Can I Get My Change Fee Back If the Flight Didn’t Actually Change? (Ask Cranky)

I’ve got a backlog of Ask Cranky questions here, but there’s been so much news lately I just haven’t had time to post these things. Today appears to be quiet, and I have four Cranky Concierge clients traveling, so I thought it would be a perfect day to clear some of this out. A reader contacted me with a very interesting predicament, and I thought it would be worth throwing out to you all to get your thoughts.

On 8/5/09 I booked a flight from Palm Springs to Orlando. The return was United flight 8717 leaving at 6:27pm from Orlando to Denver for a connecting flight. Two days before departure, I rebooked the trip on flight 710 leaving at 3:38pm and connecting in Denver at 6:50pm. I paid the $150 change fee.

The day of the flight, flight 710 was delayed due to “Aircraft Servicing” and did not leave Orlando until 6:15pm, close to the original time. Because of the delay, I did not make the early connection in Denver, which was the reason for the fee change and I was rescheduled on my original Denver to Palm Springs flight.

I have called United Refunds, Customer Service, and emails but to no avail. My next step is to put the charge into dispute. Any suggestions?

The good news is that before I even had a chance to reach out to United, he received a very nice note from the airline apologizing for the experience. The customer service rep included a $150 voucher. He was Ask Crankyhappy, so kudos to United are certainly due. But this doesn’t necessarily answer the question about how this should be dealt with going forward.

It seems like an easy argument, right? If you bought a ticket, changed it, and then ended up on the same flight you originally had, then you shouldn’t have to pay for it. To me, it seems rather obvious, but what if you ended up on a flight that was 2 hours later than your original? Should you get a partial rebate? This could get ugly really quickly, and that would be unmanageable.

I think this is the kind of thing that needs to be handled on a case by case basis, but if you pay for a change and end up back on your original flight, a refund should be a pretty easy case to make. Anyone disagree?

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