Why Airlines Are Playing Fast and Loose With Advance Bookings

Libby Kane
Posted

airlines change schedulesThere’s nothing worse than being punished for doing the right thing.

Right thing: Planning ahead and booking your plane tickets significantly in advance in order to save money and get organized.

Punishment: Your airline changes your flight time on you, and you either have to overhaul your schedule (hopefully you have an extra vacation day!) or you pay rebooking fees. Or both.

The Wall Street Journal says that airlines are blaming volatility in the industry for the higher prevalence of changed flight itineraries. Factors like mergers, planes being switched from weaker routes to stronger markets, and the closure of flight hubs in cities such as Cleveland and Memphis are contributing to the problem, they claim.

But the problem for passengers is that a new itinerary could mean new expenses. You might have to extend your car rental, shell out a cancellation fee for a hotel booking, or even face higher ticket prices if your original carrier can’t rebook you after a last-minute cancellation or issue you a refund, culminating in a higher price tag than you intended for your trip.

Unsurprisingly, airlines can change itineraries without incurring a penalty (in fact, they’re usually able to resell abandoned seats) but passengers can’t do the same. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that in the 12 months ending September 2013, airlines collected $2.7 billion in change and cancellation fees alone—about half of the industry’s reported net income in that same time period.

Carriers argue that if they didn’t charge such drastic fees, there would be too many no-shows, and they’d need to overbook flights more significantly to make sure seats are full. Plus, they claim, fares would rise if people didn’t report for their flights and the plane had unsold seats.

While passengers are clearly at a disadvantage (only one side carries the ability to fly through the air, and it’s not ours), there are a few things we can control. Learn how to beat airlines at their excessive fee game.

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