The idiocy of change fees

Actually, I don’t really bemoan change fees too much.  I understand (as much as any mere mortal can understand the vagaries of airline Revenue Management) the reasoning behind them and I generally support the airlines in charging them.  Essentially those fees keep the cheap flights cheap, and I don’t have changes too often, so I benefit from the arrangement.

But every now and then I start to wonder about them just a little bit.  And there are clearly a couple things that the airlines are doing wrong on this front that are truly annoying.  The WSJ has an article this week about folks who want to donate their remnant tickets to charities, but the airlines won’t let them.  Clearly such a loophole would be ripe for abuse and administratively a pain to operate, but it definitely makes the airlines appear to be essentially heartless scumbags.

Carriers say they won’t make exceptions for charities, and don’t have any mechanism to convert donated tickets to miles, gift cards or airline vouchers that could be transferred to approved charities.

A spokesman for AMR Corp.’s American Airlines said the carrier thinks it’s a great idea, but too complex. "The problem with ticket transfers of any type is the potential for resale of tickets, other types of fraud, and other complex security issues," he said.

Some carriers said they didn’t have the technology to allow donations; others said that even though they charge change fees, the cost of allowing donations is the main hurdle. "Setting up a process to re-handle discount seats would add costs for which we are not compensated in the prices of the ticket," a Continental Airlines Inc. spokeswoman said.

Even Southwest Airlines Co., which doesn’t charge change fees on its nonrefundable tickets, says it won’t allow ticket donations. "The very small percentage who might take advantage of a program does not support the expenses of developing or maintaining such a program," a Southwest spokesman said.

OK, fine.  Heartless scumbags.  Whatever.

Then I came up against an issue last week that makes even less sense and I’m still annoyed about having to deal with it.  I made a mistake buying a ticket.  It happens.  I didn’t notice the error until it was well outside of the 24-hour window where such things can often be resolved easily.  So I called Delta to ask about changing the flight.  Prior to calling I checked and the new one-way ticket that I want to buy is only $134.  Delta’s answer to me when I asked – $195 for the change.  That’s right folks, the change fee is more expensive than the actual cost of the ticket.  This is not the first time I’ve had such an experience and I’m sure that it won’t be the last, but it definitely makes me wonder what they are thinking with pricing policies like that. I will either buy the new tickets outright or buy on a different carrier (which I’m inclined to do now because of this idiocy).

On the plus side, at least one carrier realizes that such a change fee policy is moronic.  JetBlue dropped their change fee on their cheapest tickets to keep them below the actual value of the ticket.  A small glimmer of hope in the insanity that is airline revenue management.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.