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AIR TRAVEL

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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Changing Your Ticket

If you purchased an unrestricted, refundable fare and need to change your flight, you are good to go. However, if you've opted to buy a restricted ticket and want to change your reservation, fly standby on an earlier flight, or upgrade to a higher fare class, remember that fees for reservation changes, same-day standby, and upgrades will probably apply—and that these fees and policies vary by airline.

Cancellation/Change Fees

Airlines charge a fee—called a change fee—if you want to change your restricted-fare itinerary. These change fees are in addition to any difference between the cost of the original ticket and the cost of the new fare. Change fees can be as low as zero or as high as $100, as shown in the following table:

Airline

Change Fee

Airline

Change Fee

AirTran

$50

JetBlue Airways

$25

Alaska

$50

Midwest Airlines

$100

America West

$100

Northwest

$100

American Airlines

$100

Song

$25

ATA

$50

Southwest

$0

Continental

$100

Spirit

$75

Delta

$100

United

$100

Frontier Airlines

$100

US Airways

$100

Horizon Air

$50

 

 


Same-Day Standby

Policies for flying same-day standby (taking an earlier or later flight on the same day as your original reservation) vary by airline and fare. If you think you might want to fly on a different flight on the same day, call the airline and tell them you are thinking of flying standby. They can examine the flight's load factor and give you a fairly good idea of your chances of getting a seat.

Because most airlines allow you to fly standby at no additional cost, the advantage of flying standby instead of changing your reservation is that if you have purchased a restricted fare you can avoid the change fee—and any applicable fare increase. However, there are exceptions. If you are holding a flight-specific fare ticket, you may be prohibited from flying standby, even if there is space available. Delta charges a $25 fee to fly standby, but you get a confirmed seat. (And, yes, a confirmed standby seat is an oxymoron.) US Airways requires you to purchase a $25 standby coupon, whereas Southwest Airlines requires you to upgrade to the unrestricted fare.

Upgrading

Upgrades are coupons that allow you to move from a lower class of service (such as coach) to a higher class of service (business or first class), if there are available seats. Many people upgrade because using a coupon is cheaper than purchasing a confirmed business or first class ticket; the caveat is that you are not guaranteed seat availability.

There are typically three ways to upgrade your class of service: purchase an upgrade, qualify for a free upgrade, or use frequent flyer miles to upgrade. The fees and rules for upgrading vary by airline and can be complicated. (As a testimony to this complexity, Matthew Bennett publishes a Web site—http://www.firstclassflyer.com—that offers tips and strategies for upgrading.)

Most airlines do not allow upgrades on discounted fares. They tend to allocate upgrades based on your fare and status in their frequent flyer program; elite members are placed first in line for available seats. In addition, most airlines limit the time periods in which you can either pay cash or use your miles to upgrade. For example, American Airlines allows Executive Platinum members to request upgrades 100 hours before a flight, whereas Gold-level members have to wait until 24 hours before the flight.

When it comes to receiving free upgrades, these are most often reserved for elite-level frequent flyers. One notable exception is Northwest's ConnectFirst fare, which gives free upgrades to passengers flying full-fare coach tickets, if seats are available.

If you want to use your frequent flyer miles to purchase an upgrade, your fare will likely determine how many miles you need. For example, US Airways requires 10,000 miles to upgrade from a full-fare ticket—but 20,000 to upgrade from a restricted fare. Continental Airlines only allows elite-level members and those using frequent flyer miles to upgrade.

The following table summarizes the fees airlines charge for domestic upgrades. ("Not applicable" means that the airline only offers one class of service—that is, there's nothing to upgrade to.)

Airline

Fees for Domestic Upgrades

AirTran

$35 over the full one-way coach fare for most nonstop flights, or $70 over the full one-way fare for connecting flights

Alaska

$50 for each 1,250-mile segment

America West

$50 for each 500-mile segment

American

$40 for each 500-mile segment

ATA

Not applicable

Continental

Does not sell upgrades

Delta Air Lines

$50 for each 500-mile segment, or $160 for four 500-mile segments

Frontier Airlines

Not applicable

Horizon Air

$50 for each 1,250-mile segment

JetBlue Airways

Not applicable

Midwest Airlines

Not applicable

Northwest

$50 for each 500-mile segment

Song

Not applicable

Southwest

Not applicable

Spirit

$40 per segment

United

$325 for four 500-mile segments

US Airways

$50 for each 500-mile segment

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