Should airline tickets be transferrable?

As Ralph Santopietro sees it, Delta Air Lines had him over a barrel when he tried to change the dates on a flight from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Hartford, Conn.

A ticket agent in Myrtle Beach offered to rebook Santopietro, a retired high school teacher, on the new itinerary. But his $238 ticket credit would be all but consumed by a $200 change fee, and then he’d have to pay a $538 fare difference.

How about transferring the ticket to his cousin, who would take the flight as originally planned? Nope, said the agent, citing security restrictions on ticket name changes.

“I didn’t like those choices,” he says.

In an airline industry now dominated by a few oversized carriers, neither do many of his fellow passengers. Domestic airlines collected a record $2.5 billion in ticket change fees in 2012, and Delta led the flock with $778 million, an increase of $11 million from the previous year. Although airlines have valid business reasons for their ticket restrictions, consumer advocates say they are too rigid and avaricious.

To passengers, the name-change policy in particular seems like a way for airlines to pocket more of their money. Alan Gore, a photographer from Sedona, Ariz., says he feels cornered when he considers his flight options. A fully refundable ticket costs three to four times more than a restricted ticket. And even when passengers have a valid reason to cancel a trip, airlines are unmoved.

“When life happens and people get sick before a flight, they now have no choice but to take it and give the flu to every other passenger,” he says.

He says it’s time for the airline industry to let passengers change the name on a ticket.

Airlines don’t allow name changes for two reasons, according to Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, an industry trade group. The first is airline policy. An airline needs to know who the customer is so it can “provide quality service,” she says. It also relies on tickets being non-changeable in order to manage its seat inventory.

“Since air transportation is a service that perishes when the aircraft door is closed, it is in both the passengers’ and airline’s interest to closely match the number of passengers to seats available, from both a customer service and revenue management perspective,” Day says.

The second reason is security, or ensuring that the ticketed passenger is the same person going through the TSA checkpoint and getting screened.

Those assertions are more or less true. Warren Lieberman, an airline pricing expert and president at Veritec Solutions, says the more true part involves an airline’s ability to make money. If name changes were allowed, then passengers could resell their tickets anytime, subverting an airline’s ability to raise ticket prices as the flight becomes full.

“That would lead to declines in revenue,” he says.

The less true part is security. The Transportation Security Administration uses a system called Secure Flight to screen airline passengers, but it’s capable of handling checks instantly, according to the agency. In other words, if airlines relaxed their rules on name changes, the TSA would have no trouble accommodating them.

“There is no reason why a consumer should not be able to easily transfer her ticket to another person in the event that she cannot travel,” says Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League.

Permitting a name change makes sense to passengers, and not just because an airline won’t incur any security risks or additional expenses. It’s also something that as recently as a few decades ago was common, even among legacy carriers. Veteran air travelers recall a time when tickets could be purchased in the classified section of their newspaper. Somehow, airlines managed to make money even then.

Given the fact that competition and choice are gradually being drained from our airline network, shouldn’t airlines be compelled to return one of yesteryear’s common courtesies — the ability to let someone else use a passenger’s ticket?

Until then, it seems even airline employees understand that passengers don’t have any real options. One of them happened to be the kindly ticket agent in Myrtle Beach, who saw the absurdity of Santopietro’s situation. She finally beckoned him to come closer to her station.

“She looked down and sheepishly whispered that perhaps I could try another airline,” he says. He found a $187 ticket on US Airways.

Should airline tickets be transferrable?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Jim

    In an effort to squeeze passengers out of every nickel and dime they can, the airlines will come up with a way to get around this “security issue”.

    “For a small fee you can now transfer the ticket to another passenger!”

    The airlines could make a killing on this… They don’t fly with empty seats and collect $200 to change the name on the ticket. The only con is that they can’t put you over a barrel with walk up fares, but I’m sure they could get over this with a sliding scale fee depending on how close to the flight you are…

    Hopefully no one who runs an airline will see this!!

  • MarkieA

    Yeah, so the airlines are charging us billions in order to provide better customer service? What a crock! Ms. Day’s explanations don’t even make sense. That’s the first clue that someone is lying; if there was a legitimate, logical reason for the fees, then they would put that forth as the explanation. The gobbledygook that spews forth from these airline reps just screams scam. I’d almost have more respect for them if they just came out and said, “Yeah, we found a way to keep our heads above water, so we’re gonna hang onto that with a death grip.”

    There no legitimate reason that a ticket shouldn’t be transferable, within a reasonable time frame before the flight. If Thousands Standing Around can handle it, certainly the airlines can.

  • sirwired

    No, no, a thousand times no! I rather enjoy my low advance-purchase leisure fares, and ticket transferability would lead to their loss. Why? “Fare arbatrage”.

    If tickets were transferable, the same sorts of folks that scalp hot concert tickets now would step in and buy up a large inventory of “sure bets”. As in, it’s a fair guess that SOMEBODY is going to want to travel (at the last minute) from NY->LA on any given Monday. It’d be a decent investment to buy an advance purchase ticket (at around 75% off the walk-up price) and re-sell it at, say, 20% off the walk-up fare.

    Now, the airlines aren’t morons; they’d never let this happen. What would they do? Increase leisure fares, and decrease walk-up fares. You think, “Whatever, same money, right?” Nope. It’d actually lead to a drop in passenger traffic, as leisure travel is HIGHLY price-sensitive (it’s why leisure fares are so cheap) and a rise in those fares would lead to a passenger volume drop. So the airline would make the same profit, but fewer people would be able to take vacations due to the reduction in the subsidy by business travelers.

    I think the IDEA of a change fee makes sense, but it should absolutely be a sliding scale based on how close you are to departure. The current implementation (correctly) makes the airlines look like a bunch of greedy folks who take air travelers to be morons when they try and feed us the line about how terrified they are of unsold seats. Yes, they lose money if people cancel at the last minute, but that doesn’t justify charging $200 to change or cancel a ticket six months out.

  • sirwired

    The airlines aren’t morons; they’ve thought of this already and rejected it. They rather like the current system of walk-ups subsidizing leisure travelers. It nets them decent fares while allowing millions to take vacations via airplane that they would not be able to take otherwise.

    It sounds appealing, “not putting you over a barrel with walk-up fares”, but the airlines aren’t going to leave money on the table like that; they’d raise leisure fares to make up for the loss. That would lead to reduced capacity, as total passenger volume would drop. (The reason the system exists as it does now is because leisure travelers simply don’t book expensive tickets at all, but a businessman is not going to travel that much more often because his ticket is a little cheaper.)

  • Alan Gore

    You can bet that if “fare arbitrage” were a real problem (why doesn’t it happen here in Arizona, where all event tickets are freely transferable?) the airlines themselves would have already set the original price of tickets to be the price after arbitrage – they don’t gratuitously leave money on the table. No industry is better at figuring out what the market will bear in given situations.

  • SoBeSparky

    The airlines must devise ways to meet their considerable fixed costs, both leases and labor union contracts. Thus, changing the fare rules merely changes the size of the pieces of the total revenue pie. Assuming logical behavior, if the airlines allowed fare transferability, then the lowest of the fares must rise to compensate for the lost revenue of last-minute, high-priced tickets. Who loses? The consumer who takes advantage of the advanced purchase fares. Who wins? Business travelers who must travel on a certain date, usually at a certain time.

  • Thomas Ralph

    All airlines already offer this facility in the form of flexible tickets. Unfortunately Mr. Santopietro would like to have this flexibility without having paid for it.

  • Roger Bell

    This is but one reason that I rarely fly anymore. I had this same thing happen to me. Airlines are just greedy

  • Stephen0118

    My favorite line:

    ‘An airline needs to know who the customer is so it can “provide quality service,” she says’.

    Define “quality service.” Maybe they can provide them to the upper echelons of the frequent fliers, but I don’t think they care about the average Joe, even if they are a frequent flier but don’t have status. When was the last time you flew and the flight attendants say “We’d like to extend a special welcome to our (insert name of frequent flier program here).”

    Even if it’s just a script they’re required to say, at least the airline says that ‘Hey, we’re glad you chose to fly us.’

  • MarkieA

    By definition, all service is “quality” service, right? There’s “high quality” service and “low quality service” and all kinds in between. So, they’re not lying, they do indeed provide “quality service”. It’s just that their levels are a bit sewed.

  • LipglossandaBackpack

    I can’t believe you wrote an article about transferable tickets without mentioning the recent Air Canada voucher transfer debacle!

  • Jim

    I appologze if my scarsam didn’t come across like I wanted it to… :-p

  • Jeff Kolker

    Is the ability to change the ticket name worth the price of 2x or 3x a restricted ticket? I would guess that most couldn’t afford this bit of “insurance”. Seems excessive …..

  • Thomas Ralph

    If I can’t afford something, I don’t buy it or I buy a cheaper alternative and live with the difference. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I think the prices are fair. They aren’t, but they are also not a secret.

  • Fishplate

    >> An airline needs to know who the customer is so it can “provide quality service,” <<

    I would like to think that an airline would want to provide me with quality service, no matter who I am. But then, I can be pretty naive sometimes…

  • Thomas Ralph

    Every single time I fly British Airways the lead cabin crew says “I’d like to extend a special welcome back to our Executive Club members and oneworld frequent fliers”.

    However, justifying name change fees/prohibitions based on providing quality service is baloney. It’s to make money, either from fees or from passengers buying flexible tickets to start with.

    Ultimately, Mr. Santopietro could have got his cousin to buy a refundable ticket in his own name, check in both of them, use the new booking’s boarding pass to get through the TSA, and then fly on the boarding pass from the inflexible booking, since they don’t tend to check IDs at the gate in the USA. But that really comes down to being able to exploit weaknesses in the system so it’s a tax on people who aren’t well-informed.

  • Chris Johnson

    “An airline needs to know who the customer is so it can “provide quality service,”. HAHAHAHA. What a pure load of utter B.S. Few statements I’ve heard have ever topped that. Judging from all the times I’ve flown on commercial airlines, I don’t think the airline cares if it is me, or my cousin. I’m just another paid butt in the seat to them.

    And then “security concerns” is also a load of B.S., but the airlines can use 9/11 to back it up, I guess. The airline never sees me until I arrive at the airport. As long as the identification matches the name on the ticket once I’ve checked in, that’s all that matters. “Security concerns” is a just another excuse. I *believe* back in the late 70s, before there were even metal detectors at every airport, tickets were freely exchangeable.

    Although I don’t care for Spirit Airlines and all their antics, they DO allow name changes on tickets, for a fee (is it $25 or higher now?), so that immediately disproves both of Ms. Day’s dumb, B.S. excuses for not allowing name changes.

    Why can’t Ms. Day and her trade association admit the real reason that airlines don’t want names on tickets changed – because then somebody would buy all the cheap tickets and then resell them at higher prices? Ms. Day doesn’t want to admit the plain truth. Except that sort of thing already goes on, and some airlines don’t seem to mind it. There are airline resellers all over the place – for example, there is a Chinese travel agency buys out the entire plane on the Delta flight from JFK to Shanghai every Saturday morning, and then resells all the seats to the general public. You could say that it is the travel agency’s names on the tickets, and then they get changed when the agency resells them. Airlines COULD allow the same thing on an individual basis, but of course, that would give us individual schmucks another way to “beat the system”, something they don’t want. Of course, it’s perfectly okay for the airlines to merge and collude on ticket prices under the current oligopoly they enjoy.

    Ms. Day, why don’t you run for political office? You’d fit right in.

  • Bill___A

    The revenue issue I can understand. The so called “security” issue I cannot. One thing I really dislike is when the “wrong” reason is given. I’ve probably lost a total of $300 in the last five years over tickets I could not use. I’ve gained thousands of dollars in savings due to advance purchase tickets. If somebody who flies once a year wants to whine about not being able to change the name on their ticket because they can’t fly, I don’t really care. I just don’t. The economics are strongly in favour of the way it is now. Stop whining.

  • bodega3

    The airlines stop allowing name changes well before 9/11 and all the security issues that followed.

  • bodega3

    Chartering a flight vs a regular scheduled flight are handled differently. The carriers use to allow names changes, but it was being abused, hence the change and it was well before 9/11 and all the security issues that followed.

  • Chris Johnson

    That’s fine but Ms. Day’s statements are still utter B.S., and you essentially verified that, since the carriers stopped permitting name changes well before 9/11. 9/11 and security issues clearly had nothing to do with disallowing name changes on airline tickets. Why can’t Ms. Day say the real reason – the airlines don’t want people buying cheaper tickets and then reselling them? It is plain as day.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    They charge the fee because the can. Lack of competition.


  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Maybe, but I’m not convinced, merely because airline tickets have become commodities and airlines may not have that much pricing power on the base fare. I think that it why they have to turn to alternative sources of revenue such as change fees, baggage fees, etc. . That’s why airlines sometimes have to see seats ( a perishable good) at below cost, something that non-commodity industry can more easily avoid.

    But assuming that you are right, the question would be how much of a price differential are we talking?

  • Charles Owen

    First, Arizona only allows resale of tickets for the face value or less. But, that doesn’t stop lots of ticket scalping in that and every other state. A few years back my daughter wanted to go to a Miley Cyrus concert in our area. It sold out in minutes because scalpers used automatic systems to buy as many tickets as they could. They then resold those at a massive profit (even though it is illegal in Michigan). If you don’t think ticket scalping happens in Arizona, you should ask the Arizona Diamondbacks or the University of Arizona what their thoughts are on the matter. I think you’ll be surprised.

    If airlines allowed name changes, resale industries would spring up right away and make tons of money at our expense. The airlines do charge more for a ticket closer to the flight and in high demand times. But, they can’t get away with what the scalpers would do. When MSU found out it was going to the Rose Bowl, I’m sure every flight out of Lansing would have been bought up by scalpers within minutes and they would be charging $10,000 a seat because they could. The airlines were charging more than $1000, but it was not too much higher than normal because they could be accused of price gouging. Scalpers are already breaking the law, so what do they care? Name changes seem like a good idea, but throwing an active, and usually unregulatable, ticket resale industry into the mix would only hurt all passengers.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    If we were discussing the free market, say the purchase of cars,. I would absolutely agree with you. But airlines benefit hugely from government regulations aka protectionism, e.g. market entry legal hurdles, cabotage laws, gate allocation regulations, etc., As such, I’m less willing to take my usual laissez-faire approach to business.

    I bought a Tivo unit at Best Buy. The salesman tried to strong arm me (LOL) into buying a useless extended warranty. He backed off when I reminded him that I can buy the same unit at Target, Walmart, Fry’s. Amazon, etc. Thus, the normal market corrective forces limits corporate bad behavior. Not so when you have an oligopoly.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Let’s hope there are no irregular ops.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    You make a fair point about ticket scalpers, but consider, there are any number of ways that a middle ground could be reached. The airlines would simply have to raise the transactional costs to the scalpers.

    A few thoughts off the top of my head.

    Require that both the original purchaser and intended transferee present themselves at the airport in person at any time prior to the flight to effect the transfer.

    Limit the number of transfers that a single person/entity could be involved in within a given time frame.

    Limit the transfer to immediate family members.

    Limit the transfer to people at the same address as the original purchaser (my personal favorite)

  • Bill___A

    The price of the insurance in this case was the price of the discounted ticket.

  • LFH0

    Likewise I generally support the marketplace setting prices at the “correct” level, and limited restraints on alienation. But this does not work well in the absence of competition. Thirty years ago under the CAB regulatory system competition was prohibited. And while airline deregulation in 1978 was to have changed that (and for a while it did when there were many carriers), DOJ has allowed an oligopoly to form, with a small number of carriers largely immune to effective competition with each other. (Effective competition today is mostly limited to external competition, i.e., other transportation modes and decision not to travel at all.) Is it time to repeat the AT&T break-up, so that carriers can compete with each other (some of which might then permit transfers of tickets)?

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    many Australian & International airlines allow name changes for a fee. It’s money for jam !!!

    All allow date changes for a fee & most allow route & destination changes for a fee.

    Some make you cancel & end up with a credit.

    Especially when you consider that if name change is not allowed by airline, passengers will often go to another airline.

    Seems manangement of many U.S. airlines aren’t very bright !!!

    We often change our tickets to LAX between family members. Yes we have to pay a AUD$100 fee but when ticket is worth AUD$1500-$2000 it’s a small price to pay.

    Any talk of TSA is absolute nonscience, but we all know the TSA is a jke anyway !!!

  • bodega3

    It all depends on the rules of the fare.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    nope. Many airlines have realised it’s an easy way to make some bucks.

    All of the airlines we deal with will TAKE THE MONEY to do name changes, date changes or route changes on ALL FARES !!!

    Some of these fees are increasing & cancellation now means not even fees & surcharges are refunded as cancellation fees eat up these fees & charges.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Airlines provide the hardest challenge from an economics view. I honestly don’t know the answer. I don’t even have a considered opinion. The best I can suggest is that we abolish cabotage laws. That might bring in a level of competition. Maybe. I just don’t know.

  • sirwired

    Really? Ticket scalping is not a problem in the great state of Arizona? I can buy a ticket to, say, a Rolling Stones concert at face value more than 15 minutes after tickets go on sale? Not likely.

    In the case of airlines, fare arbitrage isn’t a problem BECAUSE tickets are not transferable. If tickets WERE transferable, then yes, they would set the price at a level to eliminate the problem (I said this in my original post). Which would inevitably be an increase in the price of leisure fares.

  • bodega3

    Nope, it depends on the rule of the fare. I was checking into your comments and not all fares allow the changes. Plus it varies from carrier to carrier.

  • bodega3

    Maybe they don’t want to state the obvious? Typical business speak.

  • bodega3

    I am not sure abolishing the cabotage laws is a good idea. I don’t want Aeroflot flying between SFO and NYC :-)

  • bodega3

    Where there is a will there is a way to get around anything set up to stop it. Just leave it the way it is and either fly a carrier that has a policy you like or buy a less restrictive ticket.

  • Justin

    Better Quality Service.. Improve Customer Satisfaction… Fee has been added for your convenience… All nonsense buzz words.
    What’re they’re really saying is that we want your hard earned cash. We’ve concocted more revenue streams either buried in fine print or masked as “regulatory mandates”
    Bah Humbug

  • TonyA_says

    I was wondering. If name changes are allowed, how do you prevent people from stealing pnrs and etickets? All they need to do is change the name and bingo, they fly.

  • California_Dave

    I’d really like to see a discussion on WHY airlines charge such high fares for fully refundable tickets. I know there are companies that allow their employees to book these fares (not my former employer) and must be able to justify it if they do make alot of changes. I’d like to know the % of bookings that are fully refundable. I’d like to know at what price point consumers would be willing to pay extra for a fully refundable ticket, as they certainly are not buying them at 3-4 times the non-refundable fares. I’m sure they have price modeling and simulations for various options – I’d love to see the results. Would a fare of say $100 more for full refundale, and no more credits for non-refundable, bring them in larger profits?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Presumably they have lots of smart people with big brains and powerful computers running the various scenarios.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Presumably when the true owner of the ticket shows up for the same flight?

  • TonyA_says

    Who is the true owner? If they could easily be resold, bartered, given away, etc. With Possession of a paper ticket, easy. But with etickets, no. Hackers in the internet would love this.

  • TonyA_says

    There are airline resellers all over the place – for example, there is a Chinese travel agency buys out the entire plane on the Delta flight from JFK to Shanghai every Saturday morning, and then resells all the seats to the general public. You could say that it is the travel agency’s names on the tickets, and then they get changed when the agency
    resells them.

    How is this possible?

    Delta only codeshares China Eastern’s MU588 flight to Shanghai (from JFK).

    Why would China Eastern allow Delta to sell all of its seats?

    For example, today Sunday, you could still buy a walkup fare ticket on that flight. There’s 2 seats on Y class.

    *** CHINA EASTERN ***
    05JAN-SU JFK PVG ** **
    MU 588 F2 P2 A. J2 C0 D0 I0 O. Y2 B0 M0 E0 H0 K0 L0 N0 R0 S0 V0 T0 G0 Z0 Q0 X. JFKPVG 325P 725P#1 346

  • TonyA_says

    She did.

    “Since air transportation is a service that perishes when the aircraft door is closed, it is in both the passengers’ and airline’s interest to
    closely match the number of passengers to seats available, from both a customer service and revenue management perspective,” Day says.

    You just need to read between the lines :-)

  • TonyA_says

    AirlineYield Management is a career job for many Operations Research graduates. It pays high wages.

    Here’s a display of fares from Beijing to Shanghai on China Southern (for 01FEB). One would think that in a “communist” country the fares would be all the same.

    1 V 510 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – V
    2 E 570 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – E
    3 L 680 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – L
    4 K 790 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – K
    5 H 850 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – H
    6 M 900 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – M
    7 B 1020 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – B
    8 W 1130 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – W
    9 WCZ 1240 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – W
    10 Y 1130 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – Y
    11 VCN 1530 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – V
    12 ECN 1710 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – E
    13 LCN 2040 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – L
    14 KCN 2370 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – K
    15 HCN 2550 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – H
    16 MCN 2700 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – M
    17 BCN 3060 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – B
    18 YCN 3390 18DEC3 – – 1 – – / – Y

    And here are the penalty fees …

    NOTE –

    I guess you can always compare China and the USA.

  • TonyA_says

    Funny you say that. I though the airlines’ contract of carriage(s) were already full of sarcasm.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Some animals are more equal than others.

  • Alan Gore

    Arizona’s restriction on face value of tickets applies only within 200 feet of the venue, so seeing bands of ticket resellers and people waving “I Need Tickets” signs across the street from a stadium is common. Newcomers from back East, where they call this “scalping” and treat it as a criminal offense always wonder why speculators don’t just snap up all the tickets to popular games and concerts, as you described. The answer is that this is such a risky way of making any money that it rarely happens, even though concert promoters don’t have the ultra-sophisticated yield management software that airlines use. In fact, secondary market ticket prices are commonly used as a guide to pricing future events.

    Speculative buying of airlines tickets would be even riskier than speculating on games and concerts because short-term demand is so often driven by weather. Yes, a speculator might make a bundle on resale of tickets through crowded hubs, if they had magical ability to predict snowstorms far enough ahead of time to make this work.

  • Alan Gore

    But the “threat” that Emirates or Singapore might serve this route absent cabotage laws would improve service – even for those who choose to stay with domestic carriers.

  • MarkKelling

    I don’t care where any airline flies. I will just pick the one I like on the route I want (if I can afford it and the flight times work for me). And, no, I doubt I would ever pick Aeroflot.

  • Alan Gore

    If our own airlines had your $90 change fee a large number of the objections would go away, especially for those big-ticket cases that get discussed here.

  • MarkKelling

    They charge so much more for the refundable tickets simply because they are refundable and the passenger can cancel the flight at any time before departure and get a full refund with no fee. The airlines don’t make any money on these tickets when this happens. On the other hand, the non-refundable tickets all come with loads of fees which allow the airline to make lots of money even if the passenger never flies.

    First, if you just don’t fly, they keep all of your money and can maybe resell your seat which in effects can double the income for that seat. If you do change your flight, that’s about an extra $200 they get to collect. Then they get to maybe charge you more if you change to a close dated flight that is currently selling for a higher price than the flight was at the time you booked the original trip. Even if they just give you a future flight credit voucher because you can’t decide when you will fly, the possibility exists that you won’t get to use it before it expires. When all this is factored into the yield management process, they make just as much money off non-refundable tickets at the low prices than they do off of the few full fare economy seats they mange to sell. There simply is no economic reason for an airline to sell a refundable ticket at a lower price.

  • bodega3

    I am good with US domestic carriers. Why give my business to a foreign company for domestic use? I guess Walmart shoppers would go for the abolishment of cabotage laws.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Great idea! Read my USA Today column tomorrow for a lively debate on that topic. It’s a good one.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Walmart Ad hominems aside, Alan is right. Competition generally benefits consumers whether they choose to jump ship or remain with the original vendor.

  • BMG4ME

    Generally they are, if you buy a full fare ticket you can get a refund and buy a new ticket. In return for various restrictions airlines offer us ridiculously low fares and of course they have to build in protection for themselves otherwise nobody would buy full fare tickets and they would go out of business, as many of them already have.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I don’t believe that is accurate. From everything I’ve read, the legacy carriers make far more money from their high value business customers than they do on leisure travelers on nonrefundable tickets.

    That’s why the system is set up to treat that group of travelers like royalty and everyone else like peasant serfs. Lounges,, no luggage fee, shorter security lines,etc

    Airlines even have this “fake” fare code, which allows a business travelers to book a first class ticket that appears as a coach ticket on all of the paperwork except the gobblygook fare code. This is to work around client and corporate rules which won’t reimburse a first class ticket, but will do so for a coach ticket, regardless of the price.

  • Miami510

    Thomas Ralph: Brilliant idea, but at what point does an airline consider a passenger as “booked/sold?”

    Would Sanpietro have been issued a boarding card? Is it the issuing of a boarding card, (either printed at home or issued at the airport counter), or having it scanned at the gate?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No, they wouldn’t. That’s not how criminals operate. I know, because in my misspent youth I represented too many, an experience I hope never to repeat.

    Consumer theft crimes operate under the maxim that the final purchaser,
    the regular Joe, will have no confrontation with either the true owner
    or law enforcement.

    No one is going to knowing buy a hacked e-ticket given the nearly certain likelihood that the original purchaser aka true owner is going to show up for the same flight.


  • Miami510

    I find Ms Day’s answers spurious.

    1. Needs to know who the customer is to provide quality service. There should be “quality service,” for any passenger in seat 22A. What difference does it make if the name is Sanpietro or Victoria Day?

    2. … it’s in the airline’s interest to closely match the number of passengers to seats
    available. I’m sure one backside is just like another; if seat 22A has been sold, what difference whose backside is there? The Security issue has been discussed and answered and doesn’t present a problem for neither the airline nor the passenger.

    The real answer is his final sentence: It would lead to a decrease in revenue. All the foregoing was obfuscation.

  • Thomas Ralph

    This would have been an easy answer in the traditional days, as the ticket coupon would have been lifted at some point, normally the gate in my experience, and the coupon had to be turned in to get a refund [leaving out laborious indemnity processes in the event of a lost ticket].

    I don’t know Delta’s policy on this as I haven’t flown them since 2005, but my gut feel is that a refund on a fully flexible ticket is available as long as you haven’t boarded the plane. In this instance, the cousin, once through security, could have called Delta and said he got called away for an urgent meeting and wouldn’t be travelling, and asked for a refund.

  • bodega3

    There is more to it than that, IMHO. I am ok with keeping domestic carriers doing domestic flights.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Yes, you said that. I however, see no benefit to protectionism.

  • y_p_w

    I can imagine speculation driving a market of buyers only looking to resell during prime travel seasons.

    I love Yosemite, but getting a campsite reservation during the summer was ridiculous. The kicker was that it was easy to transfer a reservation for a $10 fee. So they’d be resold on Craigslist for up to 8 times the regular rate. It got so bad that they can’t be transferred but can be cancelled for a $10 fee. The scalpers would use Internet bots to complete bookings faster than human input.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    name change fees don’t lead to loss of low fares. Why on earth would you think that.

    Change fees are just another revenue stream.

    To charge nothing for change fees, all the call centre calls would be answered in India or Philipinnes, where people are pair around $1/hour, which is a problem as many airlines already do this & staff are badly trained & will say anything to make you feel happy & to get you off the phone.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    if concert sellers really wanting to stop scalping they could easily put tickets up for auction on ebay or the like, but they never do.

    Where airlines do allow name changes, their is no mass of ticket for resale online or anywhere else.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    & who’s going to administer this nonscience, the ticket transfer police !!!

    You guys can’t affords the excess of public servants you have already just like most western countries.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    the ticket needs to be reissued via the original means it was purchased.

    Eg. if bought thru an agent/wholesaler then reissue must be done thru them.

    If bought thru airline direct then they must reissue.

    There are plenty of questions that cna be asked to verify that the ticket holder is the person wanting to make the change.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    but airline tickets are transferable !!!

    Scalping is caused by slack policies of concert ticket sellers.

    EG. if a ticket was $100 for a sold out concert of 50,000 people, the concert organisers could put 1,000 or whatever number of tickets on ebay or the like & start them off at $100 & see where they go.

    It’s also relatively cheap marketing & a very good test of what the market will pay, rather than picking a price & hoping people will pay it.

  • sirwired

    Name change fees would lead to loss of leisure fares because ticket brokers would buy up the leisure fares with the sole intention of selling them to a last-minute traveler at a profit; even with a $100+ name change fee, that’d still be a pretty profitable business model. Airlines would never actually let that happen (why let ticket brokers make money that the airline could have instead?), so they’d just raise leisure fares to squeeze the ticket brokers out.

  • sirwired

    Errr… no, Airline tickets aren’t transferable. Some airlines will let you transfer a ticket credit, but never an actual reservation.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    do u live in a bubble ?

    Many international & Australian airlines allow name change + date change + route change & no am not talking about a ticket credit.

    We change our tickets to LAX all the time, mostly within family but we had an instance recently where we sold it online to someone we didn’t know in advance.

    Suggest you try another airline !!!

    Don’t Southwest in USA allow changes ?

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    hardly a good business model.

    Who wants to be holding tickets at last minute. Think they international airlines we use to fly to LAX have a restriction on name changes under 24 hours before departure anyway.

    Cheapest fares are at times business travellers don’t want to travel.

    Leisure fares will always be around as if fares get too high on a particular route then another airline would move in.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I was thinking that you’d be an excellent candidate for the job.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I think Virgin does.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    yes right. Certainly don’t want a lawyer, who’d charge a million dollars a week, shuffle lots of paper & do absolutely nothing productive.

  • TonyA_says

    This is one thing Australian carriers – Qantas, Jetstar, and Tigerair have done right. (Virgin Australia failed.)
    The above allow passenger name changes (Qantas on Flexi Fare and above) for a fee and any fare difference. Qantas’ fee is A$80 per change (ticket).

  • TonyA_says

    Are name changes and corrections allowed on VirginAmerica electronic tickets?
    For name corrections, please create a new record and exchange the ticket. For name changes, the ticket must be exchanged and the appropriate cancel fees must be collected.Yikes!

  • MarkKelling

    While I agree that on a ticket-by-ticket basis the airlines make more money on a business traveler flying on a walk up fare than they do on someone who buys a discounted coach seat and pays no extra fees, I believe the fees still bring the actual average cost of the discounted ticket closer to that of the all inclusive Y fare than we would think, especially when the passenger pays a flight change fee or two.

    I used to have access to that secret “fake” code on Continental. I could book a coach seat in M class at around $100 more than the cheapest coach ticket and get an instant upgrade to 1st. This would save me several hundred off the cost of the actual 1st fare. Not anymore since the merger with United as this is reserved for their highest tier frequent flyers now. Now I just have to hope for an upgrade or pay for the actual 1st fare myself. Their Y fare still offers the instant upgrade, but it costs more than the discounted 1st on most domestic flights.

    On the airlines I fly and have status, the free checked bags, short security lines, and other perks are included no matter what ticket I purchase. I have not seen those included on other airlines where I had to buy a full fare ticket unless it was in business or 1st class (and even at those fares many of the perks are disappearing). Lounge access is always extra cost unless you are flying international business or first or have the right credit card.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I doubt if the math supports that conclusion. For example a SFO-JFK flight tomorrow runs about 1106. The same flight in 3 weeks for a leisure travelers runs 300. That about an $800 differential. Fees aren’t going to come anywhere near close to that, even if the passenger has to pay a change fee, which of course most passengers do not.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    turns out almost all tickets can be name changed, no matter what rules say, when booked through a travel agent (guess they have more pull maybe).

    We always book our international tickets OZ/LAX through an agent as always much cheaper than anything online. Rang airline reservations recently & was told, can’t do name change & then contacted agent, who so no big deal. Paid the fee & they did it.

  • TonyA_says

    Any agent can cancel and rebook if the fare rules allow it.
    It ain’t really a name change.
    It might look invisible to you since most Asiana fares have a cancellation fee of only AUD100.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    not a cancel & rebook, changing the name in the same booking with the same record locator. We always fly on totally non-refundable tickets.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    while w’ere at it, if all airline tickets were totally non-refundable inc taxes & charges, airline tickets on average could be cheaper.

    Airlines would not have to have refund departments.

  • bodega3

    WN no longer allows nonrefundable fares to be transferred. Why? Because the good they offered was abused.

  • bodega3

    An agent can only due what the fare allows. If they don’t follow the rules, they can get fined.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    the airline changes the name silly !!!

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    What on earth do you mean by abused ?

  • TonyA_says

    Hey that’s not allowed on Asiana PNRs.
    Best I can do is enter an OSI message.

  • bodega3

    You said an agent, not a reservationist.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    we book thru agent all the time, but they have to contact airline to change names.

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    maybe you should talk to airline rep. Seems rules are often bent.

  • Mark Cuban

    “When life happens and people get sick before a flight, they now have no choice but to take it and give the flu to every other passenger,” he says.

    A$$hole of the year statement.

  • Lindabator

    But when I worked for United, we’d get husbands, parents, boyfriends, etc wanting to make those changes. And yes, they DO have all the needed information. Which is why a jealous boyfriend calling and and transferring the ticket becomes a headache later on – this was why the problem was done away with in the first place.

  • Lindabator

    They are referring to the security of the ticket – not the traveller. The reason airlines stopped was due to jealous boyfriends, angry husbands, etc changing those tickets – hence they made them nontransferable to protect the actual traveller.

  • bodega3

    Playing games, moving money around that wasn’t theirs.

  • bodega3

    Yes, the airline has the final say. An agent can only do what they are allowed by the carrier.