CHICAGO Want to change that flight reservation? Get ready to shell out more cash.
Airline watchdogs say major carriers are likely to follow Continental Airlines in raising fees for flight changes on nonrefundable, advance-fare tickets to $100.
American Airlines followed suit yesterday, raising its processing fees for changing or canceling many nonrefundable tickets to $90.
The "change fees" most often apply when a traveler buys a ticket in advance and then wants to change a date of travel or cancel the trip and apply the money paid for the ticket to future flights. Experts say these fees usually affect leisure travelers, since business travelers tend to book more expensive refundable tickets often at the last minute.
Some airline experts say its simply a way for airlines to generate revenue without increasing fares in the price-conscious leisure market.
"Its an annoyance fee that started at about $25 a few years ago that has gone to $100," said Joe Brancatelli, a columnist for Biztravel.com who tracks air travel. "Why? Because they can do it."
Sarah Anthony, a spokeswoman for Houston-based Continental, defended the airlines decision, noting that this is a way to make up "revenue lost any time someone who makes a reservation decides to arbitrarily change it."
"We have essentially lost the ability to sell that seat," she said.
Continental raised the fee from $75 the standard among the largest carriers for the past few years to $100, effective last Friday.
Officials at Dallas-based American quietly implemented their $15 increase yesterday, a move that company spokesman John Hotard also said was intended to offset what he called "spoiled seats."
Other major carriers, including Delta Air Lines, United and Northwest Airlines, were mum when asked if they planned to increase fees but had not done so as of yesterday. Officials at Trans World Airlines said they were studying the issue.
Meanwhile, low-fare airlines continued to buck the trend entirely. Officials at Dallas-based Southwest Airlines which only charges customers the difference in fare on rebooked flights, if there is one said they had no plans to institute the fees.
Experts say Southwest and other low-fare airlines dont charge extra fees because they are more dependent on leisure travelers.
Tom Parsons, an airline watcher and CEO of Bestfares.com, says there are cases in which the largest airlines will waive the fees for example, if the ticket purchased is on a route that Southwest or other no-fee airlines fly. American Airlines Hotard also said the fees can be waived if passengers are willing to fly standby the day of travel and in many cases, when travelers are trying to avoid bad weather.
But, for the most part, experts agree that hefty fees are here to stay, even as Continental last week announced record fourth-quarter earnings.
Brancatelli called Continentals timing "outrageous."
But Parsons was more forgiving at least in the case of Continental, noting that the airlines much-improved ratings in service and on-time performance.
Other airlines, Parsons added, "have a mediocre product but want the same benefit."
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