Bad weather? Airlines waive change fee, but usually not fare difference

Wintry weather has disrupted thousands of flights this week, and airlines are scrambling to accommodate ticketed passengers.  Whenever bad weather threatens, airlines are quick to point out that they have suspended change fees if a traveler would like to reschedule their trip around potential delays/cancellations.  These change fees for non-refundable tickets usually cost up to $150, depending on the airline.

But what many airlines don’t waive are the fare differences between the price you paid for your ticket, and what the ticket now costs when you request the change.  I’m booked on a US Airways flight this Saturday morning from Philadelphia to San Juan, and the weather forecast is calling for snow and freezing rain Friday night into Saturday.  When I saw that US Airways had waived their change fees for travel through Saturday, I called my travel agent and inquired if I could fly out on Friday night instead.  I could — if I was willing to pay around $500 for the difference in fare.  I had bought the roundtrip ticket two months ago for about $400; but today’s cost for the desired itinerary is about $900.  (I declined.)

But not all airlines require a traveler to pay the fare difference if they make a weather-related change.  With the current weather system, the following airlines have waived fare differences along with change fees, according to Smarter Travel:

  • Continental
  • Frontier
  • JetBlue
  • Virgin America

The airlines which have waived change fees but require payment of fare differences include: AirTran, American, Delta, Southwest, Spirit, United and US Airways.

Most travelers purchase non-refundable airfare in advance because of the pricing — most simply cannot afford tickets purchased within days (if not hours) of their flight.  It seems to me that if foul weather is approaching, an airline would want to re-accommodate passengers prior to their ticketed flights, filling otherwise empty seats.  It seems like a “win-win” situation for both the passenger and the airline.  Otherwise, the airline will have more people to re-accommodate after the inclement weather has passed.

But the lesson here is: buy travel insurance!  (Which I did.)  Should my flight get canceled or severely delayed on Saturday, I can choose to abandon my trip or make other arrangements and have those non-refundable costs reimbursed.

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2 Responses to Bad weather? Airlines waive change fee, but usually not fare difference

  1. Lucas says:

    Excellent information. I had no idea that “travel waivers” for some airlines only covered the change fee, not the fare difference. It is pointless to offer a travel waiver unless the airline will let you change the ticket for free. Nobody I know is going to pay an extra $500 to change a ticket they paid only $400 (or less) for in the first place. That is preposterous. Double thumbs down to the airlines such as United and US Airways who are doing that. (Strange that United charges for fare difference on a travel waiver, but Continental does not. One of numerous policies that will have to be reconciled during the merger.)

  2. Scott says:

    Slight point of clarification, Southwest did not waive their change fees as they have none….Bad weather or good weather you can change a tix on SWA by paying the fare difference only….Now they may have made their el-cheapo tix which are non-changable, changable for the weather, but I did not follow their latest weather notices so I am not sure about that….In any event, I’d list SWA outside of the legacy change fee charging pack….(although I do see your point that airlines should allow for people in weather situations to fly earlier at no additional cost)….

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