Nine Worst Airline Rip-Offs

Upset Female Passenger at Airport Booking Desk (Photo: Thinkstock/Stockbye)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on November 4, 2013. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, Ed Perkins.

(Photo: Thinkstock/Stockbyte)

I recently wrote about the 10 Worst Rip-Offs in Travel, but 10 doesn't even begin to cover the full panoply of rip-offs across the entire travel space—especially the airline industry. Here's the basic principle of contemporary airline pricing: Rates are based on how much money the airlines think passengers will pay, not on the actual costs of doing business. Fares for connecting flights, for example, are often cheaper than fares for nonstop flights on the same route, despite the fact that nonstop flights cost airlines less to operate than connecting flights. This makes these gouges particularly painful. Here are my picks for the nine worst rip-offs in the airline industry.


Ticket-Change Fees

On most airlines, the cheapest tickets are nonrefundable. Originally, airlines meant that literally. No matter what happened, you didn't get your money back unless you could document a death or medical emergency. Soon, however, airlines found that travelers were getting so adept at "desktop forging" doctors' notes and funeral postings that the airlines changed the policy. Now, you still can't get your money back, but you can cancel your flight for a fee and use the remaining dollar value toward a future ticket.

The fee was originally $25 on most airlines; it was reasonable and consistent with the cost of processing the paperwork. But over the years, change fees have escalated to outrageous levels. On most major airlines, you pay around $200 to exchange a domestic ticket and $250 to exchange an international ticket. Often, these fees wipe out much of the ticket's remaining value. Consumer advocate Donald Pevsner was informed by a reliable inside source that the actual cost of the exchange to the airlines is now around $40. The rest is pure gouge.

Work-Around: A few airlines don't gouge you this badly. Southwest still doesn't charge a fee at all, and Air Canada, Alaska, Frontier, JetBlue, and Virgin America charge $100 or less. And for an extra $68, you can buy a Choice Essential ticket on American that waives any change fees and also gives you a no-cost checked bag.

Read the Entire Story: Nine Worst Airline Rip-Offs.

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