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United Airlines ups domestic change fee to $200

5:43 AM, Apr 24, 2013   |    comments
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Changing your ticket on United Airlines will now cost you a little bit more.

The nation's biggest airline upped its charge for making changes to domestic itineraries to $200, a $50 increase. The change - which also covers itineraries between the USA and Canada - took effect April 18.

United also boosted its change fee to $300 for changes to certain destinations in South America, up from the previous $250. The change fee for other international itineraries, including to Asia and Europe, remains at $250.

"We carefully manage our seat inventory and incur costs when a traveler elects not to fly in a reserved seat. We adjusted this fee to better compensate us for those costs."

With the change, however, United will now have the highest change fee for domestic tickets among the USA's five biggest airlines.

American, Delta and US Airways each charge $150 for passengers wanting to make changes to nonrefundable tickets. Southwest, the largest carrier of domestic passengers, has no change fee.

While Southwest has long made hay with its "no change fee" stand, expect industry observers to keep watch on American, Delta, and US Airways to see if they'll up their change fees, too.

"I won't be surprised if other airlines match United," Henry Harteveldt, airline and travel industry analyst with Hudson Crossing, says to CNBC. "If they don't, United has two choices: call back the change fee to $150, or stand alone."

Historically, airlines have included change fees with their cheapest tickets, in part to encourage high-fare business fliers to purchase more expensive, but more flexible, tickets. However, the gap between nonrefundable and refundable fares often has been so large that it's typically been cheaper to make changes to the cheapest nonrefundable fares, even with the fees.

One experiment worth noting on that front comes from American. As part of a new fare structure American introduced this past December, AA will waive its $150 domestic change fee if passengers pay a little bit more for its nonrefundable tickets. AA's "Choice Essential" fares come with less rules than its cheapest "Choice" fares, and also give fliers one checked bag for free and early boarding access.

The price difference between "Choice" and "Choice Essential" fares can be relatively modest. For example, on a June 6-7 round-trip flight between Washington Reagan National and St. Louis, AA is selling its Choice seats for $360 and its change-fee-free Choice Essential seats for $428.

However, all airlines, including Southwest, typically recalculate a fare at the time of the change. In many cases, that raises the price of a ticket especially if the change is made close to a customer's travel date. Except at Southwest, that change is in addition to the airline's change fee.

Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY

USA Today / Gannett

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