United change fee now up to $200: Are airline change fees justified?

Once upon a time, in the dark days of the pre-internet age, airlines issued paper tickets.  This process was far more costly than in the e-ticket age, as the airlines had to pay people to issue the tickets, along with printing and distribution costs.  If a ticket needed changing, an airline employee had to spend time manually re-issuing the ticket, and then sending a new ticket by mail or express delivery to the passenger.  Airlines offset these costs by charging a ticket change fee for discounted tickets, usually in the $50-$100 range.  Some charge was fair, as it offset the real costs to the airline of making a change.

As in most industries, the invention and adoption of internet-based technologies drastically reduced costs for airlines.  Instead of issuing paper tickets, carriers switched to electronic tickets.  Changing tickets became a breeze; a process that previously took time, effort and distribution was now accomplished in a matter of a few keystrokes.

And yet, while these costs declined, ticket change fees continued to rise.

Late last week, United Airlines announced that change fees on discounted economy cabin tickets would rise from $150 to $200.  So far United’s competitors have not matched, but unless the traveling public forces United to roll back this change it’s a safe bet that American, Delta and US Airways will soon match.

Are these change fees – whether at $150 or $200 – fair?  It’s a logical argument that a company should be able to charge a fee for a service to cover its costs.  For voluntary airline changes a fair fee would be $25-$50.  But most airlines have so mismanaged themselves that they now rely on the revenue from these change fees just to break even.  Instead of setting airfares at a sustainable level, airlines have engaged in a race to the bottom when it comes to providing value for money.

Airlines need to stop bleeding us to death with fees and surcharges, get their collective act together, and set fares at levels that don’t cause them to bleed red ink.  Honesty and transparency have been severely lacking in the airline industry, and it’s past time to change that.

  • Cat687

    To anyone who supports the airline companies that profit from change fees:

    I am experiencing a problem with United right now. They are charging
    me a fee that exceeds the original amount of my flight. I made a
    reservation on June 3, 2013 for a round trip flight from San Diego to
    San Francisco on August 11, 2013 and the return flight is August 15,
    2013. The charges have not even cleared my credit card and I called to
    change my out going flight on June 5, 2013, just 72 hours later, to and
    outgoing flight on August 12, 2013 and also a later departure time for
    my flight on August 15, 2013. The original cost of my flight was 198.70.
    The fee to change my flight is 200.00. That is an increase of over
    100%. I can’t afford groceries and I have to pay some huge corporation
    $200 for nothing. This is for an optional work related trip that is
    coming out of pocket that I had to get a loan for and I do understand
    that it is my fault for not reading the schedule of my conference
    correctly but they have more than enough notice to fill my seat on a
    sold out flight and I tried to change this as soon as had realized my
    mistake. If 60 days is legally enough time for them to address my
    problem than 72 days should be enough time for me to legally cancel my
    fight without a ridiculous charge. When I called to change it took
    under 5 minutes to reschedule my flights but the people had no interest
    in helping me with the increase of cost and basically told me that I
    can’t do anything about it. I even asked to speak to a manager. I don’t
    even think the people I was talking to were located in the United
    States. When I told her I was just going to cancel she didn’t even care
    and just said “the flight is non- refundable.” This flight was booked
    directly from the United website. I don’t understand how this is legal?
    Maybe it’s because there is a huge difference between legal and doing
    the right thing. I’m so sad and angry about this I don’t know what to
    do. I filed a dispute with my credit card company and even though the
    nice lady that helped me agreed with my situation she said that there is
    little chance of me getting a refund. I have also filed complaints with
    United and government agencies and I get the same response every time.
    Basically United is legally allowed to rob me of my $200 because of
    recent legislation passed to “protect airline consumers” when it is
    really in the interest of protecting the airline corporations that pay
    tons of money for huge legal departments. So my options are: 1. To
    just take the fee and change my flight with United, let them resell my
    original ticket and make even more money. I am not happy with this
    because it doesn’t seem right. 2. Cancel my non-refundable flight with
    United and schedule a flight with another airline. Which will ensure
    that I don’t get refunded due to cancellation and I will not be backed
    by my credit card company for the dispute. I am not okay with this
    because they will still resell my seat and make more money they don’t
    deserve. 3. Schedule a flight with another airline, don’t show for my
    flight on United and still don’t get a refund for my un-used flight
    through my credit card company because I did not cancel my flight with
    United and they lost out on the resale of my ticket. Any of the above
    options will still end up costing me over $400 for a flight that is 1
    hour and 37 min one way. I read the rules and restrictions which and I
    can’t understand them. I feel like I need to be a lawyer to understand
    what they wrote. I think it says that I can cancel my flight and get
    credit for another United Flight as long as I book it within a year but I
    don’t really understand. If you have any suggestions I would love to
    hear them.

  • RDBW

    NO to these change fees! These are bleeding me to death! United get your act together, and set fares at levels!

  • RDBW

    NO! These fees are bleeding the public to death. United get your act together, and set fares at reasonable levels!

  • Ron

    I commute to work on United Airlines. As very a frequent flyer when a trip to the hospital put a ripple in my work schedule I thought that united would be be forgiving or at least flexible with their fees, but they were absolutely unwilling to budge. Penalizing me nearly $600.00 to change the days of two of my flights. That is more than the cost of a full round trip ticket.

    Way to thank your customers guys.

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