How Do I Get United To Refund My Airfare Or Waive The Change Fee?

by on April 6, 2014 · 10 comments

in Points Guy Pointers, Sunday Reader Questions, Video Blog Post

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TPG reader Amanda wants to get out of paying for a United flight she isn’t going to take. Here’s the question she tweeted me:

@thepointsguy How do I ask United to refund a flight or waive the change fee? Flight was only $218 so the change fee makes a credit useless.”

A big trend in the airline industry has been the increase in fees, for everything from priority security and boarding, to baggage allowances and ticket changes. Last year, United, American, Delta and US Airways all upped their domestic ticket change fee from $150 to $200. In some cases, international ticket changes will now set you back $400 or more. This is the financial risk you run in purchasing tickets in non-refundable fare classes.

Considering the potential for a $200 fee on a $218 ticket, I agree that changing the ticket would be a waste. As I’ve mentioned in posts like Avoiding Airline Fees, however, you do have some options.

First, I’d recommend calling up the airline and explaining your situation, then politely asking for them to extend a refund or waive the fee – you never know, you could get a sympathetic phone rep. I wouldn’t bank on this working out in your favor, but as I often say – it never hurts to ask.

If you're at risk of incurring a ticket change fee, don't be afraid to ask United - or other major airline - for a break

If you’re at risk of incurring a ticket change fee, don’t be afraid to ask United – or other major airline – for a break

You could also simply wait until the day of departure to see if the flight gets cancelled or delayed. In either case, you might be able to get a full refund, penalty-free. Or if there’s a big storm and the airline extends weather waivers, you may be able to postpone your ticket free of charge.

Before you book your next flight, if you’re worried that you might have to make changes to your itinerary, consider booking with Southwest, which will let you change a ticket free of charge as long as you cancel before departure and pay any fare differences. American waives its ticket change fees and same-day confirmed fees with the purchase of a flexible Choice Plus fare (recently increased to $88), which also gives you a 50% mileage bonus. I end up buying these most of the time and have saved hundreds on change fees while simultaneously banking more miles.

Let me know if you have any other questions by messaging me on Facebooktweeting me or emailing me at [email protected]

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Dia (The Deal Mommy)

    You could also hope for a schedule change. Even a 1/2 hour and a nice rep can get you out of a ticket.

  • Chris

    My UA ticket changed by my outbound departing 9 min later than when I purchased… Would this apply to me getting out of it? I want to make a change of airports now…

  • Darth Chocolate

    In international business class on Delta, the difference between refundable and non-refundable tickets can cost upwards of $2,000. To make a change manageable, insist on booking in the same fare class, or they will hit you with the differential in fares *PLUS* the change fee.

  • Dia (The Deal Mommy)

    It’s very much YMMV, but if you claim a tight connection on another airline or an urgent meeting you’ll be late for, it’s worth a shot.

  • jmei

    I just got a $65 refund to change to an earlier flight on Delta, by calling them and asking for a different rep until I got one that would do a change without fees for me. Just keep asking if they say no.

  • SeaBee3

    Another possibility, if your schedule allows and the flight is not selling any more tickets before departure, just go ahead like you are going to fly. I have done this before and let them know at the gate that I would be willing to take a bump. In one case, they did me and I got to walk away with a nice voucher and skip the flight.

  • SeaBee3

    Do not try this too many times on one ticket or if you FF# is attached. Reps do notate accounts/tickets of people who continue to call back to try to get something.

  • Karla

    In my case, it was a big no, even though it was a full-fare, fully refundable and changeable ticket purchased by my employer.

    They changed their schedule between the time we booked and when we flew. The morning of I checked the flight and when I couldn’t find the number, I looked back at the reservation. I was pretty upset that they had moved me to a flight with less than an hour transfer to the international flight, at ORD in December. (Really?! I asked the agent if he had ever been to ORD at any time of the year, let alone December)

    When I called they wanted to charge me $75 to change to an earlier flight. The guy wasn’t going to bend and I said that’s fine, I’ll pay and then I’ll make sure the military (who would be my employer) finds out.

    That’s all it took for a waiver of the fee.

  • never again on United

    I have a RT flight booked with United in May. The out of town business changed meetings dates, so I have to arrive a day earlier. I mad alternate arrangements. United will now charge me $200 to keep my original return. I expected to eat the segment I can’t make, and never asked for a refund. Best they could do is make me pay another $200 (for a $258 RT fare) and then offer me a $196 voucher if I would ever fly them again (of course it would be time-limited and if I lose it, I’m out of luck)

  • Olu Somorin
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