Travelocity’s hidden change fee

by Christopher Elliott on February 22, 2007

Question: I recently paid $397 per person for two tickets from Tucson, Ariz., to Columbus, Ohio, through Travelocity. Because of a death in the family, I needed to reschedule my trip, so I called the online agency’s service center.

I had expected to pay a change fee of $100 per ticket, plus the costs associated with changing the flight. But the agent told me the change fee would actually be $130 per ticket, and an additional $937 per person for the new ticket.

When I pointed out that it would cost less to just throw the old ticket out and buy a new one, the agent said there was nothing she could do. She offered no options, no suggestions and no flexibility. Her eagerness to get off the phone trumped courtesy as well.

I booked an entirely new set of tickets for $1,523 — $670 less than the agent’s rebooking “offer.” I have asked them to credit the change fee along with the difference in airfare. At the very least, Travelocity should be clearer about its change fees.

Can you help me get my money back?

— Melanie Mouras, Hereford, Ariz.

Answer: The first set of tickets you bought through Travelocity was a pretty good deal. It probably would have cost you more to drive to Columbus, once you factored in fuel, hotel and the extra time.

But these cut-rate fares come with a catch: If you so much as sneeze in the wrong direction, the cost of your trip takes off.

The change fee is the least of your worries. The real blow to the wallet comes with the higher airfare, since the airline often bills you the difference between the less expensive advance-purchase fare and the pricier walk-up fare, which can double or triple the cost of a flight. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about the change fee.

The standard airline change fee is $100, but Travelocity adds an additional $30 as a penalty for rebooking a nonrefundable ticket. It’s no wonder that you didn’t know about the fee; as far as I can tell, it isn’t disclosed online. (But Travelocity may be alone in this practice. If its two online rivals charge similar fees, they don’t appear to be disclosed anywhere on their Web sites, either.)

There is no excuse for the way in which the Travelocity agent treated you. Rather than trying to get off the phone with you, she should have found a way to fly you to Columbus as inexpensively as possible — even if it meant buying a new ticket.

You did the right thing by rejecting her offer and then finding a better fare, but you won’t have much luck chasing Travelocity for a refund. Unfortunately, it is the airlines that set the refund rules, not Travelocity. However, when I contacted Travelocity on your behalf, it agreed that the $30 change fee could have been more clearly disclosed, and it promised to include it more clearly in its terms and conditions.

As a goodwill gesture, Travelocity agreed to waive its $30 change fee if you decide to rebook your nonrefundable ticket, and it issued a $250 voucher for future travel.

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