Plans changed? Tips on avoiding airline fees

SHARE Plans changed? Tips on avoiding airline fees

DALLAS — Airlines now get one-fourth of their revenue from fees, and one of the biggest is a charge of up to $200 to change or cancel a ticket.

The fee galls consumers who find themselves with an unexpected need to change their travel plans. In some cases, the fee is more than the price they paid for the ticket.

When all the receipts are counted, it is likely that consumers paid the airlines more than $3 billion in fees to cancel or change a flight in 2015. That is triple what they paid in change fees in 2007.

Avoiding these hefty fees will take a bit of planning before you book your flight. Once you pay for the ticket, you’re at the mercy of the airline. Experts have some tips:


If your flight is at least seven days away, federal regulations require airlines to give passengers 24 hours to change their mind at no cost.

Airlines can let passengers hold a reservation at the quoted price for 24 hours before paying, as American Airlines does, or let them cancel without penalty for 24 hours, as most other carriers do.


Southwest Airlines doesn’t charge change fees. If you cancel at least 10 minutes before the flight you can use the ticket’s value for another flight, but you could owe more money if the new flight has a higher fare.

Alaska Airlines lets passengers change or cancel for no fee if the flight is at least 60 days away.


Refundable tickets cost more — sometimes substantially more — but they might pay off if you have any doubts about your ability to make the trip.

Also, some airlines offer bundled fares that include a free ticket change. “The Works” from Frontier Airlines costs more than a basic ticket, but includes a free change. You also get free bags and priority boarding. And it is refundable.

“Refundability is better than (a free) change because you get to say, ‘I don’t want to go.’” says George Hobica, founder of

Some experienced fliers suggest that you buy two one-way tickets if you can replace either one for less than the change fee on a round-trip ticket. Here’s why:

Most airlines now sell one-way tickets for half the price of a round trip. Adam Goldstein, the co-founder and CEO of Hipmunk, a travel site-comparison firm, says he recently did this for a San Francisco-Los Angeles round trip. When he needed to change the first leg, he threw away his $80 ticket but was able to buy another for about the same price instead of paying the higher change fee.


If you book your flight many months in advance there is a greater chance that a crisis at work or an illness could cause you to miss the trip. Goldstein says you should book ahead of time because fares do rise closer to the flight “but wait until you are as confident as possible that you’re actually going to make the trip.”


Finally, “You hope and pray your flight is severely delayed or canceled,” Hobica says, because you are entitled to a refund if the airline can’t honor your ticket. He says you should demand a refund even if the flight’s schedule has changed significantly — if the departure time changes by several hours or a nonstop becomes a one-stop.

There are also outfits that will help travelers avoid hefty change fees by locking in a fare for several days without buying the ticket. It is like buying an option — you can walk away if your plans change, and it protects you from a sharp rise in the fare.

A start-up called Flyr lets you lock in a fare for up to seven days for a fee of $5 to $35 depending on the flight without buying the ticket, says the firm’s product manager, Andrew Jing. There are limits to its service — American Airlines doesn’t allow its fares to be displayed on Flyr or a similar service offered on Hipmunk. Some airlines including United offer their own versions of locking in a quoted fare for a fee.

U.S. airlines raised $2.98 billion from change fees in 2014, the latest full year for which government figures are available. Through the first nine months of 2015, revenue from the fee was up more than 2 percent, putting the airlines on a path toward raising about $3.05 billion from the charge in all of 2015. That’s up from $915 million in 2007, and as extra charges on airline travelers go it is second only to baggage fees.

BY DAVID KOENIG, AP Airlines Writer

The Latest
The 103-year-old Catholic nun has a lot to share.
“I am so happy to hear of the news of BG’s return home. I know I can speak for the entire Sky organization when I saw words can’t express the happiness that we feel to finally have her coming home,” coach/GM James Wade said.
In each case, a black Kia SUV pulled up and a gunman gun out and demanded victims’ property.
Javonni Jenkins, 27, and Curtis Hartman, 79, were found Wednesday morning in their apartment. The 2-year-old did not appear to be injured but was taken to a hospital to be checked.
The singer revealed the diagnosis of the incurable neurological disorder in an emotional Instagram video Thursday adding that the symptoms are what have been causing her to have severe muscle spasms in the past.