All major airlines except Southwest are using domestic change fees to make up for lost revenue. United is notorious for imposing strict penalties on changes to your airline ticket. Below is an example of how they are doing it.
I will not be able to depart on my scheduled return flight from JFK to LAX on March 11, 2009. I went to United.com to modify my itinerary to change my return date from JFK to LAX to next Sunday, March 17, 2009. I noticed United has repriced my ticket to: $319 plus a $150 change fee making the new ticket $469. United then subtracted my original ticket of $279 and tells me I will need to pay $190 for the change. Below is a print screen directly from united.com.
I then went to Kayak to see how much the one-way JFK to LAX ticket for the same flight with the exact same date and time is worth. The result (below) is $200.
United is basically telling its customers that they are getting a $10 discount for making a change on a return flight vs buying a new one way ticket. United and other airlines should reward their customers for booking round trips with them. Booking a round trip used to be cheaper and customers were rewarded for being loyal. Under this circumstance, I do not see why I should be booking round trips with United or any airlines that charges a hefty change fee. I recalled back in 2005 when United would only charge you their change fee ($50 or so) and put you on the next available flight.
Based on my current finding, I will cancel my United return flight on the very last minute to make sure United cannot sell my seat to another person. As long as you cancel before the flight takes off, United must issue you a credit. In the meantime, I will monitor Kayak and other sites for a cheaper return - I noticed American has a 9AM return on the same date for $180 which is a $10 saving.
Taking advantage of customers through change fees should be reviewed by our Justice Department. Here’s a link to my previous post regarding airline change fees making your ticket under $200 worthless.