I have mixed emotions when it comes to the change fees charged by airlines when making changes to non-refundable fare tickets. On one hand, if you bought a non-refundable fare, is it unreasonable for an airline to extract something from you for occupying a seat they could not sell that you will no longer use? I think not. But on the other hand, with the advent of the $200 dollar change fee, does it seem reasonable for an airline to extract a fee that exceeds the value of the fare you originally purchased? On that, I am torn.

The Scenario

About two weeks ago I booked a roundtrip flight with Delta, Atlanta-Raleigh/Durham-Atlanta for a fare of $177.80, departing June 7, returning June 8. Two days ago, I got tasked with a work issue that would require me to fly to DC. My travel arrangements were made for a roundtrip flight on Delta, departing June 6 and returning June 7….after I was supposed to depart for Raleigh. While having too many flights to take is a good problem to have for someone that likes to fly, there is just no way I can finish up everything in DC, fly back to Atlanta, and make my original 11:10am departure to Raleigh.

I could either call and change the flight and pay the applicable change fee, or hope for the best with Same Day Confirmed. Same Day Confirmed would be a no brainer were it not for one little change Delta made to its SDC policies recently.

Website Information From Delta.com

I obviously did not pay much for my flight to Raleigh, and accordingly, it is booked in X class, one of Delta’s now lowest fare classes. The likelihood that X class will be available on a later flight to Raleigh on Friday afternoon, slim to none in my opinion, but we will see because here’s how my conversation with Delta about confirming a change in advance went.

I called Delta reservations and dealt with a very nice agent. I told her my predicament and said that I just wanted to see what changing to a later flight would cost. In all sincerity, I could not remember if I booked this before or after the $200 dollar change fee went into effect. I soon was reminded. The answer to my question: $200 dollar change fee plus a $220 dollar add collect for a grand total of $597.80 for my cheap flight to Raleigh. Long story short, I will either succeed with SDC to a later flight, or I will walk away from the original $177.80 fare and try again another time. It is what it is. I’m not upset about it in the slightest, well…other than I’d really like to have the 1,000 MQMs, but whatever. 😀

The Fix

I have found myself purchasing increasing numbers of one-way fares, and that is a trend that is going to continue. Frankly, I just wasn’t thinking when I bought this flight on a whim. If I had purchased two one-ways instead of a roundtrip, my options would have increased. I could simply walk from the earlier flight and buy a walk up fare later in the day (likely to be less than $440 dollars). I could also just fly to Raleigh from DC, and pick up my return onward to Atlanta on Saturday night. Heck, I could take Amtrak from DC to Raleigh too. Of course, two one-ways aren’t always the same as a roundtrip, but I have found that they are the same in most markets I fly.

In summary, I am not against change fees at all, but it is no fun when you get bit by one. This was a bigger bite that I had expected so if Same Day Confirmed doesn’t work for me when the opportunity comes, I’ll just have to walk away from my original fare and consider this a lesson learned. I recognize change fees are meant to encourage certain behaviors, and I don’t even argue with the necessity of them overall. I do wonder if they make sense for the lowest fares, and that raises the question of whether those fares should even be changeable at all? What do you think?

-MJ, May 28, 2013

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