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United’s New Change Fees and You

A former airline-industry colleague and friend posted the following on his Facebook status today: “Virgin America, JetBlue, Alaska all have lower change fees and Alaska waives them completely for elite travelers. Southwest also has my vote moving forward. Bye-bye United.”

Sure, United has come in for a barrage of criticism for upping its ticket-change fee to $200 for domestic tickets, and as much as $300 for tickets to international destinations.

At those levels, the fees are usurious and clearly bear no relationship to the real cost of actually changing customers’ tickets. It’s a sleazy money grab.

But realistically, most travelers have no trouble keeping to their itinerary as originally booked. So change fees are more of an abstract threat than an imminent reality. United may gouge other people, but they’re not gouging me.

United is betting that the current firestorm of negativity will burn itself out and, perhaps, that other airlines will match United’s fees and absorb some of the heat.

Is that the most likely scenario? Or will sentiments such as my Facebook friend’s have a sufficiently negative financial effect on United’s revenues that the airline is forced to back-pedal and reinstate its old fees?

Reader Reality Check

Which of the following best describes your attitude toward United’s new change fees?

  • A pox on United. I’m outta here!
  • The fees matter, and I’m much less likely to fly United.
  • They probably won’t affect me, but I’m still somewhat less inclined to fly United.
  • It’s a tempest in a teapot. Change fees are irrelevant.

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