Airlines quietly up their change fees, sometimes higher than the ticket cost

A few weeks ago, I was traveling to Florida, and while I was there, I need to extend my stay. I called JetBlue, the carrier I had used to get there, and asked to shift my return flight by three days. I was told, to my disgust, that I'd have to pay $100 for that, plus the difference in the fare of the new flight if that turned out to be higher.

One-way flights on JetBlue often cost less than $100 anyway. Now the airline wants me to double my expenses just to switch to a seat on another day? One that's empty anyway? JetBlue once charged $25 for such changes, which was tolerable but still seemed silly, because switching my reservation requires no manpower beyond a few keystrokes. Then it upped the rate to $40. Now, it's $100. I just bought another ticket instead, for $89.

Tripso, a travel blog, has also noticed the airlines being sneaky about upping their change fees to obnoxious levels. It points out that Delta once touted its low change fees as a reason to choose the airline. But there was no fanfare when Delta recently hiked its fee to $150 for domestic flights, bringing it in line with the rest of the industry. United did it on the sly last spring.

Tripso posits that a reason the airlines are inflating fees so high is that it keeps them from raising airfares, but I'm not convinced, because the revenue stream coming from changed tickets isn't very big, and it's never guaranteed income. And they're doing it quietly because of simple P.R.

Right now, one of the only airlines that doesn't slam you with fees if you change the day of your flight is (no drum roll necessary) Southwest. With it, you just apply what you paid to the new flight you want. As this handy chart illustrates, three airlines that charge half the industry rate (or $75 instead of $150) are AirTrain, Virgin America, and Air Canada.

There are some people who will blame the customer. "Well, don't change your flight then. It's your fault." But life doesn't happen in a vacuum. Plans change, and there's no doubt that there are plenty more consumers who see these fees as trying to bleed consumers when they're over a barrel.

Change fees leave a bad taste in our mouths. I guess that since the airlines no longer serve food, they had to find a new way to do that.

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