Should airlines charge a change fee even if they can resell the seat?

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Question: We recently booked a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Virgin America to get us home after our trip from Tahiti. But about a month later, our travel agent informed us that our return flight from Tahiti to Los Angeles had been canceled.

I called Virgin America and was told that it would cost us $180 to change the flight to the next day, when our new flight was scheduled.

There are more than four months between now and then to resell those two seats. If those four seats were not rebooked in the next four months, I would be OK with getting charged or losing my money.

Virgin’s “guest services commitment” promises the airline is “constantly striving to give you the kind of Virgin America experience you came to us for in the first place.” I can’t believe that an airline is so steadfast in a policy that it can’t work with a customer.

Vacationing is supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable and sometimes plans change, which I understand. What I don’t understand is that when things do change, why an organization like Virgin America has to make it stressful and inconvenient on their customer’s pocketbook. — Bret Bickar, Alameda, Calif.

Answer: You’re right, there’s something fundamentally unfair about airline change fees. If an airline can resell the ticket, why should you have to pay for the change?

But Virgin America is doing what other airlines also do, and have been doing for a long time, and I don’t have the room for the argument in this column.

Here’s what struck me about your case: You used a travel agent to make your booking, and if you did, then your itinerary should have been connected. That means Virgin America should have known about your change and would have put you on the next flight at no cost to you.

(Actually, that’s one of the reasons you use a travel agent; they can ensure your itineraries are connected, preventing you from being stuck in an airport with no way to get home.)

Your travel agent should have told you that your Los Angeles to San Francisco flight was taken care of. When you called Virgin America, the representative you spoke with should have also seen that you were flying in from Tahiti. But somehow, these flights were not connected.

This is a common problem with do-it-yourself travel agents. They buy several legs of a flight separately, assuming that they’ll be taken care of when something goes wrong. But they aren’t. You’re considered no-shows when the flight is delayed or canceled and are forced to pay for a new one-way ticket to reach your destination.

I asked Virgin America to look into your itinerary. It refunded your change fee and allowed you to fly one day later at no extra cost.

Should airlines charge change fees even if they can resell the seat?

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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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  • Adam1222

    Lucky guy. I’m disappointed in Virgin America for caving in here. If this guy is such an infrequent traveler that he doesn’t know there’s a change fee for NONREFUNDABLE reservations, his loyalty is worth bupkis.

    Nonrefundable reservations are a risk on all parties parts. The customer takes the risk he won’t have to make a change. The airline takes a risk it would have been able sell that seat for more money.

  • dourdan

    “If those four seats were not rebooked in the next four months, I would be OK with getting charged or losing my money.”

    so it would be ok if the airline held his money until the day of the flight THEN issued a refund? why should the airline take all the risk.

  • bodega3

    Excuse me Chris, but does Virgin America have a ticketing agreement with the carrier that the OP was flying to Tahiti? Before you give out advise, you need to know if this was even possible for a through fare. Also, if it was, then usually the fare is common rated from SFO, which mean the fare is the same from SFO as from LAX. There obviously was a reason for breaking the fare in LAX.

    As for costing the OP $180. That is $45 per person. Sounds like a minor change fee and an add collect as the fare they orginally had wasn’t available and they had to book the next class of service. Seems pretty reasonable to me for taking the airlines time to handle the exchange.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    While as a consumer, this is a nice idea, I’m not sure it’s feasible. It would only obviously apply when a flight gets completely sold out. Who’s supposed to monitor this and then issue the refund, etc.? Once you subtract whatever admin fee this would necessarily incur (say $25), you’re left with a refund of what? $20? I just don’t see how it could work. Any other industries doing this?

  • Christopher Elliott

    I have to agree. When I presented this case to Virgin America, I wasn’t sure of all the specifics yet. It agreed to fix this even though it didn’t have to, as several commenters have already said. I’m grateful to Virgin America for going above and beyond what they had to.

    But it also raises a bigger question about reselling seats and seat change fees.

  • $16635417

    Take it even further. You have to factor in ALL the people who had been booked on the flight at some point . If I gave the airline the most notice of my cancellation…do I get reimbursed first, or do we all share in a pool of resold funds?

  • $16635417

    As I see it less about the change fee funds and more about the lack of interline ticketing and the reasoning behind it. Would have been interesting to hear the TA’s take on that. I can speculate, but would have like to hear their reason.

  • sirwired

    Let’s say there are 10 people on a 100-passenger plane that cancel/change and the plane leaves with one seat open, because the airline has re-sold nine. Which poor schmuck pays the change fee? What if the seats were sold for less than the original purchaser paid? Do you charge the passengers the difference?

    Airline tickets aren’t like, say, apartment leases; you can’t point to a sold ticket and say that it used to “belong” to a single passenger.

    This is why restricted tickets cost less. The airlines already know that some people will change/cancel and they’ll be able to re-sell the seat; it’s baked into the (lower) price. If you don’t want to pay change fees, you need to buy a more expensive ticket.

  • SoBeSparky

    Here we go again. Calls to re-regulate the airline industry and fares.

    Fact is, tariffs are a complex system designed to extract a certain amount of revenue. Change fees are there (presumably) to lower the price of advanced purchased fares. Eliminate change fees and the advanced purchase cost of the ticket rises. So what people who vote yes are suggesting is we resuscitate the CAB and start regulating fares again. Allow certain fares, disallow others. Write regulations. Micromanage every dollar of revenue.

    Does anyone believe airlines, any of them, are making “excess profits?” Of course not. Instead would-be fare regulators are attacking elements of income as “unfair.” No one ever said the change fee was connected to specific costs of doing business. Rather they are connected to the initial low price. The airlines can advertise a $199 r/t fare as it knows it will make a certain amount, say $29, on average in change fees from all passengers who buy that fare.

    Those people comfortable with a long-term commitment can buy low-cost advanced purchase fares with change fees. Those who are subject to many external factors should buy higher fares. The choice is the consumer’s.

    In speaking of unfairness, it is truly unfair of passengers demanding no change fees, when they bought a ticket with that component to begin with. Everything is up front in your face. If you change, you pay.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Non-refundable means non-refundable. Could you imagine the chaos that would ensue if non-refundable meant “refundable only if seat resells?”

  • Kevin Mathews

    I agree. Had he bought a Refundable Ticket, he would not have had this issue. Or Travel Insurance?

    “What I don’t understand is that when things do change, why an organization like Virgin America has to make it stressful and inconvenient on their customer’s pocketbook.”
    Umm… They are a business? Why do people assume that when they buy the cheapest available ticket that they are entitled to changes and such? You want flexability, you pay for it. Period.

  • doylela1

    I recently had to buy an expensive last-minute ticket to be with my daughter for emergency surgery. When booking, I guessed at my return date, but fortunately was able to move it up a couple of days when she recovered quickly – and I needed to get home to prepare for a 5 week trip leaving a couple of days later. So, I paid for another expensive last minute ticket. The change fee was $100. Did I like it? No, but I paid for NONREFUNABLE tickets and that is what I AGREED to by booking it in the first place. That’s just the way it works. I am surprised that Virgin caved.

  • EdB

    But this wasn’t a case of the person asking for a refund, but a change. A change that was needed through no fault or personal request of the passenger.

  • Crissy

    On the surface, the easy answer is, Of Course NOT! But, the reality is, that the price of paying that low fare in advance brings fees in other areas, in this case it’s a change fee. I bet if they bought a non-restricted ticket that they could change/cancel it would cost more then $180 extra.

  • EdB

    This is one of the issues I was referring to awhile ago when I was mentioning that airlines want you to cut them some slack but you are SOL when things out of your control happen. Someone mentioned the flat tire rule was still available from the airlines, but when seeing things like this, I really wonder.

    Why would an airline allow the change for free because you had something out of your control happen, like a flat tire, getting to the airport, but not be willing to change the ticket for free when you had something out of your control happen, like a flight being canceled, getting to the airport? What if the person missed the flight not because they were flying into the airport from Tahiti, but they had a flat tire?

    Personally, I don’t think airlines should be allowed to charge a change fee when a flight is missed or has to change because of a change in a connecting flight. The airlines want the passengers to cut them some slack when flights are delayed because of weather or other problems beyond their control. I think it is time they start cutting the passengers the same slack when the situation is out of their control.

  • Uf Tukel

    I don’t have a problem with a change fee, I just have a problem with the amount of the change fee. $180 per ticket is ridiculous and almost arbritrary. $25 – $50 per ticket is a reasonable fee to cover the cost of the phone call, overhead of staffing, and profit to airline. Perhaps, airlines should follow similar policies as cruise lines with the fees and penalties varying based on time before travel. IE – 120 – 90 days before travel $25 /ticket; 89 – 60, $50/ticket, 59 – 30 days etc. + fare differential of current cost of ticket at time of change.

  • Guest

    I think the agent they talked to was just jealous that the passenger got to go to Tahiti so dinged them for the change fee. *grin*

  • mszabo

    I completely agree, however it seems that the airlines already game this system in their favor the other way. They will gladly overbook their planes with non-refundable tickets. Then oops, you get bumped to another flight.

    So if a non-refundable ticket was a guarantee that seat 6A is reserved for passenger X, then sure no refunds at all. However if they put someone in that seat after X cancels, then they deserve some of the double profit the airline is making.

  • Charlie Funk

    I hope others respond as well, but I am not aware of a ticketing agreement that VS has with any other carrier. This is one of the reasons I was so happy about the DL buy-in to VS and being able to do exactly that which Chris outlines. VS offers remarkably good service and now we’ll be able to book a Delta (or Skyteam) ticket on a (close your eyes Chris) DL code share flight that has VS over the water and onward to the other cities VS may serve.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I think if the tickets are connected, then yes. But if the pax bought two separate tickets and Airline 1 wasn’t able to get them there in time, why should Airline 2 be disadvantaged? That said, I bought two separate tickets flying on Dec 31 with only 85 mins to connect. We’ll see how I feel after that episode…

  • Charlie Funk

    VS doesnt’t interline now. Once DL buy in is a done deal, it’s another story

  • EdB

    You are missing my point. If Airline 2 is willing to waive the change fee because you had a flat on the way to the airport, why do they insist to charge you the fee when you can’t get to the airport in time because of something out of your control, like airline 1? If airlines expect you to grin and bear it because of something out of their control, with no compensation to you, why shoukd the airlines expect compensation when it is something out of the passengers control?

  • Grant Ritchie

    I don’t think the change fee was $180 PER ticket. From the third paragraph of the story, it looks as if that amount was for two tickets. Still high, but not “Are you kidding me?” high.

  • EdB

    actually, it was 4 seats or $45/ticket.

  • emanon256

    This article makes me angry, and I don’t think you will like me when I’m angry.

    I voted yes and I am am strong on this one, and I am sick and tired of hearing complaints about change fees. While I think some of the airlines policies are ridiculous, the whole change fee thing is not new, and is one of the most justifiable fees they have.

    You can buy a full fare refundable ticket, a discounted flexible ticket with no change fee, or a heavy discounted ticket with a change fee. If you want the cheapest ticket, it has a change fee. Why? Because you are getting a huge discount on airfare. The discount is offered with the caveat that you have to pay a change fee to change it. When you buy it, you are gambling that you wont have to change, and the airline is gambling that you will. That how it works, and it’s disclosed when booking.

    I am sick of hearing, “I shouldn’t have to pay it if they re-sell those seats.” That’s not the point! The point is you got a huge discount knowing you would have to pay a change fee if you made a change. Why does everyone want to pay for the cheap ticket with a change fee, and then expect the airline to waive the change fee? The fee is not about the actual cost of changing the ticket. the fee is about you getting a huge discount because you are paying up front and agreeing not to change.

    I can’t believe that an airline is so steadfast in a policy that it can’t work with a customer. Vacationing is supposed to be relaxing and enjoyable and sometimes plans change, which I understand. What I don’t understand is that when things do change, why an organization like Virgin America has to make it stressful and inconvenient on their customer’s pocketbook.

    Please! Cry me a river. You bought a discount ticket with a change fee, if it changes, you pay the change fee. Did you also buy an economy ticket and expect first class? Did you buy a 30 year old ford pinto and expect a new Cadillac? And how much money did you save buy not buying interlining tickets? Another reason you are paying a change fee. All in all, I bet this still costs less than buying a flexible through fare. So its still a deal. But g-d forbid an airline charge a known fee, that’s enough to ruin a vacation.

  • Alan Gore

    The whole concept of fixed change fees is a scam? How do I know this? First, look at any planned event, such as conventions, for which people make reservations. Cancelation fees are charged on a sliding scale, higher as the event draws closer, to account for the increasing probability that a vacated place cannot be resold.

    Second, people have general ability to resell event tickets they can no longer use themselves (though in some states where there is a monopoly tradition, such as New York, this right has been restricted). Why have airlines denied us this basic right – and why in hell are we putting up with it?

  • Alan Gore

    The problem with the “pay a little more for flexibility” idea is that we have no such option. To get refundability you have to pay far more, or even upgrade your class.

  • y_p_w

    Southwest. Maybe not refundability but no change fee.

  • Jayne Bailey Holland

    I don’t know why people purchase non refunable tickets, if they can’t afford to lose the money, then they want the rules changed just for them.

  • doylela1

    I agree – if you buy a nonrefundable ticket to save money, you should NOT expect to get a refund. That is what you are signing up for!

  • y_p_w

    There is Southwest.

  • Elmo Clarity

    Why are so many people complaining about others buying NON-REFUNDABLE tickets, when the subject of the story is CHANGE FEES? The OP did not ask for a refund. Just some consideration to waive the change fee for a situation that was out of their control.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Yeah. After reading the comments, I had to re-read the story to see if there was any reference to non-refundable tickets. There wasn’t.

  • Daddydo

    Non-refundable tickets should not be played with Chris! Your “begging” airlines to change their rules for an individual; you usually win, but what about the other 10000 people a day in the same position.

    Virgin is another airline, like Southwest, that has no ticketing and baggage alliances with other airlines, but they may soon change to work with Delta(?).

    NEVER NEVER NEVER make reservations that use 2 separate airline tickets / companies. They will receive no information on the each other’s airline, baggage fees are then charged extra, and any and all problems fall upon the shoulders of the traveler.

    Why did a travel agent book 1/2 of the ticket and the client the 2nd portion. There is another oops that leads to this problem as any decent agent would know all of the above. I see according to the article, that the agent did OK, and Bret made the error.

  • bodega3

    I don’t understand the comments about reselliing seats. Each seat has a price. If you change your ticket, it is the fare that is causing the price difference. If their ticket was purchased in V class and that is not available or the fare has increased since the purchase, then they pay more based on availabliity and fare.
    Now had they purchased a roundtrip ticket, for a fee, most carriers, on the return, not the outbound, as long as the same class of service is available, will allow you to change with only the fee, no add collect, even if the fare has gone up.
    Again, for 4 tickets, $45 was probably $25 for the change fee and $20 for the fare difference. Not bad at all.

  • bodega3

    Because $45 isn’t Virgin’s change fee cost. The OP bought restrictive tickets and for $45, they were paying $25 to change and $20 for the add collect on the new flight. Very reasonable!
    As for considerstation for something out of their control. That was the chance they took with the carrier they flew. There are carriers that have common rated fares for SFO and LAX and they could have purchased a through fare. My guess is that they went for the lowest. If that was the case, I am sorry that Chris stepped in, as they didn’t deserve the help. If they could afford goling to Tahiti, they could afford $45 per person on the air!

  • Adam_The_Man

    I could not agree more. A change fee is a 100% scam! We know they will re-sell the seats. Its one of the many airline scams.

  • Michael__K

    Or Travel Insurance

    Show me a travel insurance policy that would have covered this.

  • DavidYoung2

    You want (pretty much) refundable? Fly Southwest. I suspect that four months out, changing on Southwest would have cost you nothing.

    Don’t buy a ‘non-refundable’ ticket and expect it to be refundable. Virgin was correct on this one.

  • EdB

    My comment wasn’t about the validity of the charge, but of people commenting making it sounds like he was trying to get a refund when he was not.

    And in regards to the out of their control, it should be a two way street. If we have to pay for a change becuase of something out of our control, then the airlines should have to pay us that same fee if they have to make a change for something out of their control.

  • bodega3

    A change fee isn’t about reselling of seats. It is to discourage people from making changes and showing up. Look at Southwest. They are now going to fees for nonshows. I have said it here many times; try holding a party or event where you have expenses and people say they are coming and don’t show. At the last wedding we attended, a family of 6 didn’t show up and at $75 per person cost to the bride and groom, that was rude!

  • bodega3

    BTW, it appears from the article that the OP handled their own arrangements from LAX to SFO. Probably to save money? If the TA had handled the arrangements and then this would have been handled inhouse, not by the OP calling the carrier. I am sorry that Chris stepped in.

  • Steve Larson

    The problem is that the airlines play it both ways when it comes to change fees.

    Several years ago (when I was an inexperienced traveller and didn’t know any better) my wife and I ran into an issue with US Air because she changed plans during the trip and skipped a leg of the itinerary. When we were all checking in for the final leg of the itinerary, naturally they had cancelled her reservation. The agent initially tried to get us to pay the full fare to get her back on the half-full flight and then tried to act like he was doing us a huge favor by only charging the $100 change fee. First problem with that: the kids and I flew on the flight that she was a no-show for, and it was oversold. They were paying people to give up their seats. Obviously it doesn’t always work that way and rules are rules, but I had a problem being charged for not taking the flight when they were paying people for exactly that. His argument was that we “broke the contract”.

    The problem with that argument was that the return flight we were checking in for was originally supposed to be a direct flight. But it is only offered seasonally, and US Air had decided some time after we booked the ticket to end the direct flight a week early. So they re-booked us on a connecting flight. When I pointed out to the agent that US Air had broken the original contract for all 4 of us, I asked him to refund us $100 each as the fee for the change they made to the original contract. At that point he said he agreed with me but couldn’t re-book the ticket without the change fee. But he did give us a number for someone at Customer Service who ended up giving us a couple of vouchers to compensate us.

    The fact is, the airlines make the rules and we don’t have a lot of choice (Southwest isn’t an option for us). It’s just like doctor’s offices that charge you if you’re a no show but don’t compensate you for making you wait an hour to see the doctor. It’s not fair, but what choice do you really have?

  • Grant Ritchie

    Even better! :-)

  • bodega3

    But in this case, the OP may have had a choice to buy an ticket that included the LAX to SFO flight with the over the water flight which then means he took a chance and lost….except then Chris stepped in.
    Notice how we aren’t told how the OP got to Tahiti.

  • bodega3

    We don’t know if it was a bad decision on the OP’s fault to buy two tickets instead of one, do we?

  • $16635417

    I’ll go even further…it’s also more about tickets that aren’t interlined rather than non-refundable. Wait until after the first of the year when some major carriers will refuse to check bags to a passengers final destination on another airline because they did not purchase an interline fare/ticket, but instead purchased two separate tickets.

    Anyone want to start a pool when the headline “My airline won’t check my bag to my final destination and I missed my connection” first appears?

  • y_p_w

    I think the point would be that fully refundable fares wouldn’t come with change fees. Someone mentioned restricted fares that don’t come with change fees.

  • SK

    Exactly. If airlines don’t charge change fees, their losses will have to be absorbed by each ticket they sell, meaning cheap tickets won’t be available. I prefer to have access to cheap tickets, and only every once in a while swallow the cost of a change fee. So far it has happened only once in more than 50 trips that I’ve taken. If there were no change fees, probably each of these 50 trips would have cost $50 more.

  • sirwired

    Everyone is talking about non-refundable tickets because those are the kind that don’t have change fees.

    And it totally WAS within his control; he could (and should) have booked an airline with an interline agreement with his Tahiti flight so the flights were linked. If he had, his LAX->SFO flight would have been fixed for free. He chose to save a few bucks by booking VA instead…

  • sirwired

    The change fee also covers the possibility that the airline will be unable to re-sell the seat, or will end up selling it for less.

    But largely, yes, it is arbitrary. The airlines KNOW they are a profit center, and the restricted fares are priced accordingly. If the change fees were smaller, the tickets would be more expensive.

  • sirwired

    Change fees don’t just cover costs; the knowledge that some customers will pay them (resulting in additional profit) is baked into the price. No change fees = higher fares. Same thing with pre-paid hotel or rental car reservations.

    Since airline fares vary over time (unlike, say, football tickets), the ability to change the name on the reservation would lead to “ticket arbitrage” where people would buy inexpensive advance fares and then re-sell them for more later. The airlines would prefer to get that last-minute money instead. If ticket arbitrage were allowed, you can be sure airlines would raise their prices drastically to make up for the lost profits.

  • Cybrsk8r

    The OP should have been reimbursed, but not by Virgin.

    The OP should not be on the hook for the change fees. The airline that cancelled the flight from Tahiti to LA should reimburse the OP for any change fees resulting from that cancellation.

    Why? The flight was cancelled four months before its scheduled departure. The flight was not cancelled because of weather or mechanical problems. It was cancelled because the airline made a business decision to cancel it. To not operate that flight anymore. The OP, or is this case the OP’s travel agent, made the travel arrangements based the airline saying that flight was going to happen.

    Now if the airline decides to simply drop a flight from their schedule, then that airline should shoulder all costs a ticketed passenger incurs because of that decision.

  • Jeff M Braziel

    I agree that non-refundable means non-refundable. However, I would like to see airlines change their re-booking fee to something more based on a % of the fare paid, with a sliding scale based on when the airline is contacted to make the change. A change more than 90 days in advance would get full credit towards the purchase of a new ticket, 60-89 days 90% credit, 30-59 75%15-29 50%, 7-14 25%, and under 7 10%. This would eliminate the situation of change fees exceeding the price of the original ticket, while still allowing airlines to maintain a restricted ticket structure, and collecting the ancillary fee they unfortunately have come to rely on.

  • BobChi

    Once again people buying nonrefundable tickets and not believing that’s what they really are. Plans do change. That’s why you either pay extra for a refundable ticket or you take the ticket change fee into account when you decide whether you want to do business.

  • BobChi

    Exactly. When you buy two tickets that is a risk you take. I think the travel agent probably dropped the ball here.

  • emanon256

    A lot of the carriers are now offering discounted fares that are not refundable, but don’t have a change fee either. This is in addition to refundable and heavily discounted with a change fee. They are calling them “Flexible” fares. Probably a way of trying to get closer to what WN started. They are more than the deep discount tickets, but not nearly as expensive as refundable tickets.

  • flutiefan

    i’m glad you said this. not all airlines offer “same itineraries” as Chris suggests. on many, there is simply no way to link them. we are separate businesses, so frankly why do i care if Air Tahiti or whomever has canceled their flight? that has nothing to so with my business and my product.

  • Cybrsk8r

    But your wedding analogy is flawed because the guests don’t pay for the food, etc. But if I pay for a seat on a plane, whether I’m sitting in that seat when the plane takes off is irrelevant. If I don’t cancel my ticket and the plane takes off without me, the airline has still sold that seat and I won’t get any refund, and I’m OK with that if it’s my decision. The airline makes exactly the same amount of money flying my empty seat as they do if I’m sitting in it

    I had a one-way ticket this summer on United. I would have cost more to change the ticket, so I just booked another one-way fare on another airline. Southwest, BTW.

    In fact, since the weight of both me and my luggage is not on board, the airline makes more money than if I’d have actually showed up, since they may burn a gallon or two less jet fuel without my added weight.

    Of course, I realize I’m applying logic to something which is inherently illogical, so I don’t expect many people to agree with this.

  • Alan Gore

    Your arbitrage scenario is pure airline hogwash. Airline accountants pride themselves on their ability to calculate ticket prices for precisely the maximum yield. If passengers really could buy ahead and then resell for a consistent profit, this would mean that tickets are, on the average, underpriced – and that just doesn’t happen.

    I’m hoping that the new, more populist Congress coming in allows resale of tickets (with airlines being compensated the $10 or so it actually costs to change the name on a ticket record).

    If this happens, the airlines will kick and scream for the week or so that it takes them to realize that studying the price action on a secondary market gives them the information they need to price tickets precisely, so that arbitrage does not occur. This is solid gold information they would not be able to gather in any other way.

  • $16635417

    Unless the TA explained the risks. Note the story doesn’t state they went to the TA for assistance after the schedule change.

  • sirwired

    It would be “hogwash” if airline tickets were priced like cruises: The price of a cruise varies frequently (as yield managers adjust them), but is not coupled tightly to when you book, and the price only changes drastically if the yield managers completely screw up. Arbitrage of cruise tickets would almost certainly put you on the losing end, or razor-thin margins, at best…

    But airline yield management is VERY different, since they serve both leisure (cheap) and business (less price-sensitive) markets. (vs. the monolithic market of cruise passengers, or, for that matter, concert ticket buyers) Airlines make a lot of money from last-minute (generally business) travelers; they subsidize the leisure travelers that perform the service of keeping the cash flowing and keeping the seats full enough to at least gas up the plane. If tickets could be freely transferred for a nominal fee, there would be a thriving business in advance-purchased tickets being resold to last-minute travelers at a discount to published last-minute fares, and the airlines would miss out on those profits themselves. (It’s a pretty low-risk proposition to assume that SOMEBODY going from a busy Point A to Point B will want to do so at the last minute, and will be willing to pay more than the leisure traveler that booked months ago.)

    In a free-form secondary market, advance-purchase tickets would be in much-higher (more expensive) demand, driving up prices for leisure travelers while last-minute tickets would become cheaper (because many of them would be resold advance-purchase tickets.)

    The no-transfer system keeps leisure prices low (leisure travelers are generally very price-sensitive), and business prices high (which provides much of the profit.) While a freer market would arguably produce more “fair” fares, it’d be a smaller one, as price-sensitive leisure travelers chose an alternate form of transportation.

  • sirwired

    The airline knows that some people will be stuck paying the change fees; this is baked into the price. No change fees = higher prices. This, by the way, is one reason why tickets from ticket consolidators (i.e. Bucket Shops) are less expensive that normal tickets; they are generally unchangeable, or the change fees are extremely high (i.e. hundreds of dollars.)

  • Alan Gore

    If the existence of a secondary market would actually drive up advance-purhase prices, airlines would be tripping over eachh other to grant resale rights; in fact, they would love to run such a market themselves and link to it from the company site. The whole point of the flurry of miscellaneous fees the last two years has been the use of fees as an effective increase in fares.

    Here in Arizona, the consumer has a general right to resell tickets to games, concerts. etc. by themselves or through brokers. Every major event has a special little area designated outside for ticket resellers to operate. Event operators can treat all sales as final, while at the same time the consumer can adapt to changes in plans with minimal cost. Everybody wins, and we can only wish we had jurisdiction over airlines.

  • Miami510

    Story: I arrived very early for a connecting flight to take me back to Miami… my home. I asked if there were seats available on the earlier flight and was told by the gate agent that the plane was half empty…. but changing would cost me $70.

    I pointed out that their giving me a seat on the earlier plane was to both our advantages; I could get home three hours earlier, and the airline (whose initials are DELTA AIRLINES) would have a chance to sell my seat on the later flight… which she pointed out was a full flight. While telling me I was right (made sense) she also said “rules are rules,” and her hands were tied.

    I sat around, read and ate some awful terminal food (air terminal… I survived the meal) and took the later flight. I was inconvenienced, and the airline flew the earlier flight half empty and probably had to turn some paying passenger away for the later flight.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    There, there. Do you feel better now, getting all that off your chest?

  • emanon256

    I do, thank you :)

  • EdB

    Thank you for putting it so clearly. This isn’t an issue about the OP buying a non-refundable ticket or even the fact it had a change fee associated with it. It is about how the airlines screw over the passengers by making changes with out any repercussion. This isn’t like he missed a connecting flight because the one he was on was late and the tickets weren’t combined or that the TA didn’t warn him about the danger, that so many posters have said. It is about the fact that an airline made a change and he is having to pay for it. Virgin shouldn’t have to eat the fee either. The first airline should have to.

  • sirwired

    No, airlines would NOT be thrilled with a secondary market that would drive up advance-purchase fares. There would be fewer leisure travelers (because of the increased prices), and therefore reduced cashflow. This is why there isn’t such a market. This is why fares have been non-transferable since deregulation. (or before? I don’t know; I’m not that old.) Fares were a LOT more expensive during regulation, and the industry much smaller, so I don’t think anybody wants to go back there…

    And yes the whole purpose of fees has been to increase revenue, but there is a breaking point.

  • sirwired

    Neither airlines nor any other form of common-carrier transportation have ever been responsible for the consequences of not getting to your destination as originally scheduled. What you planned to do once you got dropped off is not (and never has been) the carriers problem. It doesn’t matter if the carrier was an ancient oceangoing steamship or an airplane. and it doesn’t matter what you planned to do, whether it be to catch another flight, see a concert, start a cruise, whatever…

    If the airline was required to pay up for changing their plans, there wouldn’t be any airlines. What if the meeting they failed to deliver you to resulted in you, high-dollar executive, losing a $1B deal? Would they be on the hook to cough up $1B to your company?

    While arguably it might be “fair” for the airline to be responsible, as a practical matter, it isn’t even remotely economically possible to do so.

  • sirwired

    But there IS a repercussion… if the change was unacceptable to him, he could have requested (and received) a full cash refund, and he could have then booked on another carrier that would get him there on the appropriate day.

    And yes, it IS the fault of whomever didn’t buy linked tickets (which would have required booking on another carrier besides VA; there are plenty to choose from from LAX -> SFO) This wouldn’t have been an issue at all if they were linked, as the change to that leg would have been free. The lack of an interline agreement is one of the reasons the VA ticket was cheaper… you make your choice, you take your chances.

  • Alan Gore

    Airlines love it when they can trap passengers in “violations” of their insane web of made-up rules when far from home and not in any position to bargain. They live in fear that some carrier (will it be Southwest?) will be first to break out of the monopoly thinking that dominates the industry to the extent of opening up a secondary market in tickets.

  • y_p_w

    I remember doing that once on AA for a flight back to California. The gate agent asked me if I had all my luggage and told me that I had a minute to decide. She put me on that plane, where I was the last passenger to board. Didn’t cost me anything although I had another issue. I had a ride waiting for me, so I bit the bullet and used my credit card on an air phone. I managed to place a staticky 1 minute call for $15 and my ride was late when I got there.

  • y_p_w

    I remember booking my SFO-MIA-SFO flight a few years back. At one time the cheapest fare before taxes was $330. I ended up paying $400 after the fare went up because my boss asked me to delay any plans until we could determine if I was needed in the office. I looked over the options for fully refundable and restricted fares. I think fully refundable was $1600 and restricted was about $1400.

    At that price of course I wasn’t going to pay for the ability to get a refund. If I have to change my plans I just eat it.

  • sirwired

    If Southwest (or any airline, for that matter) thought a secondary market in tickets was a good idea, they’d be allowing it already. But, they, like the rest of the industry (but not you), have realized it’d be a horrible idea for their bottom line. You keep utterly ignoring the passenger volume / cashflow issues dramatically higher advance purchase fares would cause.

    And change fees are not “an insane web of made-up rules”; they are a pretty basic part of any restricted fare on most airlines.

  • y_p_w

    With several airlines a no-show ticket can still be used to fly on a future flight – typically standby. The Southwest no-show policy is meant to encourage cancelling rather than simply not showing up.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Well, then, I guess his decision to use a travel agent was pretty stupid. Really makes me wanna cough up the extra money for one. I’ll never use a travel agent again after reading this.

  • Cybrsk8r

    But on Southwest, I have every reason to cancel, because a $125 one-way ticket is still worth $125 if I cancel. On United, however, that same $125 ticket is worthless if I cancel. So why should I waste my precious time on hold for a ticket agent to cancel a ticket when they’re not gonna give me anything for it anyway? To be nice to the airline? Are they nice to me?

  • bodega3

    You are making assumptions that aren’t fair to the TA without knowing what was presented to the OP and what the OP decided to do. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, ‘Well I have never had a problem before’ only to have them overnight or coming in upset over THEIR decision when it is going to cost them more.
    Too many make decisions based on price. Without more information from the OP on how the decision to fly Virgin was made, you really can’t blame the TA at this point.

  • EdB

    We just had another story earlier this week I think about another situation where it seems the TA messed things up for a traveler. But since we don’t have all the information on either of these stories, it’s hard to come to any conclusion. But it sure doesn’t look good in either case for the TS.

  • EdB

    But people are sure making assumptions on what the OP did/didn’t do and blasting him for that.

  • bodega3

    But someone pays for that food and if you have ever been in the situation where it was going to cost you if you have noshows, you would understand. Years ago people made plans and didn’t change them. Now they change their plans mulitple time a day. The airlines had to come up with this and Southwest is changing their policies, too, because their passengers are screwing with them as well.
    When you buy a ticket, you made a decision. If you change your mind, and you get a restrictive ticket, it will cost you. Why is it the carriers place to cover you? Most people who complain about this aren’t business owners, or they would get it.

  • bodega3

    Which is a start. If their passengers don’t pay attention, Southwest will go the way of the other carriers. This is the second big change they have made in a relatively short time. This is exactly how the major carriers started out getting their passengers attention.

  • bodega3

    Exactly. If the TA had issued the Virgin flight, the TA would have handled this. There is more to the story…as seems to be par for most cases here!

  • bodega3

    Typical because the whole picture isn’t present.

  • bodega3

    That doesn’t mean it works well in AZ for everyone. Those who are greedy screw those who want a reasonably priced ticket. Some entertainers are not allowing resale.
    You use to be able to change names, so tickets were sold, especially 1/2 of oneways. But with the need for ID’s, which took place well ahead of 9/11, this stopped the practice.

  • Lucy M.

    I agree. Travel agents try to ticket airlines with ticketing agreements but many times passengers just want the cheapest options even if it includes multiple tickets. A good agent will try to advice of the rare possibility of this type of schedule change and the consequences. Agents then work with the airlines to get the best resolution when a problem arises. Even at an added cost of $180 the final cost of the Virgin America/Air Tahiti tickets was probably still less than the cost of an interline agreement itinerary.

  • Lucy M.

    Southwest is still not refundable. And though no change fee, very likely that there would be a fare difference.

  • Lucy M.

    I do think airlines shouldn’t waiver from their change policy but I have to agree with your sentiments. Especially when an airline reduces routes. Airlines will offer a refund or a not as good option. It would only be fare if airlines were made to pay a change too if it resulted in an added connection or changed by hours! If only Air Tahiti paid the customer $100 or what have you that would alleviate the B6 change.

  • emanon256

    It’s a lot different now. For the past 4 or 5 years I have been able to get a flexible fare on F9 for only $40-100 or so more R/T, and a refundable fare for $120-200 or so more than the biggest discount. I think the legacies are finally catching on too. Lately UA is offering me $500-600 R/T for restricted, $700-800 for flexible, and then $1,000-1,200 for refundable. And AA has been $350-400 for restricted and $450-600 for flexible and also $1,200 or so for refundable. I still usually buy the cheapest unless I think I might have to change. And if I do have to change, I know full well that I have to pay for it.

  • Lucy M.

    It’s VX, Vigin America that we’re talking about not VS. VX does currently has very limited interlines agreements including Air New Zealand, Air China, and Air Pacific but not that quite connect to destination Tahiti when I search.

  • Fly, Icarus, Fly

    Hi Ed. I do understand your point. There is a fine difference in the scenarios, though. The flat tire is completely out of your control. Buying linked or separate tickets is usually a choice. There IS a way in most cases to use partnered airlines to create an itinerary, but sometimes it’s more expensive than buying two separate tickets. So if the consumer chooses to save some cash that way, the second airline doesn’t really have an incentive to bail you out.

  • Bill___A

    I suppose all of the airlines, hotels, car rental companies, etc. could collect $10 from each of us on every transaction and put it into a sort of “whiner’s slush fund” for those who think they are so terribly wronged.
    Why does the passenger think that it is Virgin America’s issue that some other airline cancelled a flight??

  • bayareascott

    The stupidest thing about the change fee argument is that if you buy the cheapest available ticket, and then pay a $150 change fee, you are usually saving hundreds of dollars over a changeable fare. You still win! Shut up!

  • Linda Bator

    logisically impossible, which is WHY the reason for the change fees in the first place.

  • Linda Bator


  • Linda Bator

    But that airline has NOTHING to do with the 2nd airline booking – flights CAN be cancelled – and the government requirement is that you get a REFUND for TAHT FLIGHT, or the airline reaccommodate you to another. Had they booked a full itinerary, then this would not have become an issue.

  • Linda Bator

    Why – because he bought the one ticket with an agent and the other on his own??? That’s his stupidity – and obviously based on expense, as I would NEVER have suggested that, knowing the flight limitations to Tahiti in the first place.

  • Linda Bator

    Southwest even CHANGED to a more restrictive rule regarding name changes!

  • EdB

    Your point being? What I was talking about is the story is about an issue with a change fee. There have been several comments implying the OP was trying to get a refund, which is not the case. The OP knew they were not refundable and didn’t want a refund.

  • Don Nadeau

    “You used a travel agent to make your booking, and if you did, then your itinerary should have been connected. That means Virgin America should have known about your change and would have put you on the next flight at no cost to you.”

    However, the problem comes when budget airlines like Ryanair and Southwest do not “interline” with others. That means their itineraries cannot be put on the same ticket. Neither airline will be responsible for the actions of the other.

    As of November, Virgin America interlines solely with Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand, Emirates, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, South African Airways, El Al, Qantas, China Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Air Pacific, Japan Airlines, SATA and Thai Airways, according to Aero News. MOREOVER, even the Tahiti airline was one of these, the agreement may not allow two fares on one ticket to undercut the through fare.

    In my opinion, the agent should have 1) warned the customer that getting a less expensive air travel cost in this way was highly risky, especially because it involved a far more expensive international fare to Tahiti on another ticket, and 2) if the customer still wanted to proceed, asked that he or she buy travel insurance to cover this type of situation OR sign an acknowledgement that he or she had been warned.

  • Don Nadeau

    Actually, Southwest charges any difference in fare. That means if the discount fare you purchased is now sold out, too bad. Unlike, other airlines though, Southwest charges no change fee per se.

  • BMG4ME

    The fare paid is substantially reduced in return for restrictions. The airline tells you upfront that there will be a fee for a change, regardless of whether they can resell the seat. So there is really no complaint here. Should the airlines be more flexible in that they state upfront that the fee would be waived once the seat is resold? YES. However complaining about a fee that is not hidden is not reasonable.