A TravelSkills reader is shocked when he’s asked to pay a $200 change fee to get a lower fare.
I read your blog entry on the end-of-summer fare sale and checked on an existing reservation I have for a San Francisco-San Diego flight in February 2015.
I saw that the dates I had already booked were indeed eligible for the sale, and that the sale price was about $100 cheaper for the two seats combined than what I already paid.
So I called United’s Premier desk, explained the situation, and relayed that I am a Platinum Premier this year and last, 1K in 2012, and will be 1K again at end of this year. I asked if they could give me the sale price, keeping all the original routing.
United’s answer: Yes, if I paid a $200 change fee.
Seriously? Pay a $200 change fee to get a $100 fare decrease?
Frustrated, I ended up getting a Premier Supervisor on the line who ultimately was able to issue me two $50 travel certificates, but was unable to refund the fare difference.
I certainly appreciate the agent’s efforts, but it seems pretty odd that United won’t give customers (let alone elite customers) some kind of protection for advance purchases that protects for both fare increases as well as fare decreases.
Thoughts? I am thinking it’s not very likely I’m the only guy in this situation, would expect there are lots of folks who are facing it as well.
My reply to A.K.: You are definitely not alone… charging change fees is a longstanding practice by the airlines– and they are increasingly less likely to bend rules, even for elite level flyers. I’ve watched airline change fees creep up over the years… the last big jump was in May 2013 when fees for domestic flight changes jumped from $150 to a stinging $200. (I remember the howls when I reported on change fees jumping from $25 to $35 in the 1990’s.)
Airlines say that they impose change fees on cheap seats so travelers with uncertain plans will instead buy their more expensive full-fare, unrestricted tickets. They say that by paying higher prices, travelers are buying flexibility.
All major airlines charge now $200 change fees for domestic tickets, and $300 for international changes. Virgin America and JetBlue change fees vary from $75 to $150. Passengers who want to change nonrefundable tickets not only pay change fees, but must pay any fare difference. Southwest does not charge a change fee at all– passengers only pay the fare difference.
The Bureau of Transportation Statistics says that in 2013, airlines collected a total of $2.8 billion from reservation change fees, 1.4 percent of total operating revenue. (That’s second to baggage fees, from which airlines earned total of $3.3 billion last year.)
So what do you think… are change fees fair or egregious? Should they be waived for elites? Have you been able to talk your way out of paying them? Please leave your comments below.
— Chris McGinnis
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