I absolutely hate cancelling a non-refundable airline reservation. It feels like a kick in the gut, especially on “cheap” domestic airfares where the fee to reuse the ticket – $150 on most airlines – ends up eating away a significant portion of the overall ticket value.
Last week, I was unable to travel and had to cancel my United Airlines reservation from Reno to Seoul, South Korea. And since it was an international trip, the penalty to be able to use the value of that ticket on a future reservation is $250. Ouch.
I could have gotten around the penalty by purchasing a flexible or refundable airfare in the first place. But as I rarely cancel reservations and given the fare differential between the ticket I purchased and what a flexible fare would have cost exceeded my price tolerance (and was significantly more than $250 from what I recall), I elected to buy the more restrictive ticket. I took the risk.
It’s still painful to swallow the $250 penalty, though.
But Is It Fair?
My short answer is yes, absolutely. I agreed to all of the conditions of the fare I purchased when I bought it and I have no complaints against United. I’m not your average traveler, of course, and I have a rather intimate knowledge of the industry and know what I’m getting into when I buy a ticket.
This post is a sort of a departure from what normally appears here on Frequently Flying, but it came up after I spoke with a neighbor yesterday who was complaining about how unfair it was for her airline to charge her a penalty to change her flight.
I explained my reasoning as outlined above from my own very recent experience, but it did little to appease her. And I also brought up that when a person changes or cancels a flight at the last minute, the airline is (generally) unable to resell the seat in such a short timeframe. But that, too, fell on deaf ears.
Airlines deservingly get abuse from the traveling public when warranted, but I have to side with airlines on the way they price their “products.” Some airlines do a better job up-front in displaying fare differences when shopping for flights. American and Southwest’s graphical tables come to mind in this case. Others, such as United, default to the lowest fare for flight searches and the display does little to educate infrequent fliers on the various ticket options and restrictions.
While each airline seat might look the same onboard to the average traveler, the product mix of the fare types people purchased to sit in them is anything but similar.