JetBlue Proves There’s a Reasonable Way to Hit Us With Fees

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Matthew Hinton / AFP / Getty Images

You know the drill: An airline hikes its fees, and within seconds travelers vent their outrage in response. JetBlue shows that it doesn’t have to be this way.

When United Airlines raised its ticket change fee to $200 (up from $150) a few weeks ago, the masses grumbled in here-we-go-again exasperation, in full expectation that the competition would follow suit with fee hikes of their own. Sure enough, by early May, Delta, US Airways, and American Airlines had all also boosted their ticket change fees from $150 to $200.

Among the holdouts that didn’t jack up their change fees were Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, the two most fee-adverse carriers, which still allow passengers to check at least one bag free of charge—and which, by no small coincidence, regularly receive the highest ratings in terms of customer satisfaction. As of May 17, however, JetBlue raised its change fees.

(MORE: The One Airline That Stubbornly Refuses to Pile on the Fees — For Now)

What’s more surprising than the fact that JetBlue jacked up its change fees is that hardnosed travel advocates aren’t hating on the new fees. Brett Snyder, who writes the CrankyFlier blog admits that he “bashed” United’s change fee hike. JetBlue’s policy changes instead represent the “right way to increase your change fee,” Snyder wrote. “Good work, JetBlue,” he wrote. “You found a way to increase your change fee in a way that’s more consumer-friendly.”

How can any fee increase be consumer-friendly? Well, in JetBlue’s case, travelers can at least see that the policy changes make sense compared to what’s become the industry standard.

The $200 fee for changing a ticket with United, American, and the others is a flat charge assessed no matter what the price of the original ticket, and no matter when the passenger is making an itinerary change. These rules strike many travelers as unfair, and perhaps even silly and counterproductive. A traveler who purchased a one-way ticket for, say, $125, and needs to change travel dates has no incentive to report the change to an airline that would charge $200 for the “service.” What’s more, when a traveler changes a flight months before the departure was to take place, it is very easy for the airline to fill that traveler’s original seat—so a $200 fee in this scenario seems like just another greedy money grab. It is charging the fee just because the airline feels like it can get away with it, without regard to how much the service actually costs the carrier.

JetBlue’s new change fee policies address both of the issues raised above. First, any passenger who changes a JetBlue ticket 60 days or more in advance of departure is charged a flat $75. Secondly, passengers who are changing itineraries within 60 days of departure are assessed fees based on how much the original ticket cost. A $75 fee is assessed on fares that initially cost under $100; the change fee is $100 on tickets that were $100 to $149; and the fee tops out at $150 on tickets that were originally sold for $150 or more.

(MORE: End of New Airline Fees? Nation’s Most Fee-Crazy Airline Is Tapped Out of Ideas)

Prior to the change, JetBlue’s fees for changing a ticket were $50 or $100, depending on the cost of the initial flight. So JetBlue is undeniably raising fees. Still, CrankyFlier isn’t the only traveler greeting the fee hike with understanding, if not approval. A BoardingArea.com stated that the airline was adjusting its change fee “in a logical way,” which is the total opposite of United and the others whose “change fees in no way reflect the cost of providing that service.”

At FlyerTalk—where the legions of opinionated travelers are never shy about saying what’s on their minds—the JetBlue change fee update “has yet to be met with expressions of disgust or resentment,” according to a recent post offering a selection of feedback to the news.

Many travelers also noted that members of TrueBlue Mosaic, JetBlue’s club for elite frequent fliers, won’t have to pay the usual change or cancellation fees. For that matter, it’s worth noting that Southwest Airlines still has no change fees.

Overall, the reaction from travelers to JetBlue’s changes demonstrates that consumers aren’t always 100% opposed to fee hikes. We aren’t unreasonable. We understand that airlines are in the business of making money, and we understand that some of the services we require come with a cost to the business—and that these costs must somehow be passed along to passengers, via fees or airfares.

(MORE: Airline Baggage Fees on the Rise, Yet More Passengers Deem Them ‘Reasonable’)

So long as the fees are fairly transparent and reasonable, we’ll accept them. But when fees make no sense—when they’re unjustifiably high and appear to be pulled out of thin air—that’s when travelers get angry. Understandably so.

3 comments
rbiggs2345235
rbiggs2345235

I recently made a mistake booking a flight online (shame on me, I know - but I had to book several flights in one day for business travel and I was in a hurry. Oops.)   I immediately called the airline and explained that I'd made a mistake booking online and needed to change the flight schedule.  I was told that I would need to pay a $200 change fee.  On a $245 flight.  When I grumbled about this, they tried to tell me that it was more complicated than I thought and it would actually require $200 worth of human effort to change my booking.  Quite amazing if its true - that only $45 of my ticket price is intended to cover the cost of the actual flight, the rest is spent on booking it. 

JoeyK
JoeyK

@rbiggs2345235 All the legacy carriers have 24-hour no-risk cancellation policies.  Some obnoxious phone agents are difficult and will make you request by name a free "cancellation" (after which you can just rebook a new ticket) rather than a fee-based "change" without informing you of your better options.

CarletonMacDonald
CarletonMacDonald like.author.displayName 1 Like

Until United Airlines was taken over by Continental management, they had a same-day change policy that was very friendly to both the passenger and the airline.  If there was a flight departing before the passenger's scheduled flight, United would allow the passenger to stand by for that flight at no charge.  In fact, their check-in kiosks would actually offer this, detecting that there was such a flight and displaying it on the screen to the passenger; to accept the standby offer, the passenger only had to touch a button on the screen.  This was good for the passenger (got to leave earlier) and also good for the airline: a seat on an earlier flight that would go to waste once the door closed would not go out empty, and a seat on a later flight was freed up - a seat the airline might need for a misconnect or a last-minute passenger.  The new Continental (OK, United) policy is that you pay for same-day changes whether they are to an earlier flight (benefiting the airline) or a later flight (not benefiting the airline).