No one else on my flight was charged a change fee! Why me?

By | April 11th, 2017

Koren Perry wants to know why Southwest Airlines is charging her a fee to change her flight from Las Vegas to San Diego when it’s not charging anyone else on her flight to do so. Can our advocates unearth the answer — or fair treatment from Southwest — for Perry?

Question: I recently traveled from San Diego to Las Vegas on Southwest Airlines with my two-year-old child. But there was inclement weather in Southern California on the day I was supposed to fly home, a Saturday, and other airlines were canceling flights to San Diego.

Since I needed to return to work the following Monday and did not want to be stuck at the airport with my toddler, I changed my flight to leave Las Vegas that Sunday. Weather reports indicated that the storms in San Diego would have passed by then. It cost me $294 to change my flight.

A few hours later, Southwest posted a notice indicating that customers flying that Friday and Saturday to and from San Diego could change their flights at no cost. I contacted Southwest to ask for a refund for the flight change fee I paid. Southwest refused to refund the fee because I changed my reservation before it posted the notice.

I don’t think this is fair. Can you help me get a refund of the fee from Southwest? — Koren Perry, San Diego

Answer: I agree with you – it isn’t fair that the difference of a few hours in changing your flight means that you have to pay while anyone else who waited didn’t. The danger to all of you of flying in inclement weather and the potential for delays was the same, regardless of when you changed your reservation.

Related story:   Good on ya, mate! United Airlines rescues failed New Zealand flight all by itself

You sent us a copy of the travel advisory Southwest Airlines issued, which clearly allowed for free changes of flights to San Diego based on the weather forecast. Yet Southwest’s agent treated the timing of your change as a technicality that allowed the airline to deny you a refund of the change fee.

Southwest’s contract of carriage provides that for canceled flights,

In the event Carrier cancels or fails to operate any flight according to Carrier’s published schedule, or changes the schedule of any flight, Carrier will, at the request of a Passenger with a confirmed Ticket on such flight, take one of the following actions:
(i) Transport the Passenger at no additional charge on Carrier’s next flight(s) on which
space is available to the Passenger’s intended destination, in accordance with
Carrier’s established reaccommodation practices; or
(ii) Refund the unused portion of the Passenger’s fare

Since Southwest ultimately decided to cancel your original flight because of force majeure events, had you waited and not changed your flight until after it issued the advisory, Southwest would have owed you a free change of flight.

Although you might have used our executive contacts for Southwest to escalate your complaint, you turned to our advocacy team for help in getting that change fee refunded.

We reached out to Southwest Airlines on your behalf, and it has issued you vouchers for the entire $294 you were charged to change your ticket. You are happy with this resolution, and so are we.



  • Ben

    To clarify, Koren wasn’t charged a change fee, she was charged the fare difference. Southwest doesn’t charge change or cancellation fees.

  • Ben

    In all likelihood, the Southwest employee was sympathetic but powerless to reverse the charge since Koren made the change before Southwest had announced free re-accommodation.

    This is a situation where the consumer was clearly in the right, but couldn’t find the right employee (understanding and with the authority) to fix it. Sadly, this is the cause of many consumer complaints.

    I’m glad you were able to resolve it satisfactorily.

  • Lindabator

    correct – and this is why I always tell clients to be patient – if you change BEFORE they post a waiver, you are out of luck. VERY nice of Southwest to give her the vouchers

  • Grandma

    I am wondering how did she contact SW. If she called the airline – the rep just says no. On the other hand, using their e-mail contact or Facebook contact can provide miracles – in minutes/hours.

  • LDVinVA

    Had a similar situation with JetBlue – traveling to Boston from Charlotte in January when bad weather was forecast in both cities. Had to get there because my daughter was having surgery, so I changed my flight to the day before I was supposed to go. Shortly thereafter they announced that no change fees would be charged. I called back and JetBlue gave me a credit for the fare difference.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I see your point, but the problem with waiting is that you might miss out on the flight that is best for you. If you wait, then you run the risk of the flight you need filling up. Plus, there’s no guarantee that they WILL post a waiver…so you might end up missing out on the flight you need waiting for something that wasn’t ever going to happen, or even paying more if the only flights available are a higher fare than the one you wanted.

    It’s a gamble for sure. I believe Southwest did the right thing – there is just no valid justification for charging her the fare difference, when they didn’t charge anyone else. Especially since she had two pressing issues that probably made it important that she grab the first flight she could: having to get back to work, and having a toddler with her.

    Kudos to Christopher’s team for making that happen!

  • Bill___A

    Until Elliott Airlines takes wing, you are stuck!

  • AAGK

    This was the right decision. The OP was proactive and engaged with her travel plans. That should be rewarded.

  • Bill___A

    Would have been nice if they gave actual money back…
    I very very seldom return something in a retail store – but when I see a “no cash refunds” sign I generally don’t shop there.

  • Alan Gore

    If you’re going to have a problem traveling, be sure to have it on Southwest.

  • LDVinVA

    I was okay with the credit since I knew I’d be able to use it soon, but I agree that cash back would have been preferable.

  • El Dorado Hills

    She’s lucky she wasn’t flying United. Who knows what they would have done,

  • John McDonald

    no one, except Southwest, knows if they charged anyone else.

    It’s a bit like saying. I bought a widget(airline ticket, hotel room, TV, whatever) & after I bought it, there was a price reduction sale & it was cheaper. In reality, this occurs often, but we were happy to buy at original price, but some people still seem to expect some reimbursement, without even, if they were comparing apples with apples. eg. with most airlines, not Southwest, airlines charge to change anything on cheaper fares. Only on full fares are there no change costs.

  • John McDonald

    Why was the consumer clearly in the right ? She decided to change flights & paid only the fare difference.

  • John McDonald

    it’s easy to stand back & say what should have been done, but airlines need to make a profit to survive. Weather predictions are so often wrong. Many weather reports these days, say rain is forecast, but unless you look at the % chance & the expected rainfall, it’s meaningless. We often see rain forecast on TV news & if you then go to a more thorough report, you might see 30% chance of 0-5mm of rain, over the day, in other words, almost nothing.

  • John McDonald

    have recently been asked to consult on some international charter flights(as have experience with these) with demand in both directions (not into or out of USA) over extremely busy Xmas holidays, when all airlines probably are 100% full, or very close to it & they make good profits.

    So charter flights can compete, with cheaper fares.

    Flights schedules have not been finalised, but will probably be twice a week, over each route, where the scheduled airlines offer approx 1 flight per day. So less date options with charter flights.

    A few ground rules for the airline charter flights have been decided or are still “work in progress” (in no particular order)

    1) one way or round trip fare, can be purchased, but packages including accommodation, cars etc. will be better value. Date changes can be made for a change fee + any fare difference (there will be many different fares)

    2) not offer refunds under ANY circumstances (see 3 below), but if a flight is cancelled by passenger, a small credit maybe offered for a later flight. A small flight cancellation insurance fee, (basically to cover no shows/late arrival at check in) will be offered at time of booking only (not full travel insurance)

    3) allow name changes for a fee, like maybe $50 to $100, yet to be determined exactly(so people are free to sell their airline tickets on eg. ebay, with certain conditions like a name change number, which can be paid for by the new passenger-a name change number, can easily be confirmed with airline by email, for those wary of buying an airline ticket on likes of ebay etc.)

    4) YET TO BE DECIDED allow free seat selection requests at time of booking(eg. a family booked together, will be seated together, as long as in one booking, BUT COULD BE ANYWHERE ON AIRCRAFT ???), except for cheapest tickets, where an optional fee will apply- NOTE, some loss leader type fares will be sold, for FREE publicity, to reduce expensive advertising costs

    5) no unaccompanied children (all children must travel with someone 18 years or over)

    6) operating airline will sell food & drinks, at whatever prices they choose (most flights will be around 3 hours duration & certain food/drink items can be carried on aircraft)

    7) a no show or late arrival for check in, will mean that the 1st sector, if a round trip, will be cancelled(no refund or credit), but not the return leg, so we’re thinking, in these cases, passenger will be emailed to say, we have later flights in the week for $x or fly another airline these & to confirm, they still want the return leg, with an RSVP required within a reasonably tight time frame, such as 24 hours, or return leg will be cancelled.

    (if you turn up late, there will be no one to check in with)

    BTW
    Flights will be operated by a large scheduled airline, with brand new aircraft, with existing traffic rights, into secondary airports, that are near major airports, but with less congestion, cheaper car parking, less delays.

    The purpose of these flights is to offer more choice, than exists now & to make a profit, at the same time.

    Would love to hear any realistic feedback on the above.

  • Maxwell Smart

    United ? World worse airline, with world worst frequent flyer programme.

  • cscasi

    Perhaps Southwest did not charge anyone else on that flight because no one else asked to change their flight before the notice was issued by Southwest?

  • cscasi

    First, Southwest would have to get larger aircraft that can fly transatlantic; something that I doubt will happen any time soon.

  • cscasi

    So, if the flight is delayed a day or two because of weather, the paying passenger will not have a right to the refund of his paid fare (as per #2 – Not offer refunds under ANY circumstances)? I am sure the DOT would put up with that for just about a nanosecond.

  • cscasi

    What proof do you to show it has the world’s worst frequent flyer program and that it is the world’s worst airline? There are several airlines throughout the world that are a lot worse than United.

  • RightNow9435

    And that fare difference seems to be way high, as right now a Vegas-San Diego one way ticket for this Saturday is around $250 total

  • David Youngquist

    rhetorical

  • John McDonald

    DOT ? Nothing to do with USA.

    Catch is, with charter flights, one of the reason they are cheaper at peak times, is the charterer, has limited overheads, not many employees, so it has to be simple but fair.

    The no refunds whatsoever is set in concrete & won’t be changed.

    Flights will almost never be delayed by a day or 2. Hour or 2 due to weather maybe. The only reason flight could be delayed more than hour or 2, is if either departing or arriving airport is closed & then as long as aircraft, not stuck at departing airport, it can always fly to alternate.

  • RightNow9435
  • LeeAnneClark

    Read the article again and you’ll find the answer.

    Southwest announced to all passengers that they could rebook for no added charge. But that announcement came after the LW had already rebooked…and been charged.

    So yes, she knew other passengers were not being charged for something she had just been charged for.

  • John McDonald

    Surely with their latest 737’s, Southwest could fly from some points in USA(maybe from Northeast) to some points in Europe, either nonstop or direct with a quick “splash & dash”, in Ireland or Iceland, they could do it.

    Don’t some airlines fly the Atlantic with 737’s ? I read somewhere that a Polish Airline (Enter Air I think it was) flies Poland to Thailand, in 738’s with a splash & dash at Sharjah or somewhere else in middle east.

  • John McDonald

    no, some other passengers could have paid to make a change, just like Perry.

  • LeeAnneClark

    Yes, I suppose that’s true…some other passengers may have rebooked before SW made the announcement as well.

    And they would, IMO, be entitled to a refund of the upcharge as well.

  • PsyGuy

    Gosh this from SW, I’d have emailed the executive office and they would have likely apologised and taken care of a full refund. Barring that I would have disputed the charge with my bank card and sent the notice as evidence.

  • PsyGuy

    Make her walk.

  • PsyGuy

    I think Air Koryo is the worst, and their loyalty program is any member who isn’t the supreme leader gets shot. At least you don’t have to deal with the inflight entertainment and dining service.

  • PsyGuy

    Agree with that, or one of the asian carriers that isn’t third world (looking at you China Southern and Eastern).

  • PsyGuy

    As long as you’re happy.

  • PsyGuy

    Depends on your followers. When Chris nudges, things happen so fast they go back in time such that they never happened at all.

  • PsyGuy

    Well SW has the benefit of being a business airline, they only fly from certain metropolitan areas, to other metropolitan areas. This is a lot different from being a national/legacy airline. You see it in foreign carriers as well, when they spin off a regional brand airline.

  • PsyGuy

    SW could actually fly to Europe from somewhere like NYC to LON over the polar cap on their current fleet.

  • PsyGuy

    They would have no need to splash and dash. Ireland is in Europe and Iceland is part of the EFTA and the EEa, so it’s pretty much Europe and as much Europe as the UK is now that Brexit happened.

  • PsyGuy

    Trademark that “Elliot Airlines”. Has a nice ring to it, flows off the tongue very well.

  • PsyGuy

    Go to Flyer Talk, they eat this stuff up.
    By the way no shame intended (do this myself) but it’s generally considered poor form as a consultant to out source your market research to a public web forum.

  • PsyGuy

    Well maybe a couple months.

  • PsyGuy

    I think you’ll have a lot of trouble getting the consumer base to trust you, when you essentially taking their money but don’t have to ever give it back, some consumers would call that stealing.

  • PsyGuy

    You an say “rain is forecast” everyday and technically be right every day. 30% in my opinion is the magic term for “we don’t really know”.

  • PsyGuy

    I agree.

  • PsyGuy

    What we don’t know though is if there were other PAX who like the LW changed their flight before the notice was issued. It’s entirely possible that there are several or even many PAX that paid fare differences and just didn’t advocate or complain.

  • John McDonald

    most airfares sold in Australia these days are non-refundable. Only way you can get a refund on a non-refundable ticket is if the flight is cancelled by airline.

  • John McDonald

    not a paid consultant. They(the charterer) just asked, if I thought they had forgotten something in their terms & conditions.

    Will probably get some free airfares, maybe in business class & they pay the taxes. Might even get to sit in the jump seat.

    Charters aren’t very big in Australia, (not like in Europe) as the big airlines have it pretty well sewn up, but it’s much easier to do a series of international charters, than domestic charters in Australia. The rules in Australia, are designed to protect the existing scheduled airlines, which is now back to basically 2 airline groups, Virgin & Qantas.

  • John McDonald

    you can land almost anywhere for splash & dash(passengers not getting off, or at least maybe only into a transit lounge, while they refuel), as airport gets landing fees & you pay the going rate for fuel. Apparently Sharjah has low landing fees & cheap fuel.

  • PsyGuy

    There’s no need to splash and dash if the goal is US to EU, Ireland is in the EU, you’re already there.

  • PsyGuy

    We have an industry term for unpaid consultants “interns”.

    Depends what the stew’s look like.

    That’s not really true, there’s a lot of charter activity when it comes to the inside of the continent, but yeah the cities on the coast the national airlines have all the market share.

  • PsyGuy

    You’re talking international charters though, most of them are used to some way of getting their money back.

  • Ben

    She decided to change flights anticipating that bad weather would interrupt her travel. As soon as Southwest realized the same thing, they allowed customers to change flights without paying anything extra. Why shouldn’t the same courtesy be extended to Koren?

  • Lindabator

    because they really have no way of KNOWING this was her reason for changing, as she did so before the weather was considered an issue by the airline — in cases like this a waiver is issued and THEN you can change. Not retroactively

  • Lindabator

    we had a TON of charters in the old days – and yes, this is always of concern, but if you are flexible in case something comes up, it works out pretty well

  • Lindabator

    and it CLEARLY states the day it was posted as a waiver – your bank CANNOT dispute something you did today, for a waiver posted tomorrow – that is called FRAUD

  • Ben

    I see where you’re coming from, but I disagree. It was a matter of hours and the consumer’s story holds water.

  • PsyGuy

    Yes you can, you can pretty much dispute anything.

  • BubbaJoe123

    “Why don’t other airlines provide the same level of customer service as Southwest?”

    Hopefully not anytime soon. Their cattle car setup is just awful.

  • BubbaJoe123

    So you can have a lack of interline agreements, no lounges, and no tiered reps? No thank you.

  • Alan Gore

    Ah yes, Those interline arrangements that system airlines will no longer make for you times of critical need.

    On The infamous United 3411, David Dao initially offered to take the bump, thinking that although this was the last United of the day, he would be sent to SDF on another carrier. It was when he found out he would lose a full day that he went ballistic.

  • BubbaJoe123

    They make those arrangements all the time. I grant that Southwest is consistent – their service is slightly better than low-value customers get at other major carriers. If you’re a higher-value customer, though, they lag far behind.

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