How much should travelers be charged to change their airline tickets?
As much as $200 for a domestic ticket, and hundreds more for an international ticket, according to the airlines.
Much less, according to two consumer-rights groups, Flyersrights.org and the National Consumers League.
At Tuesday's meeting of the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection, the two sides made their opposing cases. And in the coming weeks, the Committee will make a recommendation to the DOT, which is charged with ensuring that fares and fees are "reasonable."
The airlines' argument is a familiar one: Change fees are actually a consumer benefit, since they're only imposed on cheaper tickets, which save travelers money. And as to the fee amounts, market forces are sufficient to keep airlines from imposing fees that are egregiously high. In other words, it's all good.
The counterargument is that the fees do not reflect the true cost to the airlines of changing tickets, and are therefore a gouge. As a Flyersrights.org representative put it, "They're clearly unreasonable. They are a penalty or fine."
Among the specific recommendations made by the fee detractors:
- Cap change fees for international tickets at $100. (The DOT has more discretion in regulating international fares and fees.)
- Fees for cancellations or changes made more than five to 10 days before departure should be dropped altogether.
- Where fees are charged, they must be more clearly and prominently communicated.
U.S. airlines reported that 2 percent of their total revenue came from change fees during the 1st quarter of 2015, up 5.8 percent during a period when airfares only rose 2.4 percent.
If the airlines have their way, the sky's the limit, and flyers will be the losers.
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