When the change fees cost more than a new ticket

On two occasions, this month, I have had the need to make future changes to flight bookings. On one booking, travel was 75 days away. Each time, the option of changing a one way flight would have cost me more than a new roundtrip ticket !

Nearly all airlines across the globe, charge a customer who wants to change the date of their flight. Usually the cheapest tickets come with a clause specifying no name or date change at all. In other words, if you want to  change the date, you need to buy a brand new ticket. No matter, how much begging and pleading you do, the airline will usually not budge.

Of all the ancillary fees, airlines have added, change fees are the ones that I find the most annoying. If I make the change 30+ days out from travel and do it all online, why should the airline slug me with fee of $99 to $120? I am the one who logs on, manages the booking, chooses a new seat and sends myself the new itinerary. The airline provides a website but they are paying almost nothing extra for this transaction. There is no human contact or interaction.

Higher priced tickets will usually allow you to change date and/or name for a fixed fee. You must always pay the difference in the fare if the ticket prices has gone up. To their credit, most airlines these days, are very transparent about the cost of this change. The surprise element will be what the fare has changed to. Prices can rise quite steeply as you approach the date. On one occasion (and I stress only one occasion in my life), when I changed the date for a flight in Central America, the government had reduced one of the airport taxes and I actually got a credit of $1.76! Never happened again.

The most expensive tickets are usually exempt from change fees.  I have encountered change fees on some “flexible” business class fares, however and again if the fare has gone up, you will need to pay the difference.

Of course, a higher fee applies if you choose to talk to a human.

One US airline Southwest still does not charge a change fee, although you still pay the fare difference if your fare has increased since purchase. I know of no other airlines that have this no change fee policy.

Airlines will waive the fees if there are some extenuating circumstances such as a volcano, riot or bombing or a death in the family. Watch out for travel advisories from the airline or in these cases, your travel insurance (if you have purchased in advance) will cover a change fee or pay a refund in these situations. (Check your fine print).

I understand that an airline needs to fill the plane but it is not as if there is some sort of ticket exchange or e-bay service where I can sell my flight reservation! It is illegal to do so in many countries. And name change fees cost as much as changing the flight.

Another beef, I have is that they also charge me the same change fee whether or not I am a regular or a one off customer. Sometimes, airlines will waive the fee if you are a friendly high status frequent flyer and strike the right ticketing agent. Confession: I have sometimes rung an airline two or three times to get the answer I want to hear.

The first of the two flights I wanted to change was between Adelaide and Melbourne in Australia with a total cost to change the one way ticket of $182:

I could book a new roundtrip ticket (admittedly with budget airlines) for  less:

If one leg on this new flight was with a full service airline, the roundtrip fare would still have been just $168.

The second booking was for a flight between Bangkok, Thailand and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where the change fees and fare difference from my original $167 ticket would have been $441. To cancel the ticket would have gained me a refund of a $6. A round trip with the same airline?:

You can see why I was tempted to keep the original flight, fly round trip (accumulating more points and status credits) and thus still use the first flight getting the points for that flight too. So my choices were:

  1. Change the booking and paying the outrageous fees and charges
  2. Cancel the original booking (for a refund of just a few dollars) and make a new one
  3. Just not turn up and make a new booking

 

What would you do?

With my first reservation, I sucked it up and changed the ticket paying the fee. With the second, I kept to my original plans as I baulked at paying that change fee.

What are your change fee experiences, thoughts and tips?

 

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Comments

  1. Agree that it’s super annoying. $195 UA ticket and it cost $200 in change fee, plus fare difference. Thats why I try to fly with Southwest as much as possible because they let you rebook or refund without the stiff penalties.

  2. I agree Gio with your thoughts regarding Southwest. This only works where Southwest fly and for all of my international travel, they are an irrelevancy.

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