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Before You Book, Check Those Airline Change Fees

ChangeFees

Airlines have been making a lot of moves in the past few weeks when it comes to change fees.  And the news is not good.  As you can probably guess, change fees are going up.  Change fees are a real money-maker for the airlines these days, which conversely means you can be hit very hard as a traveling family if you have to change a flight for three, four, or more of you.

Before you book your next flight, think very hard about whether you might need flexibility and whether you can stomach a change fee that can regularly run as high as $200 a ticket if something goes awry.  A sick kid can derail even the best of prepared parents.  If you need flexibility, consider booking the only airline that doesn’t charge change fees, Southwest.  Or consider travel insurance, at least for the more infrequent budget travelers who really can’t afford to lose $200 per ticket.

You should also know that not all airlines are now created equal when it comes to change fees, so plan your bookings accordingly.  I know that it is my personal plan to book on airlines with lower change fees, assuming the tickets are otherwise fairly comparable (price-wise, time-wise, etc.).  Even though I rarely cancel or change a ticket on anything other than Southwest, I don’t like the gamble of the current rates on the major carriers.

Without further ado, here is a chart summarizing where each of the major domestic carriers stand on change fees for domestic tickets.  Note that these fees apply if you purchase most standard, non-refundable economy class tickets (full fare economy tickets or business/first class tickets usually waive all change fees).  Airlines are also offering some ticket options that include free changes at slightly higher prices, so analyze the options involved with your ticket carefully before booking.

Change Fees by Airline:

Airline Change Fee Additional Information & Commentary
AirTran $75
Alaska
  • $100 for changes made by call center or ticket counter
  • $75 for changes made on alaskaair.com
No change fees for flights wholly within the state of Alaska.
Allegiant $50 per segment No changes allowed within 24 hours of travel.
American $200 American has some ticket options (e.g., Choice Essential and Choice Plus), that do not incur change fees and that have other benefits.  These fares are usually available at prices much less than $200, so they provide flexibility at a moderate price increase.
Delta $200
Frontier Fee depends on the fare class purchased:
  • Basic Fare: $100
  • Economy Fare: $50
  • Classic Fare: $50
  • Classic Plus Fare: $0

 

Changes must be made prior to the day of travel
Hawaiian $150 Note that intra-Hawaii flight changes are only $30
JetBlue Changes made 60 days or more before departure:
  • $75 Flat Fee

Changes made within 60 days of departure:

  • Tickets under $100: $75
  • Tickets $100-$150: $100
  • Tickets $150+: $150
Travel commentators have been praising JetBlue for its seemingly more fair tiered system (see Cranky Flier’s post and One Mile at a Time’s post for more details)
Southwest $0 It might be worth paying a little extra for Southwest on many itineraries to enjoy no change fees and free checked bags!
Spirit
  • $115 for changes made online
  • $125 for changes made by call center or ticket counter
United $200
USAirways $200
Virgin America $100

*Note: This information may change rapidly as other airlines respond to the latest changes by Delta, American, United, USAirways, and JetBlue.  Please leave your comments below if you become aware of changes by other airlines.

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