fly soup

The USA Today reports that Southwest Airlines (the airline famous for it’s “bags fly free” campaign) plans to launch an ad campaign attacking the “change fees” charged by its rivals.  Change fees are, of course, the fee for changing an existing reservation.  Nearly every U.S. airline other than Southwest charges customers a penalty for making a change to most non-refundable tickets.  Change fees on domestic flights can range from $75 to $150 at a number of airlines, including American, Continental, Delta, United and US Airways.

Here at Yapta, we pay close attention to change fees.  You see, most airlines will charge a change fee before crediting you the difference on a booked flight that suddenly becomes available for less.  (Yeah, you can actually get an airline credit when that flight you booked drops in price.  It’s called the “Guaranteed Airfare” rule.  Nearly every major U.S. carrier has it as part of its Contract of Carriage.)  Yapta’s airfare refund alerts take these change fees into account so that we’re only alerting our early-booking travelers to net savings.

But here’s where it get’s confusing:  Some airlines make a distinction between change fees and “re-booking fees” – adding yet another noodle to the bowl of fee-soup.  Take for example, JetBlue, a key rival of Southwest Airlines.  They charge you nothing ($0, zilch, nada) to “re-book” your flight at a lower available price – and they’re very good about issuing a credit for the difference.  However, they will charge you $100 to “change” or “cancel” your itinerary.  (Change meaning a new flight time or destination.)  Alaska Airlines will also charge you $100 to “change” a ticket by phone, but nothing to “re-book” the same flight at a lower price.   Southwest doesn’t charge a “re-booking fee” either – but their not likely to call out this out for you in their ads.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • British Airways has announced a Fall Travel Sale that offers terrific fares on flights from 19 U.S. cities direct to London.  Not only are the airfares almost too good to be true – British Airways is also throwing in 2 free nights at a hotel in London.  The offer expires Oct. 26th – so if you’ve ever wanted to tour London, now may be your chance.
  • Getting a cheap flight out of Boston’s Logan International Airport is pretty common these days.  While airfares nationally have risen 19 percent year-over-year, airfares out of Boston have only risen about 5 percent.  And get this:  Thanksgiving week fares out of Logan are down 11 percent from 2009; nationwide, prices are up 9 percent.  So what gives?  Low-cost carriers like JetBlue, Southwest, AirTran and Virgin are all competing heavily for this market – and it’s even forcing the legacy carriers (like U.S. Airways) to drop their prices.
  • Last Friday (10/15), a pilot for ExpressJet Airlines, was not permitted to pass security at Memphis International Airport because he refused to allow TSA agents to use Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) to scan his body.  He had been crossing this particular security point each week for the past four and a half years without incident – and until now, TSA never required to have a scanned image of what was under his clothes.   Anyway, the TSA contacted his employer and now his job is at risk.