Airline Ticket Refunds and Change Fees

Has this happened to you? An event gets canceled and since there’s no other reason to make the trip, you contact your airline for a refund. The problem is,  getting your money back only happens under certain narrow circumstances and even making an itinerary change will usually cost you. Welcome to the wonderful world of refundable vs. non-refundable tickets.

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Refundable vs. Non-Refundable Tickets

With most airlines, you get what you pay for. Expensive, last-minute tickets that are typically purchased by business travelers tend to be refundable – one of the perks of paying more is the ability to get a refund if needed.

So-called leisure travel tickets – airfare purchased for vacations or non-business travel – are almost always cheaper, and almost always non-refundable. Look at the fine print next time you peruse deals on an airline website and chances are you’ll see non-refundable somewhere in there.

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Refunds for Non-Refundable Tickets

Some airlines will refund non-refundable tickets in the event of a family member’s death or other serious event – contact the airline but be prepared to provide thorough documentation. However, airline policies vary greatly in this regard: Spirit, for example, refused to refund the non-refundable ticket of a dying veteran, citing its strict no-refunds policy. However, even that policy changed after the story received heavy media attention and an anti-Spirit Facebook campaign forced the airline’s hand.

Non-Refundable Tickets and Change Fees

Changing a non-refundable ticket is relatively simple, and in most cases, you are usually allowed a year to rebook travel. However, there is a catch: changing most non-refundable tickets will cost you a steep change fee ranging from $30 to $150 (and the more expensive price is more common). Plus, if the price of airfare to your destination rises for the future time period you change your ticket to, you will also have to pay the difference. The only U.S. airline without a change fee is Southwest.

Airline Change Fees

Click on the airline name for more details about change fee policies. [Editor’s note: Airline fees change all the time so check with your carrier for the latest information.]

  • AirTran: $50
  • Alaska: $75-$100 (no change fee on travel wholly within the state of Alaska)
  • American: $100 UPDATE: The change fee is now $200
  • Delta: $150 UPDATE: The change fee is now $200
  • Frontier: $50-$100 (price varies by fare option )
  • Hawaiian: $30-$150 (the cheaper fee is for inter-island travel only)
  • JetBlue: $100
  • Southwest: Free
  • United: $150 UPDATE: The change fee is now $200
  • US Airways: $150 UPDATE: The change fee is now $200
  • Virgin America: $100

International Change Fees – Even More Expensive

Change fees shown above are for domestic travel only. The fees for international tickets can be much higher – for example, Delta and others charge a $250 change fee for travel outside the U.S.

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Published: October 26, 2012