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Travel Dilemmas: A Fairer Approach to Ticket Changes

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By Catharine Hamm

dv2073074(MCT)—In a recent On the Spot column (“Change Can Cost You”), reader R. Smith of Cathedral City, Calif., asked about airline change fees and wondered what I thought about why they are so — how can I put this gently? — inexplicably and atrociously exorbitant. These fees hit the leisure traveler where it hurts most because he, not his boss or his company, ends up paying them or losing the ticket. Surely, there must be another way to deal with this. Indeed, there is.

In the spring, legacy carriers raised the change fee to $200 for a domestic ticket, $300 for an international ticket. Granted, the airline industry is suffering the ravages of the economy and needs that money to balance its books, but unfortunately, carriers are doing it on the consumer’s back to the tune of almost $2.6 billion in 2012.

Huge change fees are mean-spirited, said George Hoffer, an economics professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia.

The fees “do not cover an ‘explicit,’ or out-of-pocket cost to the carrier, unlike food or baggage handling,” he said in an email to me. “The explicit / out-of-pocket cost is minimal, and that should always be the minimal charge.”

Here’s one of Hoffer’s suggestions:

“Have the fee charge be a function of the number of days/time to departure,” he wrote.

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