that they will resell the seat, necessarily. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Change fees enable inexpensive fares to be offered, and they’re part of most airlines’ business model. If passengers don’t like them, they can vote with their feet by patronizing those airlines that don’t impose them.

  41. You will create a big new industry of scalpers who buy up the cheap seats and then market them for resale. It’s like a ticket to a big concert or big game. This not only would be an economic disaster for the airline in terms of lost revenue, but will make buying inexpensive tickets much more difficult for all of us. Want a seat next month to Schenectady? Joe the scalper has them over on eBay.

  42. Most of them are already busy gaming travel systems over on FlyerTalk (which, by the way, has much good information, but does provide a meetingplace for people quick to ruthlessly exploit any opportunity).

  43. The problem is that people would be out to change tickets all the time, and it would seldom make sense for airlines to offer price reductions, since any new business generated at the new price would be offset by people who bought at the old price wanting to get the new one too.

  44. There is a simple solution that is fair to everyone. Just because you can change a flight doesn’t mean that you can get a refund.

  45. Resale is exactly what use to happen. Roundtrip tickets costing less than two one ways, so college students especially use to buy up those unused ticket coupons that were advertised in the newspaper…preinternet.

  46. What would be fair is – advertise fares that the airlines can turn a profit on. OR advertise non refundable cheap fares to fill vacant seats. If you have to cancel for any reason, too bad! You need to change your flight – you pay again. You made the decision to buy NON REFUNDABLE tickets!!!
    On the other hand, the airlines have been playing games & should have much tighter regulations re their flying in general.
    I have been flying for just under 50 years, business & pleasure. Where once I really enjoyed the prospect,even on long hauls to the Orient, today I regard it with dread just flying anywhere in N. America.
    Oh & let’s not forget the great TSA, who just add to the misery GREATLY!

  47. No, the specific express of the practices are but the business concepts are not. For example, back to back ticketing and hidden city ticketing are the seller forcing you to consume the entire product. I can’t think of another industry that penalizes you for failing to consume an entire product. Its like saying I if I miss a game, my season tickets will be cancelled. Ludicrous.

  48. I understand that, but by booking a cheap indirect flight — and having to actually fly that route — you lose several hours of your time. Up to a day, really, since you need to be in the airport early enough to boost your chances of getting on standby. Like I said, a student with 2 months of summer doing-nothing — absolutely. A professional with limited vacation time, made-up plans, and a family in tow — not so much. In any case, this does not apply to the described situation where a CONNECTING flight arrived early. Game THAT.

  49. Given that many flights are oversold I don’t get the change fee? Just how much does it cost them to change a ticket on the computer? It isn’t very time consuming and they probably were able to realize the revenue for the seat at a higher value than the original ticket purchase given the oversold flight.
    Just another way for the airlines to squeeze money from their customers.

  50. You can still do that. American lets you stand by for a later/earlier flight on the same day for no change fee, at least if you are Gold or above. That issue can be seperated out from change fees

  51. Why do they have to hire extra staff. Some carriers allow it to be done online at no additional charge.
    Besides, let me see if I get this correct. When a low revenue passenger buys a cheap ticket and wants to change to an even cheaper ticket that costs money and must be discourages. But when a high revenue, expensive ticket person wants to change to a cheaper flight or get a refund, that’s doesn’t affect the bottom line?

  52. That use to be the case. I often spent a lot of time shopping for a fare when a client didn’t use the nonrefundable, but changeable ticket so they didn’t lose their money…and that was back when we didn’t charge for our services. A reused ticket at the same value didn’t pay us a dime.

  53. I don’t like ticket change fees but I think that airlines should be allowed to have them.

    If you don’t like ticket change fees then you should 1) buy a refundable fare or 2) fly on an airline that doesn’t have ticket change fees or 3) buy travel insurance to cover the risk of unexpected events.

    When I started to fly, the lowest fare required a Saturday night stayover. It was fun to fly…they served a hot meal in economy…the airlines were making money…etc. Then the fare wars started and that is when flying started to decline and we ended up in the current state.

    To be fair to US Airways, if you purchase tickets from their website, it gives you both the non-refundable and refundable fares for Economy and First Class for every flight after you entered your travel plans.

    Five to six years ago, the fare difference between the refundable and non-refundable tickets on US Airways between PHX and LAX was $ 25; therefore, I used to buy the refundable tickets since it was common for me to change my plans. Today, the fare differences ranges between $ 120 to $ 190.

  54. For years Southwest, perceived to be the most consumer friendly airline, has had this policy…long before other airlines implemented it. If you wanted to standby, you basically needed to upgrade your fare to the full “Y” by paying the difference and then hope a seat opened up on the flight you were standing by for. (If the the flight ahead of yours had seats, you could confirm the change for the difference in your fare and the full “Y”)

    This was their business model and it helped alleviate the “podium perchers” who were standing by while the airport staff was focused on getting the aircraft turned quickly.

  55. Actually, it’s very easy to become a millionaire by buying an airline. Warren Buffet has been quoted as saying this as well. “To become a millionaire, make a billion dollars and then buy an airline.”

  56. Do you bring in old newspapers flyersadsetc with you when you shop to ask for sales prices that the store had in the past? Do you go back to your gas station after you filled up your car at $ 3.65 a gallon and the next day the price of gas was $ 3.60? There are too many people wanting it to be riskless for them…all profit or gain for them but all of the losses for the government, corporations, etc.

  57. Ahh, that makes some sense. Although in most retail industries they would just call that price matching and market this as a feature, I’d hesitate to actually call people that did that scammers, especially since there would still be the added $150 cost of a change fee involved.

  58. I guess I’m not sure how much they are actually discouraged here. The fee seems like a lot, but for every involuntarily bump, I’d guess there are a dozen suckers who accept a somewhat worthless $200 voucher.

  59. I never get the argument to buy a non-refundable ticket. In my experience, it’s still usually cheaper to buy the non-refundable ticket and pay the change fee and fare difference.

  60. Actually, re-read the story. OP says he booked a later flight for a longer connect. Later flights are usually cheaper in my experience so even on a connection I could have a TA book a later flight and stand by for the earlier connection and save money over the fare I should have purchased.

  61. I have no issue with non-refundable fares with one caveat. The ‘refundable’ option should be fair and reasonable so that people really have a choice. A ‘refundable’ fare that is 400% of the non-refundable fare is not a realistic option. If you look at Southwest’s fare differential between fully refundable and ‘creditable’ fares, you see a reasonable premium. For the majors, it’s ridiculous. And with Southwest, even their non-refundable fares can be used as a credit for up to a year.

    Therefore, ‘refundable’ isn’t really an option. Of course, flying Southwest IS an option for many people, and those who don’t do so can’t whine when their airline of choice treats them like garbage. Next time, fly Southwest if possible.

  62. Do you even necessarily escape change costs (beyond fare differences) for that extra 1K if you applied vouchers to the purchase?

  63. Actually – if you miss part of a combined Amtrak reserved trip, the rest of your ticket may be cancelled. However, they have a fairly generous credit policy. I could fail to show up, the entire amount is automatically is available in the form of a voucher.

    And it is possible to do that in some cases where a conductor completely misses finding the passenger. Some trains the passenger boards and it’s up to the conductor to find the passenger and ask for a ticket.

  64. It was mentioned why it didn’t work.

    Now what might work is if the value of any credit could be transferred to anyone. Nobody is locking up any “inventory” that way until an actual ticket is purchased in somebody’s name.

  65. I always though he was implying an airline won’t just not make you money, it will suck you dry of most of them money you have.

  66. Corporations set their exchange policies and can decide whether to apply price changes to exchanges or not.

    If they decide to selectively apply price changes only when the price goes up — but not when the price goes down — that is all risk-less profit or gain for them…. and the customer always loses.

    What’s good for the goose should be for the good gander.

  67. 1) Where are the refundable fares that make any sense to purchase to avoid ticket change fees? And is a “refundable” fare purchased with a voucher necessarily even refundable? I don’t believe so.

    2) Which airline that serves LAX to KOA doesn’t have ticket change fees?

    3) Which travel insurance truly covers all unexpected events? Even “Cancel for any Reason” policies don’t literally cover ANY reason.

  68. Just to be clear about my objection.
    I am not against the change fee of $150 even if it looks like an arbitrary amount.
    I am whining about the forfeiture of any fare difference if the current fare drops for two reasons:
    A) The airlines, in other places, state they will always offer you their lowest available price; so why not now?
    B) If someone else just buys the same ticket now, they will pay the lower fare; then why not you since you already paid an additional $150 penalty?
    Airlines keep on advertising how friendly they are, but in reality their change policies look like they were written by Ebenezer Scrooge.

  69. Then why not let people standby when there is absolutely no premium (or even a reverse premium)?

    US Airways shuttle flights (LGA-DCA, LGA-BOS) generally price identically whether you fly at 6am or at noon or at 9pm. Yet you still can’t standby for free on an earlier flight.

    They used to allow it and then quietly changed this around the time of the America West merger. I say quietly because I had elite status with them at the time and received a barrage of snail mail and email advertising from them and never saw any mention of this policy change. When my status eventually lapsed (though the mail advertising did not) I was caught completely off-guard when they suddenly demanded a stand-by fee.

  70. In my state, all sports and event tickets are transferable, and guess what – event operators don’t underprice their games and concerts such that speculative ticket buying is encouraged. Ticket brokers here make money on transactions, not on ticket hoarding.

    No business invests more in yield analysis than airlines. You can be assured that speculative airline ticket buying would be much harder than in any other market.

  71. I don’t understand what the issue is here.

    – There was a $150 change fee. This is not dependant on the price of the fare, only the type of fare. So it doesn’t matter if your non-refundable ticket is $400 or $1400, it’s still the $150 change fee.

    – The new ticket costs less then the non-refundable credit she’s got. The credit is only applicable to the fare, not to the change fee. If the new fare is lower than the credit, she doesn’t get the balance of the credit for her non-refundable fare refunded back to her.

    This isn’t unique to US Airways, most airlines are like this.

  72. Foreign airlines would likely do it.
    I ticketed my nephew New Chitose CTS to Tokyo Haneda, then Tokyo Narita to New York JFK. He would take the Haneda to Narita shuttle.
    The day of departure, he took the train from beautiful Sapporo to the New Chitose airport. The train station was at the basement of the airport and there was not any delay so he arrived early. When he checked in, the ANA agent offered the earlier flight to Haneda. They actually took care of him thinking it would give him more time to take the bus shuttle between the Tokyo airports. No change fee, no hassle. He was not an elite. He’s just like any young man going home from a ski trip in Sapporo.

  73. Here’s the reason why most or some people (including me) thinks it is unfair.
    For the very longest of time a change of itinerary prior to the first departure required a ticket reissue based on the current price of the new itinerary, exchaning the full value of the old ticket minus the change fee (whatever that is).
    So if the old ticket was $1000 and the new itinerary is only $900 and the change fee is $150, then the new ticket would cost $1050 and the additional collection was only $50 since the old ticket’s value was fully applicable.

    Today, for no explained logical reason, the same transaction would require an additional collection of $150 (the total amount of the change fee) because the amount of the old ticket above the amount of the new ticket has been forfeited.

    Forfeited for what reason? Reasonable folks need a logical reason.
    In this case the only reason is because the airline can and wants to do it.

  74. Certainly there is a certain amount of arbitrariness to this entire process. One reason, perhaps, is an unintended consequence of Amex allowing Platinum Card members to incur up to $200 in these change fees which then are credited back. In other words, if an Amex Plat Card holder incurs a change fee of $150, Amex pays for it.

    Now, you are an airline and see a third party pay for something (think of the health insurance issue). So you go ahead and charge the full $150, rather than just the $50, because you can AND someone else pays for it, not the passenger. Warped system.

  75. That happened to me recently on Amtrak, and although I tried to right the situation ethically, Amtrak didn’t cooperate. So, I ended up getting 2 first class Acela trips for the price of one. I tried to correct their mistake, but I was not a martyr to the cause.

  76. Can you buy a MIL fare?
    Note USAir’s change rules for MIL fares:

    NOTE –

    You do not have a change fee and if the fare drops you get a refund.

  77. Answer to your question #1. You can use your voucher to buy a fully unrestricted ticket BUT the amount representing the voucher will not be refundable. However the (new) unrestricted ticket will be fully changeable so you can keep the VALUE of the voucher longer than its original expiration date.

  78. Yes for NORMAL fare types.

    NOTE –

    No Penalty Fee. You pay the HIGHER fare differential if any. You get a refund for a LOWER fare differential.

  79. If I understand your response correctly, that sounds like a big loophole that would allow anyone to effectively extend the life of a voucher by at least a year.

    I’ve been told that I can’t do that…. (although one could get lucky if the agent making the change doesn’t notice or doesn’t apply the rules strictly)

  80. Most FOREIGN airlines still do it the OLD way as far as I know.
    Meaning if the fare drops you can apply that money to pay for the change fee.

  81. Many of those vouchers are not useless and are transferable. Been there, done it and even accepted many for ticketing.

  82. In the industry we say it is like the stock market. Some buy at one price, others at another. You have to decide on what price you are willing to settle for and either buy or watch.

  83. Usually this would work if you go to the AIRPORT COUNTER and do the exchange transaction over there. If you CALL the airline or do it ONLINE, you won’t get away with it. The most important point is that your new ticket must not have any annotations that limits its validity to less than a year. Your last sentence (inside parenthesis) is the key.
    Please, no one accuse of me of stealing from an airline :-)

  84. Given how much cheaper air travel is now vs. the days of fare regulation, I’ll take the current state of affairs any day of the week.

  85. Tony you need to also add that it will depend on what is notated in the PNR in history or in the endorsement box. WN will allow a nonrefundable fare to be applied to a refundable ticket, but the nonrefundable remans nonrefundable and expires one year from the original issue. So the value won’t be allowed to be carried over, therfore no game playing allowed! Other carriers are doing the same.

  86. It’s really not ethical for me to discuss this further since this is a hit or miss trick that requires a fully unrestricted ticket exchange at the airport ticket counter where the agents are too busy to deal with all the details. The trick obviously requires an airline employee to miss that a voucher was used much earlier to purchase an unrestricted ticket. And, since you are exchanging with ADDITIONAL MONEY, then they may drop their guard.

  87. Oh I fully get it and know these tricks, too. But if you get a savvy agent who isn’t rushed, it is important for the person trying to buy the ticket what they could expect as the information is in the PNR. WN is very, very clear on this and it usually doesn’t get by them.

  88. Southwest essentially uses a “ticketless” system. So during any refund/exchange, the money is put back to a customer account. That money is dated with an expiry. When you want a new ticket (reissue) and want to use your Southwest MONEY, the system knows if your MONEY is expired.
    In classic airlines, the ticket itself has the value. You do not have a MONEY account with the airline.
    So if the ticket was not annotated properly, then the ticket’s value is good a year from its issue.
    Usually they annotate the REFUNDABILITY but they forget to note the expiry date of the original voucher used to pay for part of the original ticket.
    Since different itineraries need different PNRs (or RES records) then no one looks at the old PNR to figure out the whole history. It also may have been likely purged from the system since the segments were already cancelled earlier.

  89. At least you can sell your stock to someone else if you don’t like it anymore. You can’t even make a name change in an airline ticket without praying for a miracle.

  90. Isn’t the $150 change penalty plus HIGHER fare differential good enough. Why forfeit a LOWER fare differential?
    No one is asking it to be risk-less. All they are asking is for it to be FAIR.

  91. There are subtle but significant differences in policies. For example, United also requires the $150 change fee be paid with “new money”, but, if the new ticket is cheaper, you receive an electronic certificate (ECT) for the difference, so you don’t lose more than the $150. Also, the ECT can be used to book travel for someone else.

    Southwest uses a completely different model. There are no change fees – all funds are fully reusable (by the same traveler within a year). But they are more expensive in other ways – for example, if you want to stand by for an earlier flight, you have to “buy up” to full fare. Their Rapid Rewards points bookings are even better – they are de facto fully refundable, and there are no availability hassles like their are with the other airlines. When my plans are uncertain, I try to book with Southwest using points for maximum flexibility.

  92. I think the OP already had a (bump) voucher so she was stuck with USAir.
    Wasn’t the old Southwest system even better since SWA Money was transferable? Not anymore.
    But still they have no change fees so that is great.

  93. In the past, I have made changes to US Airways tickets where the fare went down and they gave me the new lower fare. US Airways made a decision and changed their policy. It is their right to make that decision and it is your right of not flying US Airways.

    I have read about cruise lines having a clause in their T&Cs stating that the price of the cruise could go up if the fuel prices went up. Should the airlines adopt this feature? The airline assumes several risks after your purchase your ticket which they can’t go back to recover from you. In this case, the airline wins if the fare goes down. If you don’t like it then don’t fly that airline. I am guessing that the profit/gain from lower fares on changed tickets as part of their toal revenues and profits for US Airways is insignificant…probably less than 0.001% of their total profits and revenues.

    We need financially healthy airlines. The facts are that air fares have not kept up with inflation since deregulation. That is why there have been several airlines have been in bankruptcy as least two times in the past 20 years.

  94. Actually, yes. If I buy something and within 60 days, I see it selling for less at the same store – or even at another store – I contact the store I purchased it from and ask them to refund the difference. Most of the better stores and many online merchants will do that (some only within 30 days).

  95. I disagree that with “no one is asking it to be risk-less”. I have been reading this blog for years and it has been full of people who have written to Chris with the something like: “I booked a non-refundable and non-changeable hotel room to this location (a city that is located in hurricane alley) during the hurricane season…there was a hurricane and we couldn’t go and now I want a full refund.” or “I booked a tour that is non-refundable to the Middle East…a civil unrest broke out and I want my money back.” and etc. All of these people wanted the airlines, cruise lines, hotel operators, tour operators, etc. to assume the risks that they didn’t want to accept.
    Book refundable tickets and hotel rooms if you are going to a location that is subject to weather (i.e. hurricane), political unrest and etc.

  96. It’s a great quote but it actually means the opposite of how you used it – he meant that it would take you from being a billionaire to only being a millionaire very quickly.

  97. Correct! Volunteers are not usually told of the benefits of being involuntary. So they gladly take around $400 in voucher form with its one-year time limit, good only on the airline which provided the poor reservation service to begin with.

  98. No one has argued against having financially healthy airlines.

    The facts are that while sticker-price airfares are historically low, the often-disguised additional fees that consumers are trapped with after purchase are historically unprecedented and growing.

    You can read US Airways’ 40-page contract of carriage word for word and you won’t find any mention of this policy change on residual fare differences. I doubt that they made any effort to educate their customers of this policy change. I would love to be proved wrong on that.

    A healthy market is predicated on transparency. Policy changes that hit consumers wallets and that are almost impossible for non-experts to find documentation of don’t fit the bill.

  99. ARW, to answer your other question: There is no justification for blanket clauses that increase fares retroactively after ticketing because of fuel price increases. The airline or cruise line has your money well in advance of the service provided and can use those assets to lock in fuel purchase options if that’s a concern for them.

  100. Yes sorry my bad. I should have said the OP was, not everyone. Yup there are over entitled customers who come here.

  101. OK, so who out there actually has “reasonable ticket-change policies” and do they have other problems like packing you in like cattle or only being a small regional carrier?

  102. This is the case with Qantas and Virgin Blue here in Australia – “FlexiSaver” tickets (or similar) are only $50 to $100 more than discount economy. These tickets are used by many business and non-business travelers who need a little flexibility – but often times this flexibility isn’t used at all.

    Another thing about Australia is that the airlines don’t usually allow you to stand by on earlier flights (on a discount fare), which is still generally allowed at US legacy carriers, because it would devalue the flexible fares. As most flights are point to point, with a little more excess capacity in the system, the risk of missing a connection is not nearly the same as in the US. So the airline doesn’t have as many benefits from allowing you to stand by.

  103. Excellent answer. It is an optical illusion for the non-savvy.
    But, the real reason we have this phenomenon is because the airlines want to publish the cheapest possible fare and so they load it up with a ton of restrictions.

  104. The rule for US Air vouchers is here
    The voucher itself must be used (redeemed) within a year.
    So the voucher is a use it or lose it deal.
    Once you purchase a ticket with it, the ticket that you buy with it is always NON REFUNDABLE. Meaning, you will not get your voucher and additional money back if you cancel.
    But the ticket you bought with it is still changeable with a fee.
    The ticket you bought is good for a year from the date the ticket was issued, the standard duration. It does not expire the date the voucher expires.

  105. We got notification of USAIR’s new policy before they implemented it. It is also in the rules of nonrefundable fares. I agree that trying to find all this is can sometimes be a PITA!

  106. In that case the US Airways representative’s claim to Chris (“Refundable fares avoid this issue”) was absolutely wrong for this passenger’s situation (even if we ignore the insanity of paying nearly 1k to avoid a $150 change fee).

    And we also see yet again that US Airways consistently pioneers the most customer-unfriendly policies across the board (we’ve seen it with unrealistic minimum connection times coupled with harsh gate presence requirements for connecting passengers, lack of accommodation for passengers with missed connections, no accommodation for passengers with life threatening illness, inferior first class amenities, worst mileage program and rewards fees, and now voucher policies — and I’m probably forgetting a few cases).

  107. Actually, the part about stand-by is only half true these days. Until a few years ago, most U.S.-based carriers allowed you to stand-by for free on an earlier flight on the same day. You can still do stand-by, but there is a fee charged, typically $75, unless you are an elite member of the FF program (and even that’s not an automatic exception). And Southwest doesn’t allow stand-by at all, unless you are willing to pay the difference between the fare you purchased and the walk-up “Anytime” fare.

  108. When adjusted for inflation, ticket prices including fees are lower than pre-deregulation. Not only that, but lower than the ’80’s and ’90’s as well.

    So even with fees added to the low sticker price, our total expense is still a bargain compared to the past.

  109. If any other business priced their product the way airlines do they would be out of business. Airfare tickets should be priced equally for the class of service. We have allowed airlines to bring these excessive fees and other charges by continuing to use their service. Stopp giving your money to business that abuses its customer.

  110. You might want to adjust for more than just inflation and fees: you also get less for what you pay for (comfort, amenities, service).

    Regardless, even if apples-to-apples prices are lower that does not justify tossing transparency out the window. And asking for transparency doesn’t mean going back to 1977 and rolling back deregulation. That’s a strawman.

    Instead of looking at this from US Airway’s vantage point (let them set whatever rules they want) look at it from their competitors standpoint. A competitor that wants to provide a transparent product at a fair profitable price is stuck with a dilemma: either they cede market share of non-expert price-sensitive travelers who are fooled into comparing their airline’s sticker prices with US Airways’ sticker prices without any adjustment…. or they have to play tit-for-tat and compete in a slippery slope towards less and less transparency.

  111. I would never be a member of USAIR’s program as I refuse to fly them. We, in the travel industry, got notification.

  112. I agree that service is not where it was. I am simply pointing out that fares with fees are cheaper than where they have been…pre or post deregulation.

    The wording of your comment: “The facts are that while sticker-price airfares are historically low, the often-disguised additional fees that consumers are trapped with after purchase are historically unprecedented and growing.”, while correct, may make some believe that we are paying more when fees are added, which is certainly not the case.

    The usage of a voucher and the rules of how to reprice tickets and how to handle the residual amount in a decrease is confusing. I was not disputing that either.

  113. Not only that, but the credit can be used to buy a ticket for any passenger as long as the original ticketed passenger can physically make it to a ticket window and produce ID. That’s not a problem for me, but some people live in areas where it’s far away from an Amtrak ticket window.

  114. I’d like to tell all of you how silly the change fees are; refundable or not.
    I had just returned from Europe to Atlanta on Delta and had a three hour lay-over for my return flight to Miami. Our European flight landed early and I saw there was a flight to Miami in 40 minutes. I asked if there was room on the flight and the desk person said, “The flight is 3/4 empty.” She added that changing would cost us $150.
    I mentioned that my flying on the earlier flight was a benefit to both me and Delta since the flight was 3/4 empty and they would have an opportunity to clear a seat on a later flight. Of course, they didn’t buy that logic.
    I waited and the later flight was sold out. I never found if they turned away a paying passenger on that flight, but if that had happened, this would make the perfect illustration of why owners of Delta stock should be outraged.

  115. The rules are there, but you have to put in a name, phone number, email address after you book the flight and then you get a link for the rules. What a PITA just to get to it! I also found the rules to be condensed compared to what we have access to.

  116. Interesting… so you have to pay them before they let you see the rules. And then you have to quickly ask for a refund if you don’t like what you see.

    I haven’t seen that because I avoid US Airways myself — haven’t flown them since 2008, and even then it was because flying direct was important to my wife and they were the only choice on that route.

  117. You can draw very difference conclusions about whether fares with fees are really cheaper depending on the start and end points you use.

    If you checked in 2009 (at the bottom of the depressed economy) it sure looked like fares were cheaper than ever.

    If you go by 2012 (at least the official BTS numbers thru Q3), last year saw the highest average fares since 2003. That’s AFTER adjusting for inflation and BEFORE accounting for the ancillary fees that represented ~1% of revenue in 2004 and ~15% of revenue in 2012. So compared to 2004 at least, we are paying substantially more today.

    Granted there are a lot of variables that affect airfares (most notably jet fuel prices) so these kinds of comparisons don’t really prove much, at least not without a lot of additional context..

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