Why Southwest Should Consider a Change Fee

Fares, Southwest

On Friday, Southwest announced it was adding a couple fees and increasing another. For most airlines, a Friday that sees a new or increased fee would just be called “Friday” but for Southwest, it creates some shockwaves. These fees are actually pretty friendly, and I can’t imagine anyone complaining, but the attention paid to this move shows just what kind of predicament Southwest finds itself in. And I’ve got a controversial suggestion.

But first, let’s talk about the three changes made on Friday. They are:

  • Small dogs and cats will be allowed onboard for the first time for $75 each way (American charges $100)

  • Unaccompanied minors (kids between 5 and 11 traveling without an adult) used to fly without an extra charge, but now they’ll have to pay $25 each way (American charges $100)

  • The third checked bag will now cost $50 instead of $25 (the first two are still free)

Like I said, these are hardly offensive charges. The pet fee is great, because it’s an additional option for those with small animals that wasn’t there before. The unaccompanied minor fee also makes sense. There is a cost to providing extra attention to children traveling alone, and $25 seems quite fair. And charging $50 for a third bag? Please. Anyone who is offended by that has never flown another airline and probably packs too much anyway.

These fees, however friendly they are, aren’t going to actually generate a ton of money for the airline. Southwest has made it clear that it needs to increase its revenues. In a rare corporate-speak moment, CEO Gary Kelly wrote in a blog post, “it is our fiscal responsibility to our Employees, our Customers, and our Shareholders to maximize our existing and potential revenue opportunities.”

The key for the airline now is to find ways to add fees that it thinks customers will find to be fair. In that same post, Gary says, “We truly believe in setting the right Customer expectation and not charging for those amenities that a Customer would ‘expect’ to get for free.” As a traveler, I appreciate that. But is there any low-hanging fruit that they could tweak to have a big revenue impact?

Yes. The change fee, or lack thereof.

I’m fairly sure that anytime the words “change fee” are put together, a collective gasp wafts out of Southwest’s headquarters. Southwest doesn’t do change fees, but I would argue that a change fee is in line with their strategy.

What traveler expects not to pay a change fee? A frequent Southwest traveler, yes, but not the rest of the world. Think about a $25 change fee. There are limited costs to Southwest for someone changing their itinerary, especially at the last minute. So would anyone really balk at a $25 change fee? Or what if you only charged the fee for changes within 7 days? The cost to the airline is the inability to resell that seat if it happens to close to departure. That seems like a fair fee to me.

Anything above $25 is too much for now, and certainly the $150 fee most airlines charge makes me cringe. But a $25 fee is enough for Southwest to be able to increase its revenues while still enabling customers to make relatively easy and inexpensive changes. I think this fits within what they’re trying to do.

What do you guys think?

Get Cranky in Your Inbox!

The airline industry moves fast. Sign up and get every Cranky post in your inbox for free.

69 comments on “Why Southwest Should Consider a Change Fee

  1. It all depends on what you charge the “change fee” for.

    I don’t fly terribly often — more like 2-3 times a year. But my biggest annoyance is the airlines that charge a “change fee” if you want to fly stand-by on an earlier flight. I completely get that airlines want to sell that empty seat that I have my eye on. But I already bought a seat on my later flight … which, by the way, might be oversold. If they can’t sell that empty seat, does it really cost anything to let me fly out earlier, thereby giving the airline a few more hours to possibly sell my old seat?

  2. Raise booze prices on Southwest to five bucks. Their current four dollar price, while favorable, in my opinion, is below the industry standard for libations on airplanes. I see it as an extra revenue opportunity that would cause passengers to grouse and gripe a bit, but one that still allows Southwest to look like a “friendlier” airline.

  3. Actually, one area that Southwest has not been as friendly as the other airlines is standby. If you want to fly standby, you have to pay the difference in fare between what you paid and the current price. If you bought your ticket at the last minute, no problem. But if you bought it way in advance at a cheap price, you will likely pay a lot to be able to standby.

    The no change fee on Southwest is a huge benefit, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a small change fee. I split all of my flying between Continental and Southwest and choose based on convenience. The fee would not keep me away, especially since I already pay $150 on Continental.

  4. I would disagree. From completely anecdotal evidence from FlyerTalk, the lack of change fee has been attracting some legacy fliers over to WN. A change fee, even a small one, could stop that.

  5. I choose to fly southwest many times each year because there is no change fee. Other airlines typically match Southwest’s fares, so that isn’t the deciding factor. The difference is that I can make changes on Southwest, or cancel and apply to a future trip, without a fee. If Southwest changed this policy so that there was a fee, it would remove one of the key differences between them and the others.

  6. So, I guess their advertising would be changed to “No Fees, Sort Of”?

    There are a number of things I trade off to fly WN: first class, assigned seats, no standby unless you’re willing to pay the walkup fare. Part of the reason I will make the tradeoff is the fact that even without being an elite, there are no change fees.

    WN becomes considerably less attractive to me with change fees, especially since AS waives them if you’re a senior elite.

  7. I
    I think SWA NOT having a change fee is a great thing. Changes fees are by far one of the biggest ripoff’s an airline can charge for. The process of changing tickets is so simple now with computers, and technology that it doesn’t make sense. Airlines charge changes for one reason only, because they can.

    This helps SWA and other LCC be different by charging a small fee or none at all. I think a 2nd bag fee is more realstic than a change of ticket fee.

  8. Perhaps I am mad, but I don’t expect to have to pay a change fee, I mean, all they’re doing is amending some info in their system, surely? Usually the difference between the price paid and the new price is pretty hefty anyway so it’s not like we’re asking for something for nothing. Chances are they will flog the seat I vacate anyway and all they’ll include the booking costs etc. in that seat price too. It’s just money for old rope. THIS is why average people like me, rather than industry insiders can’t bear airlines. In any other industry, except software and banking, this stuff would just never happen but in this one they can, and do get away with it. I don’t know anyone who objects to paying for reasonable stuff – 3rd bags, booze, food etc. but these nefarious additions just make my blood boil.

  9. PS – To add to my post. I am not elite flyer and have no desire to ever be. I support companies that offere a product/service. I normally fly AA on international-Latin American routes. Living in DTW, I will give the new Delta a try as well. However, SWA gest at least 80+% of my domestic business.

    So being “elite” and using the special carpet to board doesn’t sway my choice when booking tickets. If I flew everyday or everyweek for business, maybe I would feel differently??? Maybe not.

  10. What irks me about Southwest is not being able to stand by for an earlier or later flight without paying the difference up to the walk-up fare. It’s great to be able to apply the full value of the ticket to another ticket, but it’s a huge hassle and sometimes a huge expense not be able to travel at another time on the same day, say if you are running early or late. I’d much rather have a change fee and same-day travel flexibility at the already booked fare, something you get on every other airline.

  11. In a perfect world, a GRADUATED change fee might make sense. (For example, if one makes a change online to a flight 3 months away, the “cost” of doing so must be pretty close to zero.) However, if Southwest was to introduce such a fee now, it would essentially destroy the good will it has captured by its current no-fee policies. Keep in mind that 2 other large carriers (jetBlue and Alaska Airlines) do not have a change fee.

  12. I don’t mind a change fee if it’s a small fee. Can see a reason to charge a $150.00 fee like most carriers do, that just makes to sense other then to ‘steal’ money from people. You still have to meet certain rules of the fare you purchased so there are times you have to upgrade to a higher fare anyway. And don’t even get me started on why a change fee needs to be higher then the fare you paid for in the first place. Not that is truely senseless.

    Right now the majors all have a one way $129.00 (no tax added yet) LAX-NYC 14 day advance fare. The change fee is $150.00, more then the fare. Why should it cost more to make a change then it cost for the fare? It cost the airline more to book a whole new reservation then it will to press two keys on the keyboard to cancel your old space and a few addition keys to book your new space. And $150.00 for 10-15 minutes of time is a lot. Trust me if I called the airline to make the change, for $150.00 I’m going to keep that agent on the phone for a hour just to get my money’s worth……lol

  13. Yea 25 bucks is more than fair–its the other guys that p–s me off.
    If Gary really needs more bucks; then a reasonable fee for exit and bulkhead seats might be an idea

  14. First, Southwest will let you standby for a later flight without any upcharge if you miss your flight by less than 2 hours. This is the familiar “flat tire” rule common to most airlines.

    Second, even small change fees would force major changes in the way I book travel. My Southwest booking normally total between $2000 and $3000, extending several months into the future. With no change fees, my booking decision is simple: if I like the fare, I buy it. Maybe I fly it, maybe I don’t, but Southwest gets to keep my money and I will eventually use it to fly somewhere.

    If change fees are added, I will have to estimate the probability of travel for each trip I book. A change in my weekly travel pattern could be a disaster if I book 4 months ahead! Booking family trips will no longer be as simple or risk-free.

    Keeping track of funds expiration dates is already a nuisance. Change fees would raise that nuisance factor to a much higher level.

  15. I witnessed Delta charge a passenger $50 to take an earlier flight to Boston from BWI last week.

    The week before American did not charge me a dime to fly home to Dallas four hours earlier from Phoenix. I was on a restricted ticket and am not even AAdvantage Gold.

    I asked at the counter upon arrival what my options were. I received a gate pass and a smile, free of charge.

    If I was not already at the airport and had wanted to confirm a seat on an earlier flight the scenario would undoubtedly have been different. Otherwise I like the set-up American seems to have: No promises at no charge.

    Unless there is a hidden piece of information in the scenarios above, for Southwest to dare to ask for the difference in fare and still not guarantee transportation is mind-boggling and second only to the sucker who pays it.

  16. I wonder if the reason Southwest doesn’t charge change fees is to encourage people to change to a higher fare. When you change your flight (or at least when I do anyway), it’s almost always to a higher fare. Southwest gets the money from the original fare and the difference between the higher fare. When you slap a fee on that, it might discourage the seemingly more lucrative practice today.

  17. Any change fees would have us seriously reconsidering the legacies (even DL/NW) for our domestic travel. The lack of a change fee is a benefit that keeps many knowledgeable travelers at Southwest.

  18. Southwest will let you take the earlier flight for free if the flight you booked is expected to be delayed 30 minutes or more. If neither this exception nor the flat tire rule applies, then you have to pay the upgrade to full fare.

    Southwest wants to be able to offer low fares for off-peak times and high fares for peak times. Customers want to buy the low fare and fly at the peak time. You may think that it costs the airline nothing to let you take the earlier flight, but if you consider the initial purchasing decision as part of the game, the cost to the airline shows up right then in the form of a lower fare paid. Any airline that lets people do this is leaving money on the table and making a tactical mistake.

  19. NSX –

    I agree to a point. The initial buying decision does drive the time of travel and the desired fare. Southwest is “merely” asking its customers to honor that agreement by not diluting revenue on peak flights thru stand-by requests.

    Here is where we diverge: Day of Departure Revenue Opportunity. The model is built to hold last minute seats for full fare walk-ups. Granted. Last minute walk-ups demand confirmed space as part of their purchase agreement, not stand-by.

    That, plus the entire point of stand-by means that almost up to the last seat on the peak flight, a customer should be able to request earlier or later passage at minimal to no charge. Stand-by means if there IS a walk-up at the last minute, that least seat is his or hers and the stand-by is left at the gate.

    Airlines and certainly veteran gate agents know that an earlier flight with 30 open seats is not suddenly going to experience a rush at the last minute unless a competitor cancels. Short of that, a seasoned gate agent would, could and should offer the seat as a courtesy to a good customer.

    The customer gets home earlier, the gate agent still only has to deal with him once and maybe opens an opportunity for someone else later in the day.

    From a pure revenue opportunity perspective I do agree with you and Cranky that if they can charge it and get away with it, fine. I disagree that it should include upping the charge to the difference in full fare. And I definitely appreciate it when they recognize my initial choice in selecting their carrier and do me a simple, early favor in return.

  20. My experience with change fees is with transatlantic travel, mostly on KLM/NW. Ignoring some fare details there were three fare classes (for economy):
    * Full fare, refundable (free or $/€25 change)
    * Half fare, non refundable, $150/€100 change fee
    * Budget economy, no refund or change

    For many journeys we (boss and me) knew we would go, but not the exact day, but the difference in fares between full and half allowed for half a dozen changes in schedule. So we bought the half fare ticket, accepted change fees for two changes and kept $800 in our pockets. (A too complex fare system can work against the airlines.)
    Yes, I think that a $25 change fee is fair for short haul flights as is “free” airport standby for earlier flights.

  21. Traveling Optimist, I am sure there is a revenue maximization point somewhere between free standby and paying full fare to standby on an earlier flight than you originally booked. Southwest probably ought to explore that territory with a fee for successful standby of, say, 20% of the full fare. Make it 10% of the full fare if the departure time difference is an hour or less.

    The problem is that this begins to get complicated to explain to customers, and that complication might even cause costly flight delays.

  22. I would accept a change fee if it meant they were bringing their fare rules in line with other airlines. The no change fee policy really only helps people who want to cancel the entire trip, or are changing the outbound segment which would trigger a refare. With the legacies you usually can change the return for the change fee alone.

    I suspect WN gets a lot more speculative bookings than the legacies due to having no cancellation penalty. Plus no free standby unless you’re paying the full fare.

  23. As for the change fee having no relation to the ticket price, that is just something we are going to have to live with. With no way to collectively raise fares, the airlines are going to have to get that extra $100 per ticket from the pax somehow.

  24. I also suspect they collect a non-trivial amount of money off of the expiration of unused ticketless travel funds.

  25. There are, I think, better options for an airline like WN than change fees.

    For example:

    – Keep open seating, but board based upon the fare paid (instead of checkin time). Higher fares board before lower fares.

    – Put in a set # of something like a Digiplayer for the longer haul flights. WN gets to say they provide optional entertainment and also saves the expense of putting the A/V in the seats, and they can change the number of them on any given flight very easily.

    – Offer their own form of “travel insurance”. IE: you can choose to buy it, and if your flights get cancelled (for any reason), WN will put you up overnight at the airport hotel they have an agreement with and give you meal vouchers. It’d be like normal trip insurance, just without the hassle of paying out of pocket and later having your claim denied/reimbursed. I bet an airline could find a price point that works well if they try.

    – Maybe some sort of program where a pax could buy the right to change X number of flights ahead of time, for a predetermined set amount of money. Maybe something like 5 free changes to any flights for $500. The certificates would expire in one year, and could be given as gifts, etc. The idea being: Make it easier for people to know (in advance) the cost of changing their schedule and they just might be more willing to do it. Kind of similar to WN’s fuel hedging strategy, in some respects…

    Other ideas come to mind, as well… WN’s “no change fee” paradigm is an important idea that separates them from the rest of the airlines… (Besides, anyone else remember when TWA’s change fee was $25? $25 soon becomes $50, $50 becomes $75, $75 becomes $100, $100 becomes $150, etc…)

  26. No change fee on SWA? Boy do I feel like a chump! Ignorance is not bliss. 25 bucks is more than fair. I don’t see them losing any loyalty over this. Where will people run to? $150 United?

  27. I really love the “no change fee” at Southwest. Of all the a-la-carte fees (bags, pillows, food, etc), the change fee is the worst and I hope that Southwest never never never adds one. $25 wouldn’t be a killer, but, as Wonko says above, $25 becomes $50, becomes $100, becomes $150. In today’s computer and web world, it is not like years ago where there was some real labor cost to making a change. Almost all of my changes are done on the web site, so the transaction cost is almost nothing. And, Southwest does get the fare difference.

    Consider a change fee? Sure. Implement a change fee? NEVER!

  28. Some very different opinions here, pretty much as I expected. There’s no question this is a controversial proposal, though I still think it would be a good idea.

    I don’t deny that this would change booking patterns and it would get people to do less speculative booking. That might be a good thing for Southwest.

    The point about the standby option is a good one. The addition of a change fee might make them want to reconsider their no-standby-without-full-fare policy.

    A couple specific comments:

    Al Adels – Would a $25 change fee really remove the differentiator? I mean, you will pay $150 on nearly any other airline and there isn’t anyone less than $75. I don’t see $25 as prohibitively expensive, though the other airlines’ fees are.

    eponymous – They’ve already backed off the “no fee” thing to now only “no hidden fees.” Also, they could waive change fees for frequent fliers if they felt compelled to match Alaska’s plan. It might be a good idea.

    gtrjay – There may not be a major administrative cost, but Southwest does incur a cost in that they now have an empty seat that they could potentially have sold if they had more time to sell it. That’s why maybe a “within 7 days” fee would be more sensible.

    Thomas Parody – JetBlue and Alaska both have $100 change fees. If you make a change online, Alaska gives it to you for $75.

    Jack – Yeah, the fee for exit row or bulkhead is a good idea, but they have really tried to avoid taking away from their egalitarian nature. They’ve definitely chipped away at it, and this would be a decent one to charge for, I think.

    Zack Rules – I would hope that they can run the numbers on this with their internal data and determine what would be best. But I imagine that charging $25 for every change would still be make them more money.

    Mike – So a $25 change fee on Southwest would really push you to Delta where they have a $150 change fee?

    Wonko – I knew that someone would bring up the slippery slope argument! It’s always a possibility, but just because others have taken the path of slow increases doesn’t mean that Southwest necessarily would. You bring up some good options for raising money, but will they really raise enough? Or would it be better to simply add one change fee instead of having to add 10 smaller fees to get that same revenue?

  29. If this is the extent of Southwest airlines supplementing new charges, a simple $25.00 “change” fee, then it is hardly worth mentioning. Though like many airlines they will initiate an increase in fees, in small increments, to “test the waters” so to speak, testing public resistance and public awareness. By doing this it make it easier down the road to continue to hike up their rates or do add on fees.

  30. As a LUV stockholder, frequent Southwest flyer and 4-time companion pass holder, I strongly disagree with your suggestion to add a change fee. Southwest is a different breed of airline. The long-term value to the brand of beign easy to deal with is huge and far outweighs the short-term value of adding fees. Long story short – DON’T DO IT LUV!

  31. I fly at least one round trip on WN a week, sometimes two r/ts a week. If they do a change fee of any amount, I’m gone. For good. I change several flights a month, 90% of them go from the $49/$59 fare bucket to the full fare of $200+. If they want to charge me $25 to do that, I’m flying Alaska where I will have Gold status and not have to pay the fees.

  32. Some of WN’s ticket revenue would disappear with a change fee, even at $25, for a reason not yet discussed here: some WN trips are booked with the expectation that they will likely, but not for certain, be completed. These are trips such as visiting family/friends where the traveler or visitee might later find they have to work due to a deadline, or travel by someone who falls ill more often that most, or by a self employed, self paying traveler with business plans that will usually but not always pan out, and the like. You could consider these “speculative”, but for such travel plans that work out more often than not, WN’s no change fee model may drive significant revenue from such sources both as capture from other airlines and as additional travel that would otherwise simply not be done with a looming change fee. I know that I fly more than I would if there were change fees, and the tradeoff for WN is that I cancel some plans (and I try to cancel them reasonably well ahead of time). For alternatives to a new change fee, a cancellation fee that kicks in only shortly before travel might make some sense to address last minute seat spoilage. And to cut down on overbooking, I would strongly support a high or 100% “no-show” fee for those who make reservations then completely blow them off (by which I mean not even bother to show up after the flight, as opposed to missing a flight “flat tire” style).

  33. CF–Thanks for the opportunity to clarify/amend my prior post. Both jetBlue and Alaska Airlines have $0 REBOOKING fees. As used here, both charge on the order of $100 for a complete change to a ticket previously purchased although same day and standby changes can be made at reduced fees ($0 in the latter instance).

  34. NSX –

    Agreed. A nominal percentage of the full fare would be more acceptable than charging rack rate just to stand by. Of course, that’s still thinking from the revenue optimization perspective and it presents a gambler’s payback: does the customer get his/her fee back if they don’t make the flight? When and how that plays out wouldn’t necessarily delay the flight but resolving the matter would certainly take up staff resources short of automating the entire thing.

    Further, the fee would have to be loose enough to allow standby on any flight on, say, the same day; otherwise the customer is paying spec for each flight they try to get on other than their original. Wahoo for the airline, heavy money and hot frustration for the customer.

    From the customer perspective, again, “No Promises, No Charges.” Unless I want a confirmed seat on an alternate flight, the open seat on an earlier flight is already written off as lost revenue opportunity. The flight and the seat still have to go so make me happy and give me the spoiled seat for free since I’ve already paid for transportation that day anyway. If I DO want confirmed space, then yes, definitely charge me something reasonable and try to make some revenue out of nothing.

  35. I haven’t seen anyone mention the capital implications of the no change fee policy. My mother in law flies about 6 times a year cross-country on Southwest, and typically books a few cheap tickets on alternative dates for each trip. She then plays the usused credits game (or whatever you call it), but at any point in time she has a few hundred dollars or more “invested” in Southwest — that’s like a permanent, interest-free loan. Since she is a fairly discretionary traveler, it’s safe to say that even a $25 change fee will make her stop all this multiple booking, and decide on a date in advance of each trip.

    So an immediate effect of installing a change fee will be a drop in available capital for the airline, as customers start using their credits but don’t replace these with cash on future bookings. Does anyone know how significant this might be?

    Another question: if I book a cheap seat and then cancel, does the airline have to resell it for cheap, or has my initial booking relieved it from the obligation to sell a certain part of its inventory at a specified price? What if fare conditions such as advance purchase are no longer met at the time of cancellation? Encouraging “speculative” booking could actully allow an airline to sell more of its inventory at higher fares, if the cheap bookings get canceled; the absence of change fees encourages just that. Could this be another reason why Southwest stick to this policy?

  36. Here’s an idea charge a $100fee to first go through security. Then charge $100 to enter the concourses. Next charge $100 to use the jetway to board & again to disembark the aircraft. finally charge $100 to enter baggage claim . All fees are per person & no ecceptions of any kind are granted. the airlines & opperating authorities would be rolling in dough.

  37. The reason I fought with our corporate HR droids a few years ago to be able to book SW was because of the no change fee, if you are in sales and cover the Vegas, Phoenix, San Francisco areas out of LA you fly with SW because of the high number of flights on those routes.

    I would routinely finish a call early or late start to drive back towards the airport and call SW to change my ticket or just go in and walk up to the counter for the next departing flight. Since I always paid full price for the tickets this was a snap. Adding a change fee would have removed any incentive I had to get SW on the approved list. Of course these days my new company has a new policy on cutting travel down by 50% so I haven’t flown anywhere in over 6 months so it’s a moot point.

  38. Ron –

    To answer Question #2:

    You’ve heard the term “buckets” when referring to fare classes. For Southwest and the sake of simplicity let’s say each flight (all coach) has 5 buckets and each bucket has only one class. Further, each bucket is authorized to sell a certain number of seats.

    Finally, to the right of that is the number actually sold.

    San Diego to Nashville

    Bucket Auth Open
    B1 = Y 160 120
    B2 = B 135 105
    B3 = M 110 60
    B4 = R 75 5
    B5 = T 30 -10

    See what happens? Once the 30 cheap seats are gone it “zeros” out. Ten seats were sold in other classes so far, dropping the “T” seats in to negative numbers, so returning your seat to inventory won’t open the seat to the next guy. Booking classes and authorization levels constantly “float” to find the “sweet spot” for each flight so opening more cheap seats isn’t likely for anything other than a loss leader.

    Every airline out there currently revenue manages using a variation on the above.

    Hope that helps.

  39. SEAN, do you work for Ryanair? They have the guts to ask you £ 5 for printing your boarding pass at your computer at home (and more when you have them print it at the airport…) Many of the fees you mention are already rolled into your ticket price, as airport/passenger/security fees and encourage passengers to consider alternate airports.

  40. RE: Upgrade to full fare to enable stand-by travel on a different flight.

    What is hard to understand about this SWA requirement? If you want maximum flexibility, but a full fare and you can go stand-by on any flight you choose.

    Discounted tickets come wtih restrictions on all airlines – always have, always will. You want flexibiity you must pay. This has been the case since the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.

    The airlines have different ways of approaching flexibility but I happen to think SWA’s is the best. Especially their full-fares are generally lower than the competition.

  41. Hey Cranky,
    I really think you’ve got this wrong. A change fee will really peeve many many customers–myself included. No change fee is one of the reasons why so many people choose Southwest Airlines.

  42. Ron – I certainly don’t know what the impact of the drop in available capital would be, but I can tell you that Southwest sure knows it! I have no doubt that they would consider that in any decision they made.

    I think Optimist answered your other question, but the answer is no. If you relinquish a cheap seat, they can sell that seat for whatever they want. If that’s the last seat on the plane, it may very well sell only for full fare.

    Oliver – I definitely don’t have all the necessary data to make a truly informed decision, but I still think it’s worth considering. As a traveler, I wouldn’t want to see it, of course. But if there was a $25 fee, I don’t think that would deter me from booking Southwest at all.

  43. I fly SouthWest at least one RT/month. While a $25 change fee wouldn’t drive me away (where would I go?) it would certainly shift me from a someone who loves the airline and sings its praises to one who merely likes it a lot. I think my high level of customer goodwill may be worth more to them than the occasional $25.

    As some have observed, I’d also be less likely to book trips out 2-3 months ahead, as my work schedule changes frequently and I really appreciate the flexibility of moving trips around by a day or week with no penalty.

  44. Hey Cranky,
    Revenues are always worth considering…but at what cost?

    The reply by PFR raises a good point about customer goodwill.

    Even with a potentially small change fee, I believe I would continue flying Southwest. But my praise for them as a friendly airline with respect to the flexibility and change fee will fade away. Word of mouth is sometimes the best way of stirring up business and building trust for a company’s services. I always praise Southwest for this flexibility to my friends and other people I know who travel. You take away customer goodwill towards a company, then you’re left with a company policy that people reluctantly “have to” bear with.

  45. PFR/Oliver – These are all good points. And of course, Southwest would need to take goodwill into account before deciding to do something like this. But I know that what people say and what they do can be different. My guess is that while they will lose some goodwill, I don’t think a $25 fee would have that much of an impact. Do I know this? Nope. It’s a gamble.

  46. I easily agree that, in general, a $25 change fee is good low hanging fruit.

    However, I’d definitely make sure that “no change fee” was one of the benefits included in “business select” fares. It seems a reasonable perk for them to keep with that level of ticket.

  47. My typical ticket price on Southwest is $60, tax included. Compared to that, a $25 change fee looms quite large. I wouldn’t switch airlines, but I really wouldn’t like it.

    If Southwest thought that customers were upset at the loss of double Rapid Rewards credits and the imposition of capacity controls on RR awards, those would be nothing compared to the outcry if Southwest began charging change fees.

    The only way this might be a win for Southwest is if Southwest were to announce change fees, wait 3 to 7 days for the media wave to crest, then reverse course with a big ad campaign. Think New Coke. Southwest would gain a massive amount of free publicity for its “no change fee” policy, at a time when many airline customers will have already paid $150 fees to other airlines and may not be aware that Southwest does not charge a fee. This scenario is probably too clever by half.

  48. kaszeta – Thanks for bringing this up. I could have been more clear with my proposal, but it certainly would not include change fees on full fare “business select” tickets. That is a good benefit that could help make people buy up to higher fares.

    nsx – That could potentially backfire as well, but I like the way you think. Free publicity is good publicity, and it certainly would put the change fee issue front and center. Really, they could just announce that they were studying a change fee and potentially get the same level of press.

  49. Neoncactus, your post at 1325 on 06/02 says it all. Thanks for spelling it out as you did, I was beginning to think I was the only one who sees it that way.

  50. Unfortunately, I know why my husband and I don’t fly SWA. While the airlines does not call it a “change fee”, it certainly has one – the difference between fares. In our particular instance, we wanted to leave on a earlier flight, and found the difference in fare $300+ per ticket however the customer service rep continued to insist that there was “no change fee”. As a result, we will not be “changing” our flight and will not fly SWA again. While I realize this is in the fine print and readily available information, this is outrageous. As frequent flyers using Continental, we are not charged baggage fees and they do have change fees of reasonable amounts.

    1. This is absurd. First off, other airline charge you the difference PLUS a $150 change fee. I once changed flights on SW and the new ticket was actually cheaper. They gave me back the difference (as a credit, but still awesome!)
      So they don’t charge fees and will give you money back if your new ticket is cheaper and take money if it’s more. Very fair.

      That said, $25 wouldn’t bother me much, especially if it was for changing late. (like within 24 hrs.)

  51. @ Deborah:

    You mean to tell me (us) that this is only reason that you don’t fly Southwest? If the fare for the earlier flight was $300 less, I would suspect that you would be a regular user and you wouldn’t care whether it was called a change fee or not.

  52. Deborah wrote:

    Unfortunately, I know why my husband and I don’t fly SWA. While the airlines does not call it a “change fee”, it certainly has one – the difference between fares.

    You must be talking about same-day standby only, right? Yes, to standby for an earlier flight, you have to pay the difference in fare while other airlines don’t charge you for that. But for any other changes, other airlines charge you the difference in fare + the change fee while Southwest just charges the difference in fare.

  53. You missed my point completely. I mean to say that we would have gladly paid the $100.00 change fee assessed by other carriers rather than the difference in airfare which was $610.00 not known as a change fee. I am all for SWA putting in place change fees rather than the way it stands right now.

    @ Thomas Edward Parody:

  54. I think you might be missing their point.

    Assume it isn’t a same day “standby” type change (since you can’t ahead of time guarantee there would be room for you on that earlier flight anyway).

    Any other airline would be a $150 change fee PLUS that $300 difference in fare. For each of you. Plus luggage fees.

    (As an aside, would you have preferred if there was no room for you on the flight you changed to?)

  55. BTW- you could also simply have purchased a new one way ticket back on another airline and then reused the value of your original return ticket on some later flight (a “cheap” one…).

    There’s no change fee on Southwest…

  56. Deborah is an idiot. NO ITS YOU WHO IS MISSING THE POINT.

    Airlines charge the difference in fare PLUS a fee, moron.

    And to the OP who suggested SWA charging a change fee, DIAF. Why the hell would you want to be charged more money?

  57. I personally love SWA for their policies, and out of principle and loyalty will always fly them if I can. I am leaving for Europe tomorrow and have been enduring a nightmare just dealing with scummy Continental/United. $100 for 3 extra inches of leg room? Sickening. $150 to change a flight? (These airlines have no idea if a personal problem occurs, nor do they care). Southwest always gets it right. They are dependable andaffordable, but most importantly don’t treat their customers like commodoties. I personally love flexibility with travel dates so it is ideal. I hope they never change and that gradually over time they win over more and more fliers who revolt against all these horrible pathetic airlines. If only Southwest flew overseas, I would be set!

  58. You all got it right. SWA not only doesn’t charege a change fee, but it will loet you change the flights online and keep your confirmation number. That’s fantastic. Yeah there may be difference in the price of the new ticket, but that’s my problem for my decision making (done in haste or done in procrastination). Other companies don’t care, and they will tell that if there was an illness or emergency you need to check with your doctor or relatives. It is not there problem! Yet SWA, took care of my problems no matter what they were. Frequent flyer since 1979.

  59. SW just lost a customer here. I arrived early on a stopover and tried to get on a flight that left well before my next one. I was told that I’d have to pay $250 to do so, and yet the gate rep insisted this wasn’t a “change fee.” I called customer service to no avail. Sad that the ads are so misleading. As a frequent business traveller, I’ll no longer use Southwest. Hope this comment helps others stay away as well.

    1. Kelly it wasn’t a change fee just the difference between what you paid and the walk up fare for the flight you wanted. That is why their ads are so misleading. They want the public to think all airlines make you pay the fare difference as they say, but the other guys are also making you pay a change fee. All that is not true since with other airlines if the fare you purchase still qualifies for the new flight you could pay a change fee of $75 or $150 or nothing at all if you purchased a no penalty fare. You could even get a refund if the new flight is less depending on your original ticket fare rule.

      Most WN passengers think that $39 fare they purchase 6 months in advance may only have a $20 fare difference since WN has done a good job of brain washing the public into thinking they have only those low type fares. I wonder how many people are surprised when they find out the new flight fare difference is hundreds of dollars as you found out.

  60. David, I don’t think that the ads are outrageously misleading. Rather, many folks don’t realize that “walk-up” fares tend to be much higher than “advance purchase” fares. Southwest has been doing what they are doing for quite some time now.

  61. What I think amusing is that people seem to be very opionated about any kind of ad on fees, yet they rarely if ever would know about it as all the airlines, including and especially the travel providers, all expert at disguising “fees” of any kind. They call fees everyting from opti-fees, to booking fees, processing fees, handling charges, billing fees, shipping fees, and those are only the ones that come to mind, though they are getting very creative todaywith some very unsual sounding fees, that only serve to bum up the profits of the company nothing more. I guess everyone has to make a living somehow, but really now, lets noteven give another thought to an airline decding to call something a “change-fee” because at least that sounds half-way honest. I mean they could have as easily called it the “high-altitude-decompressional fees” or [HADF] fees for short and would we really be paying attention? Then when we become incensed, we go to the competition who agrees that these fees are outlandish, they would never even dream of such tom foolery. So as you get in the taxi to go home and take out the competitors bill you can’t help notice the $25 dollar “No HADF Processing Fee” plus a $15 dollar DYRTWC Fee, uncommonly known as “Did You Really Think We’re Cheaper Fee”

  62. Add me to the list of Southwest misleads. I’m a frequent business traveler and today I wanted to get home 3 hours earlier. Every other airline I’ve traveled would just charge me $0 to $75 to grab an open seat, STANDBY. Southwest hit me for $299. I feel raped. To see them brag about “no change fees” when I got raped is ridiculous. Again, this was same day, standby, open seat, no reason for Southwest to treat me like I changed my day of flight or walked up to the counter without a ticket. Pathetic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Cranky Flier