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Changing an airline ticket? There's a fee for that, and it's gone up

More for Your Money: United and US Airways are now charging more for changes. It's still free at Southwest, but if you're a no-show, it soon could cost you.

By Tom Parsons

May 27, 2013

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If you buy an airline ticket and need to change or cancel your itinerary, you could be in for an even more unpleasant surprise.

Most travelers buy nonrefundable tickets because they cost considerably less than refundable tickets. But a couple of airlines have recently raised fees for changing and canceling nonrefundable domestic tickets, and they could be joined by more airlines in the coming weeks.

Last month, United increased its change fee on nonrefundable domestic tickets to $200, up from $150. US Airways quickly followed suit.

Thus far, American and Delta have not raised their domestic change fees, which are currently $150.

Domestic change fees on other U.S. airlines are $75 on Alaska; $100 on Frontier, JetBlue and Virgin America; and $125 on Spirit.

The change fees to international destinations such as Europe and Asia are holding steady at $250.

It's not just the change fee you'll have to pay. If the new ticket you book is more expensive, you'll have to pay the difference plus the change fee.

Some airlines deduct the fee from the amount of your original ticket when you change or cancel, but others give you a credit in the original amount of the ticket and charge you the fee when you go to use the credit.

For example, if you paid $500 for a ticket and you had to change or cancel your flight, you would get a credit voucher of $500 on US Airways and would have to pay the change fee to access the credit.

On American, the $150 change fee would be deducted from the price of your original fare, and you would have a credit voucher of $350.

Here's the other sad part about US Airways policies. Let's say you do pay your $200 change fee and your new ticket costs $200.

Under this policy, you would lose the remaining $100. On American and Delta, if the new ticket costs $200, you get the rest after the change fee is deducted.

Here's some more sad news: American Airlines and US Airways may merge , and the management team from US Airways will be operating the new American Airlines.

We're hoping these rules don't come along with the merger.

On the up side, Southwest Airlines has the most traveler-friendly policy when it comes to change fees.

If there is an increase in your new airfare, you will be required to pay the difference, but there is no additional fee.

However, Southwest has announced a change to its policy for travelers who do not cancel their flight at least 10 minutes before departure. The airline will begin a new no-show policy on Wanna Get Away and Ding! special fares that were purchased on or after May 10, for travel beginning Sept. 13.

If you do not contact the airline to change or cancel your flight before it is scheduled to depart — you can do so by phone ([800] 435-9792), online (www.southwest.com) or through Southwest's mobile app — you will lose the total value of your ticket.

The new no-show policy is in line with the policies of other airlines. Southwest has been lenient, but no-shows represent seats that could have been sold. It is, after all, a business.

It always pays to know your airline's policy if your travel plans are apt to change and book accordingly.

travel@latimes.com