Warning! These fees are about to get even more ridiculous

Don’t look now, but one of the most unfair fees in corporate America is about to get even more unfair.

I’m not talking about early termination fees or overdraft fees, but something a little closer to home for readers of this site: airline change fees.

Of course, they aren’t fair to begin with, since the rules already allow an airline to change its schedule whenever it wants to, yet punish the passengers wanting to change their plans with $200 fines and fare differentials. Yes, airlines have to cough up a refund if we ask, but by then, a replacement ticket costs twice as much.

But now Delta Air Lines is offering a fare that is completely nonrefundable this year — something tried unsuccessfully in 2002 by US Airways.

This adds a new twist to this lopsided proposition, because no amount of money will buy you a ticket change now. Use it — or lose it.

That’s the wrong direction, say people on the front lines of air travel. People like travel agent John Emerson.

“Why do my clients have to pay a change fee when they need to make a schedule change, while the airlines, on a whim, can change the schedule and expect the passengers to just deal with it?” he wonders. “Doesn’t it seem equitable that the airlines should offer some remuneration when they arbitrarily change a schedule?”

We could examine the reasons. The how (federal pre-emption) the what (an unfair adhesion contract) and the why (because they can). But we’ve been there and done that, and there’s no persuading the airline industry defenders of their wrongness. So I’m not even going to try.

Instead, maybe we should take a look at an actual case, courtesy of Emerson.

Recently, I booked a cruise and vacation package for a honeymoon couple. All of us reviewed the itinerary many times, but for whatever reason, we failed to notice that Pleasant Holidays had scheduled their return flight home from Disney World three days beyond their hotel checkout date.

Pleasant, of course, accepted no responsibility for the error and I feel obliged to cover the error personally.

In order to change the flight to the correct date, the change fees would have been $200 per ticket plus an additional $185 per ticket in increased flight cost. That totals $770 because of our oversight.

Emerson reviewed all of the options with the honeymooners and finally came up with a better solution. Instead of changing the return date, why not extend their Disney vacation?

I contacted the client’s hotel in Disney World to see what the cost would be for an additional three nights.

Because I, as a travel agent, requested the additional nights, they agreed to allow the clients to stay an additional three nights for $790 including tax, tip and license.

Because the clients were fortunate enough not to have a rigid return schedule, they are enjoying an additional three nights for a mere $20 over what the airline would charge for basically changing a schedule.

Imagine that! People would rather wait three days than pay an airline change fee. That probably says more about the fairness of the change fee than the determination of the traveler. With Delta’s changes, the situation is unlikely to get any better.

An adhesion contract, by definition, is an agreement between a powerful party and a powerless party — in this case, the airline and the passenger. But what happens when that power goes to their heads? The airlines raise their fees until finally they stop negotiating and force you to throw away your ticket and buy a new one.

My friends, 2015 is going to be an interesting year for all kinds of fees. Things may get so bad that the government finally steps in, defending the rights of consumers, and says, “enough!”

For someone like Emerson, it can’t happen soon enough.

Do you think fees will get worse in 2015?

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