Yesterday some FlyerTalk members noticed a change in the fare rules of United tickets, whereby the change fee for domestic tickets went from $150 to $200, and the change fee for international tickets went from $250 to $300. This is obviously disappointing on a couple of levels. First of all, it’s disappointing that United didn’t give any advance notice of the change, or for that matter didn’t even announce they made the change. And I think equally disappointing to the average consumer is that these fees in no way reflect the costs incurred by the airlines for making changes, and that leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
This morning UA Insider posted the following:
Apologies for not being able to respond sooner. As is typically the case with this realm of the business, I can’t provide any insight into the new change fee levels other than to say they are an adjustment to better compensate for the costs incurred when a traveler elects not to fly in a reserved seat. However, what I can tell you is that the new change fee rates are only applicable for tickets issued on or after April 18. No impact to what you may have already had on the books.
And while I understand they can’t get further into it, I take issue with them saying “they are an adjustment to better compensate for the costs incurred when a traveler elects not to fly in a reserved seat.” We all know that’s simply not true. If I make a booking 11 months out and cancel the ticket two days later, what’s the cost incurred to the airline? Probably nothing. On the other hand if a cancellation is made within a few days of departure, I can buy that argument. But then they should have “tiers” of cancellation fees, which I think people would actually take less issue with, because they would reflect the costs incurred.
It’ll be interesting to see if other airlines match. For what it’s worth I don’t think United will reverse their decision, and I’m not sure other airlines will match. I think the thing to keep in mind is that 99.9% of consumers don’t look at the change policies when booking non-refundable tickets. They know Southwest allows changes for free, and know every other airline charges lots of money that’ll make their blood boil. But I’m not actually convinced consumers will care whether it’s $150 or $200, at least not to the point that it’ll drive their decision of which airline to fly.