If you’re not familiar with the change fee, it’s time to learn especially now with many of us making expensive holiday flight reservations. You could avoid a nasty surprise. As much as $200 worth of nastiness.
What is an Airline Change Fee
If you buy regular coach or economy class tickets – as most of us do to get the cheapest tickets – any change made to your itinerary or tickets after you book your flights will cost you (with one airline exception, shown below).
Fee prices: The cost of change fees vary by airline; on the low end is the $50 ‘name change’ only fee charged by Frontier, while Virgin America charges $75 to $150 depending on the route. The highest change fee is $200, charged by American, Delta and United.
Exception: The lone U.S. airline with no change fee is Southwest.
Airlines can and do change fees from time to time with little or no notice; always check with them for the most up-to-date information.
How to Avoid a Change Fee
The two best ways to avoid a change fee involve acting fast or planning ahead.
1. 24-hour change-your-mind rule: Thanks to the Department of Transportation’s passenger protections, all airlines must give shoppers 24 hours to change their minds about a ticket purchase. It works this way with most carriers: Cancel the purchase within 24 hours of dinging your credit card and you get a refund.
- Tip: American Airlines takes a slightly different approach: Shoppers reserve a seat for 24 hours without having to pay for it; but once that non-refundable seat is purchased, there are no refunds without a change fee.
2. Refundable tickets: If your dates are truly up-in-the-air it can be helpful to buy refundable tickets which incur no change fee.
- Tip: These tickets are generally much more expensive than regular economy fares.
3. Travel insurance: It won’t necessarily be cheap but may be worth it. Only you know the answer to that.
- Tip: You must read the fine print to be certain it covers what you need.
4. Credit cards: Your airline-branded credit card may cover you for change fees (and might just include other perks like a free bag or early boarding). Again, read the fine print.
- Tip: Shop around; many credit cards have annual fees that can be expensive.
5. Southwest: As mentioned above, it is the only U.S. airline (that we know of) with a “no change fee” policy.
- Tip: Be sure to compare airfares – plus factor in the cost of a change fee – to be sure this will get you the best deal.
Saving money on change fees – and airfares in general – is part of our DNA which is why we share this information. As airfare analyst and FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney often says, “Never spend a penny more than you have to.”