Maybe the travel industry’s one-sided cancellation policies are due for cancellation

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Change your mind when you’re traveling, and the consequences can be costly.

Most airline tickets are nonrefundable and require a hefty change fee plus any fare differential. And many hotel rooms are totally nonrefundable and nonchangeable, so you could lose the entire value of your room. So, why doesn’t it work the other way around?

After Alaska Airlines recently changed his flight schedule, Art Ellis, a retired researcher from Sacramento, wants to know.

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Ellis and his wife, Marianne, were scheduled to return from Anchorage to Sacramento at 8:20 p.m., but Alaska shifted the flight to a longer stopover, arriving at 11:20 p.m. The flight arrived 20 minutes late, and the tired couple didn’t get to their house until the next day. “It took us all day and night to get home from our cruise in Alaska,” Ellis says. “I felt like I was being jerked around.”

If Ellis is getting jerked around, he’s not alone. Airlines, cruise lines and hotels routinely alter their schedules or delete reservations to accommodate a large group or to renovate a building. When they do, their one-sided adhesion contract — an agreement that applies to you but not necessarily to the company — allows them to get away with it without paying the customer a dime in damages. Some businesses, notably tour operators, give themselves permission to keep your money and issue a voucher for a future vacation.

Travelers say this isn’t fair. After all, when their plans change, even for events beyond their control, they must pay fees and possibly lose some or all of the value of their ticket. Ellis, who paid $825 for his tickets, would have had to fork over another $125 to change each one, plus a fare differential. Alaska informed Ellis of the change about two months before the flight, but occasionally travel companies don’t bother telling affected consumers, even when they have their contact information.

An Alaska Airlines representative said that the airline publishes its flight schedule 330 days in advance, an industry standard. This is done so that customers can start to research and plan early. “We want to give them a pretty good idea of when they might be able to catch a flight back home for Thanksgiving, for example,” said Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Halley Knigge. “Because the booking schedule is published far in advance, it really is a forecast of when and how frequently we’ll be flying 11 months later.”

Alaska, like other airlines, updates its schedule quarterly, and it tries to keep the final schedule as close to the booking schedule as it can, paying particular attention to preserving routes with connections.

In Ellis’s case, he’d booked his tickets for June last December, based on Alaska’s booking schedule. The final schedule was published two months later. Early-booking customers on Alaska have the option of changing their itinerary on the same day or the day before or after the flight at no additional charge, or of requesting a full refund. “We apologize for any inconvenience Mr. Ellis experienced,” Knigge added.

In the past, the divide between the rights of travelers and travel companies was known only to insiders, because it rarely became an issue. As a practical matter, airlines, hotels and cruise lines accommodated their guests even when they didn’t have to, in the interests of customer service and because it was the right thing to do.

But today, it’s not difficult to find customers who were dismissed. Their stories offer creative ways to tip the travel industry’s “no-fault” rules a little in your favor.

When Haruko Terada and his family were returning recently from Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Spirit , the airline decided to cancel their Sunday flight, citing weather conditions. When was the next available flight? In three days, an airline representative told him.

“I was lucky enough to find out quickly,” says Terada, who works for a restaurant in Southfield, Mich. “I was one of the first ones to get the refund, made a quick reservation for a rental car online, and we left the airport before midnight, when the rental car place closed for the day. We got back to our home in Michigan around 4 p.m. on Monday.”

Patrick Schmidt, a college professor from St. Paul, Minn., faced a similar arbitrary cancellation of his rental vehicle in Skopje, Macedonia. The problem: Although he’d reserved the vehicle through Priceline and Avis, a company representative in Skopje told him that he couldn’t have the van for 768 euros (about $1,030), because, “as a franchisee, they would lose money on the rental” with that discounted rate, he says.

Schmidt appealed to Priceline and Avis after the local office canceled his reservation. I contacted Priceline on his behalf, and through their contacts at Avis, the local office agreed to honor the original reservation. But his story offers yet another tip for everyone else: Don’t take a cancellation lying down. You can often fight it and win.

The takeaway? Sometimes it’s possible to book a flight, or a hotel room, too far in advance, as Ellis probably did. Then again, you could roll the dice and book a schedule you know is likely to change, which would allow you to invoke an airline’s change policy to score a seat on a desirable, but far more expensive flight — a risky move, to be sure.

None of these strategies should be necessary. The one-sided contracts that allow travel companies to cancel their flights, rooms and cars with little or no compensation shouldn’t be legal.

Are the travel industry's change policies fair?

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161 thoughts on “Maybe the travel industry’s one-sided cancellation policies are due for cancellation

  1. So Mr Ellis still departed at the same time, just that the layover was longer? Was there an earlier connection? If so he could have been placed on that for no fee. If no earlier connection, how was he being jerked around? Would he have canceled and moved to another carrier? I think not as AS is probably the only carrier from ANC to SMF.

      1. Don’t you just love the comment about arriving home ‘the next day’. Give me a break! They got home safely and they should kiss the ground for that! Next time…drive 🙂

        1. Since we do not have dates… let us assume these are the flights (although I suspect the flight numbers changed; AS370 for AS368).

          Notice how close the connecting flight is – 45 minutes to make a minimum connection time of 40. What if AS120 was delayed or rescheduled just a little bit. I think Alaska Air deserves an award and not criticism.

        1. Domestic airline schedules changes, especially around the time changes. The LW is barking up the wrong tree here. If you travel, you know that schedules are subject to change and if this couple didn’t, they now do.

          1. Um..I know this. I’m sure they know this. However the characterization of people upset at long delays as “jerks” is uncalled for. Do they deserve anything for it? No, but being upset to me would be natural. I should say that people calling others jerks are often jerks themselves…

          2. ‘They do now’ That’s a pretty callous attitude. I don’t travel much and on my last trip is naively assumed that a published schedule is the actual schedule. Silly me. I agree that a two hour difference shouldn’t be considered a huge bother. Where’s the tipping point for you? I had a flight from Milan to Iceland rescheduled (*not* a weather delay) from 5pm to nearly midnight, getting us to our destination at about 2am local time. I’d argue that that sort of change should be out of bounds.

          3. I am sorry you didn’t know. Why didn’t you use a TA? Anytime you do something for the first time it is a learning experience, so now you know. As for your opinion on your flight from Milan to Iceland, you could have canceled for a full refund if you didn’t like the new schedule. Also, that route is not governed by US laws.

          4. “Why didn’t you use a TA? ”

            I shouldn’t need to.They advertised a product and I purchased it. Then they changed the product. I understand you may have a personal/financial interest in encouraging people to use a travel agent but I’m afraid my income makes my family budget/low-frills travelers. (That’s right, AirB&B and HouseTrip, no hotels) The only agent I spoke to regarding this trip quoted my a crazy price that would have been prohibitive. Also, what difference could a TA have made in this case?

            “you could have canceled for a full refund if you didn’t like the new schedule”

            1 — not according to Kayak/Vayama

            2 — I’d already booked accommodations and non-refundable ground travel for portions of my trip and I was unlikely to find a good price on flights at that point, all economy seats having been sold out that close to departure.

            “Also, that route is not governed by US laws”

            I don’t see what that has to do with anything. I’m not suggesting that US law should play any part of this.

            I’ll also say that Icelandair/Vayama was not completely unreasonable and were willing to change the day of the next leg of my journey without a change feed so I wouldn’t effectively lose a day of vacation in Iceland. Still, I’d have rather had kept the schedule as booked and really that was least they could do since they took my money and then made my flight very much less desirable.

            In case you’re wondering, MXP at midnight was absolutely empty except for my flight. KEF was pretty busy though.

          5. I don’t buy the low budget for not using a TA. I don’t care if you do or not, but when you take on any DIY project, it is YOUR responsibility to know all the rules. If you hire someone to do it for you, it is THEIR responsibility. Kayak doesn’t made rules. Kayak is a search engine and Vayama is a consolidator who sells tickets according to the rules of the carrier. They have to refund if the schedule change doesn’t work for you but they can charge a fee for that, which is reasonable. NO airline schedule is guaranteed. You just learned something that is very important. Also, FYI, Kayak doesn’t always show the lowest fare option. I have looked at it several time and have beat the fare in my GDS. So what you think you might be saving in cost, you might not. But you don’t know, do you? Ha…the internet never lies.

    1. There appears to be limited options on AS to get to SMF when connecting in SEA.

      While there are numerous flights from ANC to SEA, there is only one from SEA to SMF after noon on the days I glanced at. Given that the LW was on a cruise, I doubt they could have been off the ship in time to catch any flight that would arrive in SEA in time to catch any of the morning flights onward.

    2. Customers, including myself, can use this policy to their advantage. We always book our spring vacation to Europe far in advance, getting the best price departing from and returning to LAX. But since SNA is far more convenient, each time there is a ‘schedule change,’ we ask that the departure or return city be changed to SNA.

      It’s worked three years in a row — LAX price at SNA convenience

  2. I”m going to have to go off my usual pro-business reservation and say that in many cases they are not fair.

    The airlines have the most unfair policies. Including

    1. No back to back tickets
    2. No hidden city tickets
    3. The right to double dip
    4. The right to make unilateral changes often with illusory remedies for passengers.

    5. The practice of after-the-fact credit card charging without notice to the customer
    6. Fare (tariff?) rules that make even this attorney’s eyes glaze over. All caps, single spaced abbreviations. Really? Why not just do 6-point yellow type on a white background and be done with it.

    Honestly, I tend to think that on the whole car rental and hotel policies are generally very reasonable and fair. I opine that is because both have far more competition than airlines they cannot get away with the same level of draconian rules, resulting in leisure travelers being able to avail themselves of changeable rates far easier than on an airline.

    1. Wow off the pro business soap box! They must be drinking ice water in hades today!!! (Total scarsam there by the way as you always make very valid points.)

      How many times does the travel industry cut off it’s nose to spite it’s face? This is total conjecture, but sometimes I wonder if they would make more money if they did away with all of the restrictions (and don’t get me started on “unbundling”/fees) and made it easy to make changes (i.e. Southwest’s change policy).

      Repeat business makes money. The happier the customer, the more they buy, the more they buy, the more money you make.

      1. Unhappy customers mean lost future business for most industries, but not necessarily for airlines, and I think that is the root of the problem. Flying from small/medium airports to small/medium airports, my options are very limited. If I don’t want to fly on United or Delta, too bad. So, I can be as dissatisfied with them as I want, but I know that they’re still pretty much my only reasonable options. There is more competition among hotels and rental car companies even in smaller locations, which definitely helps the traveler.

        1. Can’t-in-ental pulled that stuff and other unsat stuff on me once too often. They changed the flight w/o notifying me even though they had my contact info, and wanted to charge me a change fee for their screw-up. [more than once.] Another time they totally cancelled an early morning flight to which I was supposed to connect from Asia, and the guy told me he had no record of that flight. I showed him the paper I’d printed in the airline office in Asia 2 days previously, and asked him if he thought I’d conjured up the document with skin of toad and eye of newt. They then got me on an airplane.
          After that and other follies, I decided to use AMTRAK and bus instead. Worked out to be about the same travel time with less hassle. Can’t-in-ental dropped off my radar scope after that, and now, by extension, Untied as well……

          1. I can’t address tickets SITI outside the US, but in the US, they can assist you with other flights due to schedule changes for no cost and the same class of service does not have to be available. Work with a TA, they might save you on future issues.

          2. Only one of MANY Can’t-in-ental problems. I DID work with a TA on this, and they BLEW HER OFF! SO, your “Work with a TA” is inoperative. Can’t-in-ental was a partner with the Asian airline, but it made no difference – Can’t-in-ental simply was a bad gang.

            Another time they changed the outbound connection leg, and refused to make a change w/o payment to ensure I made my connection. They LIED and said that they had no seats while the ASIAN AIRLINE’s computer said they DID, but wouldn’t release ’em to their PARTNER. I was ON THE PHONE with the Asian airline REP while talking to the Can’t-in-ental dirtbags, but they refused to cooperate either with me, my TA, or their partner. They WOULD get me on another flight if I PAID THEM. Dirtbags……

            What say you to this?

          3. Let me summarize. Can’t-in-ental would try to scroo you even tho they were partners with the Asian airline [who were SUPPOSED to be interfaced with Can’t-in-ental],. I was using a TA, and Can’t-in-ental ignored her. I was relating two separate, similar instances of their perfidy. They simply were no good.

            Whether or not I printed the paper at the airline office in Asia OR from my computer from the Can’t-in-ental website should have made absolutely NO DIFFERENCE. Therefore, I don’t understand your position “in the US, they can assist you with other flights due to schedule
            changes for no cost and the same class of service does not have to be
            available. Work with a TA, they might save you on future issues.” I DID work with a TA, and they blew her off. Yes, maybe they CAN help you, but usually they choose NOT to help you unless you firmly exhort them.

          4. I have NEVER had an issue with schedule changes. The carriers have always reaccommodated my clients, so not sure what you experienced and I am sorry that you had an issue.

          5. Thank you. Appreciate it.
            What I experienced is basically what I wrote. Bottom line is that Can’t-in-nental were scurvy….. ONCE I met a nice lady from their company, but they mostly were louts.

          6. I gave up on CO when the merger became real.
            They really had inferior routing to Asia since they relied on other Asian Carriers to finish off beyond mainly Tokyo or secondarily, Hong Kong.
            Most folks who talk up UA/CO international really are referring to Europe since UA partnership with big-boy LH makes them look better.

          7. I basically gave up on ’em when they hadda turn the airplane around because a thrust reverser wasn’t locked. Thrust reverser failure = flat spin = can’t recover = U R d-e-d DEAD. Thankyou very much for outsourcing the maintenance to some guys who got their first pairs of shoes when they got the jobs working on the airplanes…..

          8. And that’s always been their strength – Ski in Colorado, Hawaii and Europe. Whereas NW (now Delta) was king to Asia. Which is why my clients appreciate the fact I know which routes are stronger with which airline, which carriers I prefer (ASIAN!) or even certain city pairs. And that is why they go to you as well, I assume. After all, don’t want them travelling during the Holidays on a carrier who only flies once every two days when can book them on one with multiple flights daily. 🙂

          9. Yeah NW was king to Asia, that’s how I ended up using Worldspan many moons ago 🙂
            I could never really figure out ole CO. Unless I was willing to use EWR or I was going to/from IAH or GUM then I ignored them.

          10. NW use to fly to Asia out of SFO via HNL. They were my very first flight experience. To this day I remember the meal, with an ice cream bar for dessert.

          11. Apparently I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand whatever non-English language “The Original Joe S” is writing.

          12. A TA still a good idea on complex routings because when something like this does happen, she is better prepared than you alone are to figure out an alternative routing.

          13. I have a simple route. I fly a good airline. I get on their airplane. I leave from our Glorious Omnipotent Empire. We stop for gas. I get off over there at their main hub. I switch to another of their airplanes for the final leg. I get to my home way over there. Ten years of flying with them and never a problem. There ain’t no alternative routing. Either the airplane takes me there, or it don’t…….. 🙂

          14. Wow, another option. Mind explaining to this dummy how AMTRAK or bus is a viable substitute for air travel from Asia to the US?

          15. Well, I didn’t wanna tell him the truth. And, just between you and me, don’t tell nobody else, because it is a BIG SECRET.

            I take the train down to the Christmas of Panama where a skyhook picks it up and moves it over the canal. We proceed down to the Amos and Andes mountains all the way to Tierra del Fuego, where we enter the SECRET TUNNEL which goes to PENGUINLAND and comes out the other side on to KIWILAND. From there, we go to OZ, say hello to TAZ, and go up the west coast of OZ into the Native American Ocean through the Island of New Italy and then on to the Jack Spratley Islands and the Paramecium Islands until we get to Red Porcelain.

            PLEASE don’t tell nobody about that tunnel! It’s a TOP SECRET that even the NSA didn’t know about!

          16. Except his post said he had some problem getting back from Asia on his airline and next he said he gave up on the airline and now uses AMTRAK and bus. My point is that his post was stupid. You either fly or float, and he said he didn’t do either. I understand the situation perfectly; at least I’m not challenged by the English language.

          17. Can’t-in-ental is a PARTNER with the ASIAN airline. [Weren’t you paying attention? “partners with the Asian airline” – page up and look.] Can’t-in-ental flies in the US. The ASIAN airline flies over to Asia. I gave up on Can’t-in-ental. I never said I had trouble getting back from Asia on the Asian airline. That airline is fine. Can’t-in-ental was the pits. Now, we were discussing what kind of posts?

          18. And as far as I’m concerned, they shouldda went outta business when Justinian was Emperor. I’m sure they contributed their shortcomings to the least common denominator which is now Untied Airlines.

            You know, the airline which had a $3 BILLION surplus, and then told their workers the company was broke and the workers had to “buy” the company, or they’d go belly-up? And the workers “bought” the company [ESOP is NOT buying the company, poor swindled guys] and Untied went bankrupt ANYWAY. And foisted the pensions on to the TAXPAYERS where the workers got much less than they would have. I wonder who got all that money….. Was it the guy who came in and sold off the kitchens, and bled the company dry like a leech? Yeah, please inform me about how Can’t-in-nental merged with Untied, because I’m so unaware of what’s going on in the industry, and I need to be enlightened……. :-Þ

            AND another airline was gonna attempt the same stunt, but the gubmint told ’em it wasn’t gonna happen AGAIN…….. Wonderful airline industry…..

          19. Hey, any day now, Amtrak will be selling tickets on the weeklong trip through Canada, up to Alaska, across the Bering Strait Crossing that Russia and the US will build to commemorate their everlasting friendship, and then down along the coast to such fabulous destinations as Pyongyang.

            The Far Northwest Corridor will give all those airlines a slow, patient, multi-day run for their money. No need for Joe’s elaborate Tierra del Fuego tunnel… and slightly more realistic.

          20. Yup. Supposed to build a tunnel there between the Diomede Islands. Just like the one in PENGUINLAND….. 🙂

      2. But the industry rides a VERY thin line between loss and profit per flight, and allowing anyone to change at anytime would easily push them over with how flighty most folks can be. So by making the passenger take responsibility for their decisions, and sticking to them, or paying for the privilege of changing, keeps the sheer number of arbitrary changes down. I have clients who want to change a flight several times due to early/late appointments. So if they travel on the cheap, they don’t get to play that game, and actually have to travel on their ticket.

    2. Since contracts are one of the most basic features of any legal code and always the most well-used part of it, how do travel companies actually get away with those one-way contracts? Is it all just a matter of bluff, as in “We canceled your flight, so sue us!” or do they use some specific legal cover?

    3. If you worked for an airline you will quickly realize how military like the structure is. The whole airline culture is the same thing. It’s very authoritarian with little room for debate. Either you have pilot in command in the air or a cost accountant in the ground. No matter what country you go to, you will find the same thing. Get used to it.

      1. That’s also why you can be thrown off a flight because “someone felt uncomfortable” about you. It could be something you said, or body language. An actual terrorist, of course, would just game this system to avoid suspicion.

          1. The flight attendant on Untied Airlines who is fatter than a hippo, older than Methuselah, nastier than a pit viper, and uglier than the portrait of Dorian Gray.

          2. There is no need to be so rude – some people here may be overweight or older, and calling someone UGLY says more about you than them.

    4. Back to back tickets is the most ridiculous rule inherited from the era of 45/21-days-ahead-discount prices or weekend stay compulsory. No reason for this rule exist anymore, But they have no way to verify or catch the people who did it, I did it hundred of times in the 80’s and 90’s and not once notice by the Airlines.
      It’s the good old times we travelled with the LAST NAME and 1 letter of the first name, and nobody care to look at the name on the boarding pass

      1. As one who sells ticket, I have never understood the back to back rule. In our GDS, we can’t do them without risk of a fine from the airline. There is still a way, but we are still at risk.

        1. My travel agent said the trick is,”don’t issue the tickets in the same batch report (in the 80’s and 90’s, they did once a week in batch)”. No way to detect it in different batch. Another trick is use another letter of first name or reverse the order of the first name. Different code-share Airlines (travel on the same airlines), etc…

          1. Yes, different reporting periods. We still do the same now, in that all tickets are reported once a week.

          2. The only place they can audit is at the FF account but for example I use United Mileage Plus, Aeroplan Air Canada and Canadian Plus (before Y2K) no way they can detect it and Computer System is not that performant.

      2. Given that for most domestic tickets, round trips are just the cost of two one ways, the rule is pretty much useless for domestic travel… I book most domestic flights as one ways now… gives me a lot more flexibility in scheduling and I can by definition never be accused of having back-to-back tickets.

    5. Those fare rule ladders go WAY back – all coded due to cost of transmission – and now a standard they have no interest in changing due to the HUGE cost involved (would require all new systems). But no way the average person can read that line and know the rules – just agents and airline employees can.

      1. And we know the online shopper has no desire to read the rules, but they do wish to complain when that ticket doesn’t allow them to do what they want due to the rules!

  3. Here’s a question for the usual crowd:

    Does a hotel have a duty to tell customers if they are hosting a large convention/group when the unsuspecting guest books?

    And if not, should the guest be allowed to cancel the reservation without penalty upon arrival in the midst of insanity?

    I had a one-night stay over at Renaissance Schaumburg, IL during “Dashcon.” No one told me this stupidity would be going on when I booked and when I tried to cancel upon walking into a group unsupervised teens, I was told no.

    Now, I’m a comic and anime con veteran…but this “Dashcon” nonsense was apparently a huge gathering of teeny-bopper Tumblr users without any manners. At one point, the lot of them were singing loudly in the lobby and despite my numerous complaints about the noise, nothing was done about the idiots on my hallway. I demanded the front desk do something or give me a discount, but they acted like they had no idea what I was talking about. (Seriously?!!)

    Anyway, I sent a nasty letter and received some money off the room, but I felt they shouldn’t warned me, let me cancel, and then fully comped the room after the hotel realized they couldn’t manage these stupid kids.

    ETA: A quick Google search on “Dashcon” revealed that the entire convention was a disaster from guests walking out to the convention not paying their bills. LOL. Serves them right. Bunch of efffing morons.

    1. Sorry…I started laughing as soon as you said “Dashcon”…
      But no, I don’t think they have a duty to warn you of who or what is going on in their hotel, just a duty to deal swiftly with any complaints…and possibly to remedy the situation with an extra hour in the ball pit.

      1. I know, right? LOL.
        Yeah, the hotel did not manage the problems to my satisfaction, or to any reasonable standard.

        ETA: LOL @ Extra Hour in the Ball Pit. I keep reading about this fiasco and I’m almost kind of honored to have shared space with this crap that will be Internet Lore Forever. Except, y’know, not sleeping all night did totally suck.

        1. We used to attend the Minne-Con in Minneapolis every Easter. The Radisson actually closed the hotel to outside reservations and GOT GRIEF from folks. So no pleasing anyone. We had some good laughs, though, on Easter morning. Hotel had a GREAT brunch folks in the area would come to — just weren’t expecting to be seated next to Klingons and monsters (LOVED the looks on some of the folks’ faces!)

    2. I was on a week long business stay in Santa Monica, waking early every morning to get to the convention center. On Saturday night, they had a wedding, with music vibrating the walls of my room 6 floors below and too loud to read, sleep, or watch tv.

      I was told the wedding booked 6 months before and they would not ask them to turn down the music.

      1. You should have called the police then! Most cities have noise ordinances and if the music was vibrating your walls they would have been ticketed and ordered to stop.

    3. I know they have no obligation to do so but they should in some instances. We checked into a Renaissance in Mobile Alabama that was hosting a convention of the Confederate Sons and Daughters (or some similar name.) When We arrived I was greeted by very sullen front desk staff and it went down from there. (Some group members were taking roll playing to an extreme.) I have stayed a number of times at this hotel and service was always top notch. We tried to cancel and move to a sister property but were told no. So we endured service best associated with a no-tell motel than the service we were used to at this particular hotel.

      1. You could try asking about a week in advance or so — just tell them you had a NIGHTMARE the last time it happened. If I’m booking in a town during a particular convention, I double check.

  4. In the age of Big Data, I am surprised large multisite corporations don’t try various experiments to see just what customer-friendly policies may increase rather than decrease the ultimate profits. You say allowing liberal changes and cancellations will increase business and therefore profits, the bean counters just see loss of revenue. I think an airline could sell a “one change at no cost” add on fee of say $49.95 or 3% of the ticket or whatever and increase both satisfaction and the bottom line. Hotels could do all sorts of things, too.

    Am I right? Are they? What number works? Who knows.

    So, pick a time period, or a set of routes, or a traveler demographic, or allow it for tickets or rooms booked more than x months prior to travel, or try them all. Check the data. Then decide what works, and then we’ll all know. We already know that American Airlines more room in coach didn’t work,

      1. If you own a business, you would get the reason the fees are there. They never use to charge them, but then people never use to change their minds like they do these days.

        1. No happy medium. Everything to the extreme. Nobody is reasonable, so everyone tried to back-stab. Wonderful world we live in……

        2. That’s what I never understood. I would think that the airline flights are fairly static. If someone buys a ticket and wants to change it, they can only change it for a ticket on a flight that has space available. So besides the accounting efforts, what is the downside to the airline when someone changes, especially if the change is done online? I mean, higher priced tickets don’t have change fees.

          I get cancellations because that may require a refund, but I don’t see the issue with changes, besides being a money grab.

          1. It takes time to make the changes, so there is that fee. Initially the carreirs started the fees to try to stem people constantly making changes. When I started in the business, if someone bought a ticket, they stuck with the travel plans. Now people change their mind like they change their clothes, often multiple times a day. Hard to run a business that needs to know if you are showing up or not.

          2. Of course there are reasons. I was suggesting that there be some experimentation to determine if there could be better ways to do things that maintain or increase overall profits while treating the customers better.

          3. Why would airlines do that AJPeabody?
            Beside have you seen the improvements done in the BC and FC cabins while the coach section is getting worse?
            So you can see they are treating their most important customers better.

          4. They DID try that – the passengers abused the good will, so now the No favors, no waivers mentality.

          5. I have stated it here many times, we have past passengers to thank for many of the rules that are in the fares.

          6. Except it doesn’t.

            The customer’s that generate the real income to the airlines don’t actually have to show up. Those tickets are totally changeable without a change fee. We business travelers really do change their minds as often as we change underwear. More than once, I’ve rescheduled a flight at the last minute because the trip become unnecessary.

          7. In coach, you have fully refundable and changeable Y class. In Biz class you have discounted Biz fares and fully refundable and changeable Biz fares. Same with First class. In the past, business travelers booked the higher of any of these for the flexibility until the economy took a down turn and their companies made changes to the allowances. Since I am not handling corporate travel (thankgoodness!) I don’t know what the trend is now that the economy is up. During down times, the usual biz class tickets became economy plus tickets or nonrefundable ones, often requiring a Sat night stay to save the company money.

          8. I work for a fairly large company (27K employees). Our travel policy is pretty restrictive. No first class unless you are a senior executive, book the rock bottom airfare (if the travel police find an alternate itinerary that is more than $100 less than the one you booked, you usually have to accept the new itinerary unless it’s kind of crazy). We are directed to book non-refundable fares, and if we think there’s a chance we might change our travel plans, try to use Southwest. Of course, we are a pretty frugal company overall.

          9. I used to work in the expense management and analysis area of my subsidiary of the main company. At the time, it seemed like each subsidiary had its own rules, and some areas were more liberal than others. Now it looks like they’ve standardized it for everyone. Every sub I’ve worked for has been pretty cheap. 🙂 I am still amazed that only executives can fly business class overseas. It’s not like that many employees get to make those trips anyway.

          10. My neighbor has to travel to Asia for business and when the economy took a downturn, her major company changed the travel policy on length of flight time that would allow for Biz class. Now that things are good, they still haven’t gone back to the former policy, so her next 18 hour flying time is in coach and she is dreading it…again.

          11. And why a lot of these passengers LOVE their status on their FF cards – which is what Chris misses when he disses the “freebies” issue – its not always about the freebies, a lot of times just knowing you can get an upgrade based on your status makes that 18 hour flight doable.

          12. Looking at the policy further, if a single leg of a flight is over 10 hours then they do allow the employee to fly business. I thought I remembered that the folks traveling to India got to do it. Traveling to London tho? Back of the plane.

          13. Yes, that is usually a common policy but from what I am hearing the old policy isn’t being put back into place with some corporations. Glad yours is? Do you have to give up your miles to the company? Many corporations make you do that, which I don’t agree with.

          14. Nope, we do get to keep our miles. I think we would revise policy if spending was getting out of hand, but not necessarily due to changing economic conditions. “Control the cost of travel while being good stewards of (the company’s) money.” One good example from a few years ago: there is a professional designation that quite a few people here earn. The company pays for you to attend the annual conference the year you get the designation and you can defer a year. One year the conference was going to be in Hawaii. This drove behavior quite predictably. That year they ended up giving a set amount to people and any travel costs above that were on the employee. (My conference was in New Orleans.)

          15. True, but that ticket is priced to accommodate that, and allow the lower fares for others, PROVIDED they do NOT do what you did. 🙂

          16. Judging how quickly an initial reservation can be made, a change should be similarly quick. A change fee of $150, at a generous $30 an hour, implies 5 hours of work. I don’t think we can be under any delusion that modern change fees have anything to do with the cost of making the change.

            As a deterrent to fickle people changing their mind… I honestly don’t know who would be changing flight plans multiple times a day… but when the change fee can easily be around or even above the ticket price, that seems an excessive deterrent. People constantly changing their minds could actually be a revenue source if the fees were much lower, $10-$20.

            Currently, it seems those stuck paying change fee are those who are forced to by external forces: family crisis, work, and other unexpected changes. It is quite possible that by setting change fees so high, and without relation to the cost of the ticket or the type of change, airlines are limiting the number of people willing to pay them, inconveniencing their customers, and for the select that do end up paying the fee, earning their anger.

          17. I don’t defend what the carriers charge, as they no longer pay us to handle a ticket reissue, which they use to with a flat dollar amount. However, it costs more than $30 to reissue a ticket, when a change is made. You don’t see the paper work involved and there is plenty. I have spent over an hour on many reissues. They have raised the change fee to try and deter people, but it isn’t happening.

          18. Remember the instant purchase fares they tried before 9/11? Buy it and fly it, or it was worthless. Just waiting to see how long before they go back to those!

          19. It comes down to the fine line each flight runs between profit and loss. If this is a route with a very fine margin, there may not be much cushion for operating at a loss. The charges are really a penalty/deterrent for those who get to the airport early, decide to take the earlier flight, go to the bar, meet some friends, then decide a later flight is a better option. Refundable tickets may allow that, but they do NOT want everyone able to do this. (Yes, this actually WAS a client of mine – sigh!)

  5. So the flight arrived exactly 3 hours and 20 minutes later than the original plan. Where’s the problem? I have been on flights that were delayed longer than that and I survived. Stating that the LW “didn’t get to their house until the next day” is unnecessary because it makes it sound like the delay was for a full day when it was only 3 hours. Who knows, they may not have made it to their house “until the next day” anyway even without the extended layover since we don’t know how far from the airport the house is, how long the delay is for baggage retrieval, or any number of possible delays.

    Many airports are no fun to be stuck in for an extra 3 hours, but I don’t think SEA is one of them. I haven’t been through there in a while, but it seemed to be a nice enough airport with enough options to keep you entertained.

    Alaska Air (AS) is nice enough to allow for full refund of any ticket when they change their schedule. They also allow for changes for any type of ticket for alternate flight on the same day or day before or after without fees when they change the schedule, so why is it stated there would be a $125 fee in the article? This is very inconsistent and the official AS policy for this situation does nothing to support the argument that cancellation policies are bad for the customers. The LW had 2 months to find alternate arrangements if the new flight schedule did not work. He chose not to change, just to complain.

    And as far as the auto rental — don’t rent through Priceline or any other online agency! Especially for an international rental. Problem solved.

    I do agree that many of the travel industry’s polices are ridiculous, but you really need better examples to prove that point.

    1. It bothers me that Chris has provided some erroneous information in this article and hasn’t addressed it from my very first posting on it last night regarding how schedule changes are really handled.

    2. Yeah, I was also puzzled why a few extra hours were that important on a set of flights that likely took up most of the day. For travel, you always have to allow for delays of various types, particularly on multi-step itineraries.

      I never understood booking half a year in advance, but it does seem that the schedule change gave many months warning to try to make better arrangements. If the changes were made closer in to the time of flight, with no options to change or cancel, I could see a stronger case.

      I think the $125 was mentioned as an example of the one-sided-ness… if a passenger wants to change a flight (baring special conditions, like reacting to a schedule change), he has to pay, but the airline can change a flight without penalty (though again, that’s not entirely true, as they do need to accommodate passengers on other flights, in hotels, etc.).

      1. The change fee was mentioned about the schedule change. The carriers do not charge for reaccommodating you with a schedule change. Schedule changes don’t even require the same class of service be available on the flight you wish to be placed on.

        1. True – my sis got stuck coming home once, and got her on the next flight, another carrier, first class seat. Otherwise we were talking 8 hours – unacceptable with other Chicago options. 🙂

  6. Laughing in understanding about the longer layover for Art Ellis. When I travel, bec. of a mobility disability, I have to allow time to wait for a wheelchair and then get to the next gate. I always try to get the maximum allowed. And there it is .. ‘allowed’ by the airlines who don’t care if you make it to your gate or not. But ASK for a longer layover, they say no – it’s a stopover! Do any of the airline execs fly on their own airlines and manage their own travel w/o being whisked on and off thorugh side doors?

    1. None of the current airline execs fly on the commercial flights unless it is for a publicity stunt. Like when the airlines were rolling out the new 787. Otherwise, they have private jets to take them where they need to go.

      The only one I know of that does fly on their commercial flights is the CEO of Southwest. And because of this, they are the only airline that has Wild Turkey in their drink selection. Why? It’s the only thing the CEO, Gary Kelly, drinks. (Or so I’m told.)

      It’s no wonder that the airlines have such bad policies and tight seating when the people making the decisions about those things don’t actually use the product.

  7. I don’t think this is going to change anytime soon. If the airlines had to pay compensation when they changed, it would get built into our ticket prices. If people were allowed to change their tickets, any added costs would be passed along to us. Admittedly, I would like to see some adjustments made – business class needn’t be SO much more expensive.

    1. business class needn’t be SO much more expensive.

      Why not? How should a premium, and thus unnecessary, product be priced other than supply and demand?

      1. It should be priced according to the value received. If it uses up twice the resources on an aircraft (and it does use more seat space but doesn’t add that much to the weight) then it should be twice as much.

        There is no need to subsidize the economy seats to that extent. If the airlines priced economy to make a small profit, maybe they wouldn’t despise the economy passengers so much, and maybe more of them would use the bus or Spirit Airlines.

        1. Economy cablin needs the Biz and First class or you would be complaining about the coach ticket prices on two or three cabin aircraft.

        2. So, if a business class seat requires 2x as much resources it should be priced 2x as much. But supposed people are willing and able to pay 3x shouldn’t the airline charge 3x? The airline is happy, the customers who purchased business class are happy. The only unhappy people are those who want to pay less money to get the same thing.

          Or let’s flip it around. Suppose it’s back in the recession and no one wants to pay 2x, but only 1 1/2X the cost of coach. I guess by that logic, the airline shouldn’t discount the seat because it should be priced at 2x. Everybody will be equally unhappy.

          I mean let’s be honest. Do you go to your boss and say that you’re overpaid? That he should reduce your salary because you’re not worth what he/she’s paying you?

          1. It seems you guys prefer the business class and first class to be overpriced. Is this from the perspective that you prefer to have the economy class subsidized so that it is cheaper for you?

            Or do you prefer to pay much more for business class and subsidize others?

            My perspective is that I’d like to pay for Business/First on the basis of covering the costs for such and NOT subsidizing others.

            I’m getting the feeling that this is not the same way that Mr. Farrow and Mr. Bodega are looking at it.

            When I look at a seat to London, for example, and the peasant class is $1300, and business class is $12,000 (for return tickets) I would certainly like to see that business class price a little lower, even at the expense of the lower priced seating going up.

          2. You didn’t address any of my questions.

            You’d like to pay less for business class. Ok. I’d like to pay less for many things. But I repeat the same question.

            If an airline prices business class at $12,000 and it can sell every seat for $12,000, what moral, legal, or ethical precept would mandate the airline charge less – say $9000.

            If I cannot afford to purchase a luxurious item, and I think business class qualifies as a would-like-to-have, but hardly a must-have, then how about this? Save up or buy something cheaper, like, oh, maybe, a coach seat like the rest of us.

          3. I understand what you’re saying. The airlines do it because they think it works for them. However, I have expressed that I would prefer one didn’t subsidize another.

            That isn’t how it is now, I know. And I do buy coach tickets, but I get economy plus when I fly United, THAT upcharge I find fairly reasonable. All I’m suggesting is that the business class ones be the same way.
            Wal Mart didn’t get to big and profitable selling everything for the maximum they could get, it isn’t an outrageous philosophy;

          4. The subsidy is a side issue. It has no bearing on the price of business class tickets. What the subsidy does is that it permits coach tickets to be cheaper, it does not raise the price of business class tickets.

            You still haven’t answered the question that is being posed for the third time, why the airline should sell business class tickets for less than what people are willing to pay. If a coach ticket is $1300, but they can sell a business class ticket for $12000, why should they sell it for an upcharge, e.g. $700, and forgo 10k per seat in revenue?

            I see how that benefits the buyer, but I’m still not hearing why the seller, i.e. the airline, would want to do this?

            And yes, that’s exactly how Walmart got big and profitable. It figured out how to extract maximum revenue by substantially reducing its cost structure (lower wages, no unions, no health care), creating a more efficient distribution network, reducing service, extracting the lowest price from its wholesalers, etc.

            Walmart is the best example of ruthless, unforgiving capitalism in the US.

          5. The $12K figure for business class to London doesn’t sound right. Maybe for completely refundable (and even then it sounds more like first than business), but I’ve never flown BC overseas, including London, for more than about $3500.

            But regardless of the actual airfares, I get your point. There is a price that would cover the additional service, lowered revenue from fewer seats, better meals (or meals at all), free drinks, etc. Anything above that is pure supply and demand, and does subsidize economy class. What you pay vs. what you get are very different. As I’ve gotten to the point in life where I can afford some small luxuries, for a flight segment 3 hours or over I try to go FC, just for the comfort, but I admit I always feel a little bit taken.

          6. And why is that Beemer SO much more that that Fiat? Just because you WANT something, doesn’t mean you can afford it – and the price is determined by the maximum most people will pay – so BMW isn’t going to be running any 1/2 off sales anytime soon!

          7. I am surprised at the number of people who are seeming to prefer the business class seats to be unrealistically priced and also surprised about the level of “passion” (or hostility) about it. I was just giving an opinion and a preference, that’s all. I know “all business class” airlines don’t seem to work. I know “all economy class” airlines do seem to work, and there is a balance, they could sell more business class seats at a certain markup. Right now, they are either sold at a sky high price, or given out as upgrades for a very low price. There’s not much of an in between.

            With the increasing discomfort of the economy seats, I had expected more people to be interested in better priced business class.

            I don’t think it is an unreasonable thought at all.

        1. Planes that have two or three class cabins are more expensive to operate. Those who pay for Biz and First are helping to keep your lower coach fare down in cost. If that plane was all coach class, your coach ticket would cost a heck of a lot more.

          1. I am a big believer in each person paying their own way so do not think that one class of flight should subsidize another.

          2. Welcome to the real world. It happens in all aspects of business. Two and three class aircraft flying only coach passengers would give you sticker shock for a ticket.

          3. If the line in the sand is the current business class ticket is overpriced to subsidize the cost of an economy ticket, and if the business class ticket came down in price, that tells me two things. That the business class ticket would be cheaper than now, and that the economy class ticket would be somewhere between the new lower business class ticket and the subsidized economy class ticket.

            I can live with that just fine, thank you.

          4. Yes it is and that of the carriers, too. BTW, there was a carrier that ceased operation that was strictly first class seats. Too pricy. They need coach tickets to bring those prices down.

          5. Can’t really do that. They don’t fly where I live. Good news is there’s no TSA where I live either..

    2. ” If people were allowed to change their tickets, any added costs would be passed along to us.” It was not that long ago that you could change your tickets at any time for no charge. I just booked a flight to Europe and the Delta agent told me that it would cost $450 to change the ticket after tomorrow. Does anyone really think that this cost is a true cost for Delta to change a reservation?

      1. No that isn’t a true cost. There are costs involved, but they are trying to discourage people changing their plans willy nilly. I get it. Do I like the cost, no.

  8. Bad example for this story. I wish whoever edited this story would have asked Chris if he had a better example to make the story’s point. Ellis and Marianne got home, albeit 3 hours 20 minutes late. Why, if they made it to their home airport, did it take them all night to get to their house? The Spirit Airlines example — 3 days later for the next flight!! — is well worth writing about. And while I’m on it, why do people still count on Priceline, etc., to make their reservations for them? If they want help finding the best deals, a local TA is the answer. Otherwise deal directly with the airline/hotel/car rental company.

    1. I think the “didn’t get home until the next day” is on a technicality… they had planned to land in SAC at 8:20 pm, they instead got a 11:20 pm flight that landed 20 minutes late… so just before midnight. Add time to get out of the airport and get home, maybe an hour or two… and you are in “the next day”.

      But “the next day” sounds more impressive than “about three hours late”… same as I say “see you next year” to friends on New Year’s Eve, rather than “see you in a few hours”.

      Come to think of it… too bad this wasn’t a New Year’s Eve flight… where Alaska would have gotten them home “next year”.

      The Spirit example was valid… when an airline has such infrequent flights, a cancellation or delay is a big deal… with Alaska, their West Coast network is pretty dense and frequent, so a delay or cancellation is usually hours, not days.

  9. want flexibility ? Then pay for it.
    A cheap Sydney to Melbourne flight (busiest route in Australia, about 1 hour flying) cost $35.
    No refund & change fees cost more than $35.
    A fully flexible ticket can cost $400.
    Thing is, people are now buying more of the $35 type tickets & if can’t use it occasionally, thrown it away.
    The only people who fly on $400 tickets are those who aren’t paying for it themselves & don’t care what it costs (clients, govt etc.) as long as they are not inconvenienced.
    NOTE: the % of people on fully flexible tickets who actually change their flights is very VERY small.

  10. In the past year I have had 2 flights changed by several hours. Inconvenient? Yes. But worth an indictment of all change policies? No. Changes in schedules happen–and have been since I started flying regularly in the early 70s. Most airlines offer options if a flight time changes by more than 2 hours–at least the ones I fly do. But sometimes there is simply no option and you are stuck with what they can have. And not reaching home until the next day? I am howling. About 6 years ago I was on a flight from Vegas to Atlanta. We left early but bed weather in Atlanta had us circle Mississippi, then Alabama and then Atlanta until we had to go elsewhere to refuel. While on the ground we were hit by another plane. That required that the airline send buses to collect us and our bags and bring us to Atlanta. Even with delays we should have been there around 9 PM. We also arrived the next day—at about 6AM. That is something to complain about. A long layover and getting home after midnight is not.

    1. Wow, talk about leaving Vegas with some bad luck… did they manage to also lose you luggage?

      Out of curiosity, did they insist on busing everyone to ATL airport, just as if you arrived by plane, or did they drop people off along the way?

  11. Sorry late to the party on this one …
    The only one that really upsets me in all of these examples are the airlines.
    1. Voluntary business reason schedule changes … Ok I have to lock in my plans when I buy months in advance… Why shouldn’t the airlines?
    2. Schedule changes that result in a “Downgrade” … I intentionally book a non-stop and pay more for it. Months later, the airline moves me off the direct flight to a connecting flight where the cheapest tickets are still cheaper than the one I purchased for the direct….
    3. Rescheduled on to a flight I can’t make… Airline decides to cancel my flight and move me hours earlier… stuck paying a much higher fare somewhere else since I can’t take the the “rescheduled” flight.
    4. Rescheduled on to a missconnect… Yes I have been move onto flights that depart before I land at the hub ….

    Sorry but all of these practices are wrong…. Good luck ever getting them changed…

  12. 3hr20m delayed getting home? Heck the wright brothers should’ve never bothered!
    My aunt was complaining of having to wait a whole 12 minutes (estimated wait per recorded) on hold with reservations for an airline so she hung up after 5 and was upset when she called back the next day the fare was more. Wow a whole 12 minutes out of your day again I say the wright brothers should’ve just went home and say to heck with it. People need to be patient and know it’s a huge feat to transport so many people on a daily basis and things can and will happen. However, if it’s more than so many hours doesn’t the dot already require some type of compensation but it’s up to people to know their rights? Or is this just with denied boarding? I do believe the airlines need regulation reform but it wouldn’t hurt people to be patient and just relax sometimes either. You had to wait 15 minutes for a gate because the aircraft arrived 30 minutes early? The horror of it all. People crack me up. Yes it is not ideal and inconvenient when delays happen or your schedule changes but I don’t really think compensation should come after every little thing. As far as fares go there are plenty of refundable fares there for the taking just a lack of people that purchase them or even bother to look at what they are agreeing to when they buy it. 3 hrs and some minutes isn’t that excessive. 24 hours is excessive.

  13. This is probably where we need more insite – I think you’d see a lot less of this baloney if the airlines and hotels had to refund or pay US penalties when our reservations weren’t honored by them.

  14. Interesting points of view. I hate traveling but I have to do it in order to put food on my family table. Too bad, but that’s life. The only sad part about it is that I actually love the IDEA of the travel. Unfortunately, as soon as I reach the airport, I’m ready to turn around and go home.

    That said, I do love cars and driving and happen to know a lot about it. This is eerily familiar with bunch of dorky losers complaining about American cars and treatment received by dealers and car companies I listened to 10 years ago. I understood what they were saying, but a large, large majority didn’t. Even larger majority didn’t care. This was more than 10 years ago.

    Well, I can attest with 100% certainty that the quality of the product improved to the point of being unrecognizable when compared to 10 years ago. Customers seem to be treated differently (and better). I wonder what happened to bring such a huge change in only 10 years and less than that. Is it even possible?

    Of course it is. Nothing like a coordinated bankruptcy of ALL players to focus minds of shot-callers and make them understand that they are not in business of making money but in business of providing product or service to the people who are their customers. Unfortunately (and I truly mean that – unfortunately), airlines were never in the stronger position. We allowed three “competitors” where once were almost a dozen, we yell bloody murder whenever some misguided communist wants to spend society’s money and build high speed train tracks, our road infrastructure is … wait, what road infrastructure?

    You want to be treated better? Suck it up because you will not be. There is not a SINGLE alleviating circumstance that could force airlines to treat you like humans instead of treating you like cattle. The only way out is to stop flying.

    Good luck with that idea …

  15. I was lucky enough to have a generous US Airways representative who rebooked my flights free of charge after they changed the itinerary without notifying me–probably she did it because I was standing in front of her at the counter, and it wouldn’t have been prudent to make a big deal out of it. It’s still the best customer service I have experienced in the last few years, and it’s a shame that it’s such an anomaly, especially when the company is at fault.

    1. Schedule changes happen daily. The carrier allowed you to change to other flights for FREE, so US did what it was suppose to do.

  16. Whether you think that the OP is a jerk or not (my, we have some tough cookies reading these posts), the current policies of airlines need to go. They should be required to charge only a reasonable fee for whatever … $25 to change a ticket 30 days out for example. If you do it yourself, there should be no fee, it costs the airline nothing. Hotels are justified in penalizing people who book non-ref rooms, the price differential is not that great … the guest has a choice of which kind of room rate to book … with the airlines the difference is hundreds of dollars. If only we had some leaders in DC who would give a little effort to taking care of the American consumer instead of consistently bowing to big biz lobbies, the travel industry might become reasonable again.

    1. Why do you think it costs the airline nothing? IMHO, regarding the last part of your last sentence, what about reasonable passengers? In the decades I have been in travel, people have changed and not for the better. It goes both way.

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