A United Airlines Boeing 777 at Denver International Airport.

A United Airlines Boeing 777 at Denver International Airport.

United Airlines has quietly increased the fees it charges for voluntary changes on tickets for travel within North America, and between North and Central America by $50 to $200. The change affects tickets issued on or after April 18, according to an internal company advisory sent to employees.

The decision makes United the airline with the highest change fees in the affected markets. Other major legacy U.S. carriers, such as American, Delta and US Airways, still charge $150, and smaller airlines like Frontier and Virgin America charge $100. Alaska Airlines’ change fees are $75 online and $100 by phone. Those fees, which Southwest Airlines proudly spares its customers, are in addition to any fare differences. Changing the most expensive — or full-fare — tickets doesn’t incur penalties on any airline.

The United fee increase, coming just a week after the carrier was named worst in customer service in a national ranking tracking airline performance, is certain to anger United fliers even further. Industry watchers will be monitoring very closely whether other airlines follow suit — that has been the trend historically, though customer backlash and social media outrage have forced carriers, including United, to reverse controversial decisions in recent years.

The last change-fee raise — from $100 to $150 — took place in April 2008 and was also initiated by United. The other legacy carriers soon matched it. Before that, Continental Airlines, which merged with United in 2010, initiated an increase from $75 to $100 in January 2001.

In its latest and still unannounced move, United also raised the change fees between North America and South America from $250 to $300. The fees in other international markets remain at $250.

As a rule, fees are waived in the case of schedule changes imposed by the airlines weeks or even months before the travel date. Many carriers have recently increased fees for same-day voluntary changes made on the day of travel, as well as standby fees, which didn’t exist on domestic tickets until a few years ago.
UPDATE: Within days of United’s move, US Airways matched the fee increase. Delta and American Airlines quickly followed suit.
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