Yes, Lufthansa can charge a “huge fee” to change your flight date

By | May 21st, 2017

Nicholas Eckert says he “fully expected and understood” that he’d be charged a penalty for rebooking his Lufthansa flight. But the penalty was so high that he questions its reasonableness. Lufthansa, says Eckert, “really went above and beyond in its extraction of money from me.”

Eckert’s case is a reminder to air travelers to check their flight reservations multiple times before confirming them to make sure that every detail is correct. Otherwise, like Eckert, you could be paying exorbitant prices to correct a date or a name — and airlines get away with charging these fees because they can.

Eckert booked round-trip flights from Washington to Florence, Italy, to take an Italian tour. Two months later, he realized that he had misread the start date of the tour. In order to join the tour on time, he needed to be in Florence the day before he was scheduled to fly there. He contacted Lufthansa to change his flight.

As Eckert explains:

So I contacted Lufthansa thinking that I would have to pay several hundred dollars in penalties to make the change. Given the fact that I had made the mistake, I thought paying a penalty was reasonable.

But I was stunned when Lufthansa told me that the price to change my flight would be $886 (more than I paid for the original ticket!!). This was broken down as [a] $300 seat-changing penalty and $556 to purchase the replacement flight…even though it was the exact same flight with the exact same seating assignment (the only change being the different day).

Eckert posted about his case in our forum, where he asked the forum members whether Lufthansa can charge him fees that seem exorbitant to change his ticket. Our members responded that, yes, it could. Lufthansa’s change fees are standard procedure throughout the airline industry.

Related story:   She had a stroke and can't fly -- should her airline waive the $150 change fee?

Eckert then asked our advocacy team for assistance in getting some of those fees refunded. (Our company contacts section contains executive contact information for Lufthansa.)

Lufthansa’s general conditions of carriage provide that for changes to flight reservations,

Changes Requested by Passenger
Should you wish to change any aspect of your transportation you must contact us in advance. The fare for your new transportation will be calculated and you will be given the option of accepting the new price or maintaining your original transportation as ticketed. … Please be aware that while some types of changes will not result in a change of fare others will result in an increase in price.
… Many fares are valid only on the dates and for the flights shown on the Ticket and may not be changed at all, or only upon payment of an additional fee.

And these terms apply only if the tickets are changeable and refundable, as in Eckert’s case.

Had Eckert caught the error within 24 hours of booking his flights, he could have been charged a lower fee to change the reservation. But once that window expired, he had to pay the difference between the original ticket price and the price at the time of the change. That turned out to be several hundred dollars higher.

Unfortunately for Eckert, there’s nothing our advocates can do for him. As he notes, “I suppose that the lesson is that I should have triple-checked and checked again to make sure I had the flight right. But Lufthansa really did sink its claws into my wallet for making a relatively minor mistake.”

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  • Lloyd Johnston

    Was the $556 the difference in fares for the two different days? If so, that makes sense. If your paid fare to leave on Tuesday was $500, and the current fare to leave on Monday is $800, then it makes sense to have to pay the $300 difference (plus the change fee). One can argue that the change fee of $300 (for a single ticket?) is unreasonable itself. It doesn’t really take that much time to update a ticket.

  • Hanope

    A different day can be a significant change in cost, almost always more (I presume because people still tend to initially select the cheapest flight). Plus buying the new flight two months later can increase the ticket price.

    But the price to do the change has dramatically increased over the last few years.

  • DReid

    It happened to me once and I’m a very seasoned traveler. The airlines are out of control on this issue. I accidently booked my return flight one day before I really wanted it. When I realized what happened, it was 2 weeks before my return flight. I called the airlines and the change fee was far greater than buying a 1 way ticket back! They didn’t care. I talked with a supervisor which did no good. I ended up buying a cheaper 1 way ticket and didn’t use the return portion of my flight.

    I knew it was my fault I booked the wrong day, but how absurd it was to purchase a brand new ticket and it be cheaper than for them to change my flight in their system.

  • Alan Gore

    When I lived in Japan, my work visa included a requirement that I arrive on a round-trip ticket whose return I would retain for going home – two one-ways booked separately was not an option. I could book on Japan Airlines with “open return” which I would schedule about a month before going back when I knew the date, without paying extra. I don’t know what people have to do now that tickets like this no longer exist.

  • Jeff W.

    Also keep in mind that Lufthansa does not fly directly from DC to Florence. So you will have the $300 change fee (one can successfully argue about whether or not that is too high) and the cost of the flight differential for two flights.

    $556 fare differential for two flights is not out of line. The date on which you fly as well as the time of day will influence the cost of your flights. Some days are more popular than others and the airlines price accordingly.

  • Annie M

    Next time use a travel agent. If they booked the wrong date, they would be eating the changes. But if they booked the tour for you, they wouldn’t have made the mistake in the first place.

  • Bill___A

    He not only made a “little” mistake but also didn’t notice it for two months. The way the fares work, it is not a cheap thing to fix and no one else to blame either.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I agree with most comments that it is the change fee itself, not the increased cost of flights, that is unreasonable. For example, right now, a check on Travelocity of flights to Florence from BWI in one month on Lufthansa (codeshared with someone) can cost $808 on a Monday (June 12th) and $2,335 on a Saturday (June, 10th). So the change in price is reasonable, the change fee itself is not. I think they could cap the change fee at $25 and the airlines would still easily profit.

  • Lindabator

    Actually, this is not a change to the return, but to the outbound, which means they merely apply the value of the old ticket to the value of a brand new ticket, minus the change fee. Since the closer you book, the higher fares tend to be, and as there is not only one coach fare available anyway, it can mean a very hefty change.

  • Lindabator

    the change fee is not in place due to ease of changes – it is to PROHIBIT changes, as it makes it far more difficult to manage the travel planning for flights. So yes, they can charge what they feel is too high for the flighty oh maybe I can stay another day because I want to sleep in folks, while still being somewhat doable for those who really have no choice but to change

  • Lindabator

    that is due to people like this, who pay no attention to what they are doing, what their plans actually are, and who change what could have easily been booked correctly in the first place had he paid attention — airlines are seeing more and more changes, and the fees are actually in place to help prohibit this, so yield management is less onerous

  • Lindabator

    then book a one way if it is cheaper – it is not the airlines fault you made a mistake and think they should cover you for it – they are not a charity but a business

  • Lindabator

    book the date you assume you will return, and they see if you can change it. Or just buy a one way back if cheaper (Do that often for my clients)

  • Lindabator

    true – which is why when clients book using miles and choose to do so themselves, I have them email me the confirmation for my files, so I can go over all within the 24 hours as well

  • cscasi

    True. But I believe a lot of the “change fee” is to keep people from changing their reservations all the time. While I know that the “change free” is additional revenue for the airlines, it is also a deterrent; knowing that for only a $25 change fee, people would be ever more apt to make changes on a whim.

  • Lindabator

    no – not at all. The reason the airlines keep raising the costs is it makes it impossible to manage the yield with everyone constantly changing – so they do NOT want to make it easier, but more prohibitive

  • Randy Culpepper

    You hit the nail on the head; the fee is intended to serve as a deterrent.

  • Michael__K

    airlines are seeing more and more changes”

    Nonsense. Airlines For America’s [the industry lobbying group] own published data proves that there have NOT been “more and more changes” in between change fee increases and change policy changes.

    The average change-fee revenue per passenger is stable or even decreases slightly when policies are stable. Then revenue goes up when fees go up and/or policies become harsher. Which demonstrates what this is really about — revenue generation.

  • John McDonald

    if there was no price difference between similar days/times, people would just book the cheapest & then change.

  • John McDonald

    when I sold airfares to USA from Australia, the wholesaler would have blocks of cheap seats, usually sold as a package, but sometimes sold just as an airfare. If someone insisted on flying a day or 2 away from the blocks of cheaper seats, it could sometimes cost AUD$1000 more(USD$750). Then person would say, but online everyday is the same price & it was but $2000 more.

  • Alan Gore

    As I said, two one-ways is not an option. You would have to book both legs of a round trip, throw the return away, and buy a new one-way for your actual return. Maybe the law has changed since then to accommodate airline weirdness, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  • Noah Kimmel

    he also booked it 2 months later – prices generally go up as you get closer to departure date

  • Tigger57

    Most international tickets start with a $300.00 change fee. When you change the first leg of a ticket it is a whole different ballgame than changing the return. It is like starting from the beginning. I am sure 2 months later the flights were higher in price and the the lower classes of service were probably sold out. In reality Lufthansa gave him the price of a new ticket on the correct days and subtracted what credit he had on his old ticket. This is the way it would have been done if he was changing it to 3 months from the original date.
    On the capping question – those that voted yes is it fair that if the only seat available is in first class, he should be able to book that and have it capped.
    The only thing I have a problem with is the initial $300.00 change fee. Domestic tickets are usually $200.00. Both amounts are extreme and maybe that fee should be capped.

  • DReid

    Lindabator, that’s exactly what I did. I took full responsibility for my mistake. All I wanted was to get my return flight for the same amount they offered it online. I wasn’t asking for any ‘charity’. To make the penalty greater than the ticket I could purchase is ridiculous. I was not asking that my original funds be used for the new ticket. They actually lost revenue because I booked a flight on a different airline for the same amount they showed online. I was fully accepting that I would lose my money from the original ticket.

  • Lindabator

    but changing the OUTBOUND means you change the entire ticket — and they cannot just give you the same price on another day, but reprice at the current rate, plus a change fee — taking full responsibility means accepting the fact that they are an airline, not a charity. And if that means deciding between a new ticket, or paying a huge fee for the old one, that IS the option

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