This blog post was updated on October 12, 2018.
Your indecision on that flight to Paris could cost you over $200 to change. That unexpected meeting you didn’t anticipate could leave you penniless for cutting your vacation short. Along with baggage fees, airline change fees are yet another reality that today’s traveler must face. And while there is not one set way to book a ticket and change without penalty, there are a few things you can do to avoid having to change your flight and hand over the price of another ticket in the process.
Take Advantage of Fare Locks Rather Than Making Impulse Buys: Many of us see a good airfare or sale and we book it spontaneously. We become obsessed with getting that deal so much so that we might not realize the flight will need to be changed later. Travelers can be drawn in by these unbeatable rates and later regret the impulse buy. Many airlines offer fare locks where you can reserve the airfare you have found from 24 hours to a week. For a few extra dollars rather than hundreds of dollars in change fees, this can buy you some time to think about the logistics of the travel dates and if they will work for you. By taking advantage of fare locks, you won’t make impulse buys that you might have to change later.
Pay A Bit More Upfront for Refundable and Choice Fares: Some airlines let you choose different levels of fares for your flight. For $50 more than a regular economy ticket, you might be able to board before the masses and also change your ticket without penalty. If you aren’t sure of your plans, selecting the more expensive fare option might be a good way to avoid the fee. However, you should price compare to see if the price of the refundable ticket is less than what you will pay for the airline’s change fee and a standard economy ticket. You might have to pay a bit more upfront for your ticket, but you have the peace of mind that you can change it without forking over your savings.
Look Out For The Fine Print Behind Free Cancelations and Insurance: From airline websites to online travel agents, you might spot the words “free cancelation” next to the fare you are going to buy. Most of us don’t read the fine print behind these lines. In many cases, a site or airline will let you cancel your ticket up to a certain time on the day of your purchase for no penalty. From four hours to 24 hours, you have some time to consider your ticket. If you are somewhat of a game changer and expect your plans to change, before you book with any airline, you should know their cancellation and change fee policies. Some are better than others, which could dissuade you from buying the wrong ticket in the first place.
Along the same lines, if you are asked to add trip insurance to your ticket, thinking this will cover you in case you need to cancel, read the fine print. For example, I bought this insurance for a rental car in Germany, only to find out it didn’t cover travel outside the U.S. The same can occur with flights if you don’t read what the insurance covers.
Spend At Least Five Minutes Pondering Your Travel Dates and Times: We can’t always avoid change fees. A family emergency or conflicting meetings can spring up without warning, leaving us to pay the painful airline change fees. However, many changes are the result of merely not taking the time to think about your travel dates and times before you book. If you book a 10 a.m. flight home from your vacation, you probably aren’t going to make it to work by 9 a.m. You have to consider when you book just what time of day you will be getting in and what will be going on in your world on those days.