Ask CheapAir: How much does it cost to change an airline ticket?

Wondering how much it will cost to change your flights?

That’s a harder question to answer than you would think because it’s the airlines themselves who set the rules and policies, not the website you buy your ticket from. And every airline does things a little differently.

Ask CheapAir: How much does it cost to change an airline ticket?

There are a couple of general rules, though, that apply pretty universally:

  1. Airline tickets are non-transferable. You can’t change the passenger name on a ticket or give it away to somebody else.
  2. If you buy a ticket on one airline, you can’t exchange it for a ticket on another. The original airline has your money and wants to keep it!

Beyond that, it gets pretty confusing. Read on for a deeper dive.

The cost to change a flight depends greatly on the airline that you have purchased your ticket from. Airlines have “penalty fees” that can range from $0 to $400.00 (yowza!) to make a change to your ticket. For domestic flights, most airlines charge around $200.

But the penalty is not the whole story. In addition to the penalty fee, airlines will also charge you the difference in fare between the old ticket and the new ticket. So you really have to deal with both a penalty fee and a change in price. Remember, these fees may hit you even if you are just calling to change your ticket to a different time on the same day. The change doesn’t have to be drastic to cause big differences in price.

Changing to a more expensive ticket

Let’s say you purchase a round trip ticket on Delta Airlines from Los Angeles to New York City for $250, a fantastic deal that you’d probably be pretty excited about. But later you realize you need to change the travel dates to one week later. At the time you make the change, the great $250 fare is gone and flights on the new dates are selling for $375. To switch to that flight, Delta would charge a $200 change fee, plus another $125 for the fare difference ($375 minus $250). So the change you want to make would cost $325 total. Yikes!

Changing to a less expensive ticket

Unfortunately, the airline policies say the reverse doesn’t work. If the new ticket is less expensive than the original, you wouldn’t get a refund and you’d still have to pay the penalty. There just wouldn’t be any fare difference owed. With penalties being as high as they are, sometimes the entire new ticket costs less than the penalty fee. In these cases, you’re better off just purchasing a whole new ticket (which is never very easy to swallow).

Not sure what date you need to change your ticket to

If you need to cancel your trip completely, and don’t know yet when you are going to travel again, most airlines will allow you to cancel and hold a credit with them for about a year. Airline tickets must be canceled for credit before the scheduled departure. You still will be charged the penalty fee to make the change, but you won’t have to pay it until you call back to apply the credit toward a new trip

Bottom line, it’s important to be aware when buying a ticket that making changes will likely be expensive. So try to be sure before you buy. You can buy travel insurance with your ticket for a nominal fee and that can help you to some extent, but travel insurance generally only kicks in for unplanned medical emergencies. It won’t help you if you simply decide you can no longer travel on the dates booked.

We realize this can be very confusing, but that’s what we’re here for! If you would like to change your airline ticket, or learn more about the rules for a particular airline, please contact a CheapAir Travel Advisor at 1-800-243-2724 or Help@CheapAir.com. Feel free to contact us with any questions, or ask them in the comments below to share with the community.

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