Switching Flights Can Cost You. Or Not.

When you have to change a flight time or date, what happens depends a lot on the airline and the circumstances, as I discovered lately.

Passengers with elite status, first-class seats or full-fare tickets usually get more flexibility from the airlines, but coach class passengers may have to pay fees and navigate complicated rules.

Early in January my brother, niece and I were scheduled to fly out of Bradley to Costa Rica. A messy ice and snow storm was forecast, so I called Delta looking to switch the flight one day later or earlier.

No dice. Unless Delta announced that it was waiving change fees because of weather, we’d have to pay $100 per person to change our flights. We kept an eye on Delta’s flight status page right up to departure, but there were no waivers for that storm — just for one in the Midwest.

After a hairy drive to the airport, we did get out and made our connection (barely) to Costa Rica. 

My sister was in a very similar situation last week with Southwest Airlines. She had flown from Baltimore to Providence for a relative’s funeral. She was scheduled to fly back the next day, but the weather forecast turned ugly and she decided she needed to return the same day.

Southwest doesn’t charge change fees, but it will charge the difference between the fare you paid and what’s available when you rebook. Maryanne called to change her flight and was about to pay the $49 fare difference when she mentioned to the agent that she was making the change because of weather. The agent waived the payment.

A few days earlier, my parents and I had to change flights so we could return from Costa Rica  for the same funeral. I called Delta to rearrange our flights, and the agent assessed us the $100 per ticket change fee.

When I asked whether that fee would be refunded under the airline’s bereavement policy, the agent didn’t think so. Why? Because our tickets were bought with mileage awards. 

So don’t look for easy answers on change fees, but do ask enough questions so that you don’t have to pay more than necessary. 


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