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TPG reader Pier emailed to ask about avoiding airline change fees:
“I purchased a round-trip flight on United from Hilo, Hawaii to Dallas, connecting in LA. Now I only want to use the portion between Hawaii and LA both ways. Can I just ditch the segments from LA to Dallas and back? I’m trying to avoid paying the $200 change fee!”
US-based airlines have been posting record profits, partly thanks to the higher change fees we’ve seen over the past few years. United, Delta and American all charge $200 for changes to domestic flights (and at least $400 for changes to international flights). At those prices, it’s sometimes cheaper to abandon your flight altogether, or at least some portion of it.
Ditching flight segments is actually one way to save on fares using a strategy known as hidden city ticketing, which is when you book a cheaper flight with a connection, but never take the connecting flight. Unfortunately for Pier, that strategy won’t work for him. In general, if you miss a segment of your flight itinerary, your remaining segments will also be canceled. That means if Pier doesn’t show up for his flight from Los Angeles to Dallas, the entire return portion of the trip will be forfeit.
You do have a few other options for dealing with change fees. The first is to check whether your airline has made alterations to the schedule. If any of your flights has been pushed forward or back, you could have your change fee waived and be accommodated on a new itinerary. United’s official policy is to waive fees only for schedule changes of at least two hours, but you might be able to convince a sympathetic agent to cut you a break even for lesser changes.
Another option is to look at the cost of booking a new one-way flight for your return trip. This is a better strategy for inexpensive fares, especially those that cost less than the change fee in the first place. However, it probably wouldn’t make sense in Pier’s case, since the cost of his existing itinerary is likely high enough to justify paying the change fee in order to salvage the rest of the ticket. Also, beware not to check bags if you decide to use only the first segment of an outbound flight because otherwise they’ll end up at the final ticketed destination.
While paying change fees is no one’s idea of a good time, in Pier’s case I think it’s worthwhile (assuming you can’t avoid it via a schedule change, elite status or otherwise). Unless you’re rebooking at the last minute, the cost of your new flight will probably be quite a bit less. You’ll likely get back more value (in the form of a travel voucher) than you pay in change fees, and you’ll be free to change your itinerary as needed.
Also keep in mind that a number of travel rewards cards (like the Citi Prestige and The Platinum Card from American Express) offer credits for airline incidentals like change fees, so you could use one of those to cover the cost.
For more info on change fees and how to avoid them, check out these posts:
- Avoiding Award Travel Change and Cancellation Fees
- Comprehensive Guide to Changing Award Tickets
- How to Use Same-Day Change Policies to Your Advantage
Citi Prestige® Card
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||15.49%* (Variable)||$450||0%||Excellent Credit|