My brother, who lives in Atlanta, recently had a friend visit from Newark, N.J. That friend had paid $138 for his round-trip ticket from Newark to Atlanta on Delta, which was a super snooze-you-lose airfare. Before that friend even left Newark, he decided to extend his stay by two days.
If he called the airline to make the change, he would have had to pay a $200 change fee, plus an additional $145 because the ticket price had gone up, so he would have had to pay $345 to change his ticket.
Since the friend wanted to keep the same departure flight from Newark to Atlanta, the problem was the return. We priced a one-way ticket from Atlanta to Newark, and Delta wanted $398.
But on Southwest, there was a ticket for $141, with a connection. This was more than $200 cheaper than paying the change fee and fare increase on the original ticket. He threw away the return portion of that original ticket and paid $279 total – for the original ticket plus the new one-way return ticket.
American, Delta, United and US Airways all charge a $200 fee if you have to change or cancel a ticket for a domestic flight.
Any ticket on those airlines that’s $200 or less is a throwaway ticket if you have to change or cancel because the fee will cost you more than buying a new ticket.
If you fly on an international ticket, the price to change the ticket could be even higher, with many airlines charging $300 and some as much as $450, depending on the itinerary.
There might be times when it’s worth paying the change fee. You’ll definitely want to do the math to decide whether to throw away the ticket and start over.
One thing to note is that you can make a same-day change for a much lower fee, as long as your origin and destination remain the same. These fees are $25 to $75, depending on the airline, and you don’t have to pay an increase in fares.
There is one airline that doesn’t charge a change fee and will be offering tons of nonstops in and out of Dallas beginning Oct. 13. That airline is Southwest. One thing to remember is that you do have to contact the airline prior to departure to change or cancel your nonrefundable ticket or you will lose 100 percent of the value of your ticket.
Southwest will let you use the value of the ticket for a future trip as long as you cancel at least 10 minutes in advance. Other airlines also require that you contact them in advance when changing or canceling.
Most airlines make you pay the change fee upfront, even if your ticket value is more than the change fee.
In many cases, you will have to pay the change fee and, if the new ticket is less, the airline will either give you a voucher for the remaining value or you could lose the total value of the remaining portion of the ticket.
This information is listed in the fare rules prior to booking, so it’s important to read the rules on changes, cancellations and other policies.
If you have enough miles accumulated, you should consider using a frequent-flier ticket when there’s a good chance you’ll have to change your ticket. One thing to note is that while you can still make changes to award tickets without incurring fees, if you cancel your trip, you could pay up to $150 to redeposit your miles.
Before you buy your ticket, make sure you think the whole trip out.
If you want flexibility, I would suggest using miles or buying two one-way tickets. If you need to make a change on the return, you can throw away the ticket and buy a new one.
You might have to make a stop to get the best price on a new ticket, but you’ll have flexibility and you’ll avoid paying big fees.