United Raises Ticket 'Change Fee' to $200 (and Up)

NEW UPDATE: All the legacy carriers have matched the change fee increase.

UPDATE: US Airways confirms to FareCompare that they too have raised their domestic change fee to $200.

Earlier:

What consumers call an airline change fee – the price one pays for making a change of date or itinerary to a non-refundable ticket – has long been considered by many to be the worst fee ever. Now it’s gotten even grimmer, thanks to United’s newly boosted change fee prices.

Worst airline fee ever

Fees Jump for U.S., International Ticket Changes

As the Wall Street Journal was first to report, United has raised changed fees – what the airline refers to as an ‘administrative service charge’ – as follows:

  • Domestic flights: From $150 to $200
  • International flights: From $250 to $300

Why United Raised This Fee

FareCompare contacted United for an explanation on the increase and airline spokesman Rahsaan Johnson told us, “We carefully manage our seat inventory and incur costs when a traveler elects not to fly in a reserved seat. We adjusted this fee to better compensate us for those costs.” Managing seat inventory is another way of saying capacity cutting which all airlines have engaged in over the past few years, the better to fill those empty middle seats and maximize profits.

Note to shoppers: Specific change fees are not visible on United.com’s list of fees but as the airline explains, “Before a customer completes a ticket purchase, there’s an option to view rules and restrictions; one of the first the customer sees is the reference to the $200 ‘administrative service charge’.”

What one airline told a dying vet who sought a refund

What Passengers Can Do about Change Fees

Since non-refundable tickets are far and away the most popular kind, particularly for leisure travelers (since they are the cheapest) the options for changing tickets are few:

  • Be as certain as possible of your travel plans
  • Make any changes within 24 hours of purchase, and it’s free
  • Buy travel insurance (but be sure it covers what you need it for)
  • Pay more for a refundable ticket (likely the most expensive option)

Will Other Airlines Follow?

Quite possibly. But not so far. EARLIER UPDATE: It appears US Airways has raised its change fee for domestic flights to $200. Although a spokesman for US Airways tells FareCompare they don’t discuss pricing strategy, he did say ” We’ve increased some of our change fees for customers who purchase non-refundable tickets yet need to adjust their travel plans,” while noting that this increase applies only to new ticket purchases.

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Published: April 24, 2013