Southwest Airlines has some catchy television commercials proclaiming that they do not charge for ticket changes or for baggage. Analysis about whether they are completely truthful can be found elsewhere.
I do have a couple of experiences and thoughts about making changes to non-changeable and non-refundable tickets.
First, cheapest airfares have the most restrictions. In exchange for shopping far in advance, agreeing to fly on certain days at certain times, and sometimes flying odd routings, the airlines sell us cheaper tickets. However, cheaper airfares come with restrictions such as no refunds and fees to make any changes–thus “non-refundable” and “non-changeable” fares.
I have been able to make itinerary changes to many non-changeable tickets. In most of those cases, I requested and took earlier flights. Other times I was able to change connection cities or even arrival airports.
Here are two of my unique non-changeable situations:
* I booked an award ticket (free airfare using frequent flyer points) with an itinerary from Dulles to Atlanta to Salt Lake City to Anchorage. Whew! When I booked the ticket, that was the only available itinerary. Award tickets are typically even more restricted than discounted fares, because free tickets do not make the airline any money. When I arrived at Dulles airport, I noticed that there was a flight from Dulles to Salt Lake City leaving before my flight to Atlanta. I asked the gate agent if I could switch. She first said No because it was a non-changeable severely restricted ticket. I asked if there were available seats (there were plenty) and said that by changing it would open up two revenue-generating seats on more popular routes (the flight to Atlanta, for instance, was full). Besides, I did not have any baggage to check. She eventually agreed and let me switch. I ended up with a six-hour stopover in Salt Lake City, which I used for family history research.
* In the late 1980s, I booked a Monterey to Boston itinerary using a promotional certificate. The fare was cheaper than any available fare and thus was unpublished and even more restricted. I remember making two or three connections to get there. I wanted to return from Boston a day or two early and went to the airport. After being told no way because of the ticket rules, I told them I was flexible to any itinerary they could provide. It was in the afternoon and the agent said they could not get me home that evening. I said that was OK and ended up flying to Pittsburgh, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, before returning to Monterey the next day.
By no means was I able to change every non-changeable ticket to a desirable itinerary. I am not even sure it has been more often than not. I can tell you that it is definitely not impossible.
My experience is that if a flight has available seats, if you have a pleasant demeanor, and you are flexible (have no checked baggage), then there is a high likelihood that the gate agent will change your non-changeable ticket.
McCool Travel Tip: traveling light and being nice to airline agents significantly increases your chances to changing a non-changeable ticket.
How about you frequent flyers? Agree or disagree? What have been your experiences with non-changeable tickets?
Charles McCool is an independent consumer travel advocate.
© 2011, Charles McCool