Airlines rely on you to have minor and major personal crises. Everything from changed meeting dates to family emergencies generate around $2 billion in change and cancellation fees a year, according to the Department of Transportation. That’s pretty much twice the amount the airlines pull in from extra bag fees – a measure that’s already been lauded by the Wall Street set for its impact on the airlines’ finances. For American Airlines parent AMR, for example, change and cancellation penalties came to $116 million for the first quarter of the year, while baggage fees amounted to $108 million.
These penalties, lamented almost universally by passengers, upped airline passenger revenue by 3.2 percent in the United States. As usual, business travelers get screwed most (probably because they travel most. They paid the bulk of $527.6 million in first quarter change fees.
Even with fewer people climbing onto planes this year, increases in penalty amounts have led to a net gain in revenue for airlines from this type of fee. A number of the larger airlines upped their change fees from $100 to $150. JetBlue moved it from $40 to $100 – and saw first quarter fees surge 29 percent, from $25 million to $32.2 million, relative to the first quarter of 2008.
These change fees are actually pretty important. With the money they bring in, airlines can offer discounts elsewhere, financed by the extra income. And, they make it more attractive for passengers to buy full-fare tickets, that way they have a bit more flexibility. The more expensive tickets benefit the passenger … and of course, the airline.