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Why Can’t You Change Your Ticket

I haven’t decided if I’ll make this a regular feature or not, but today I’ll address a question that everyone asks me: Why can’t I change my airline ticket?

You can change your hotel reservation until 6pm, you can change your car rental reservation, you can change your train ticket, but God forbid you want to change your flight…

So, why do airlines give you (and me) such a hard time about changing tickets? (In fact, I just got off the phone with United, who told me that I could not change my free ticket to leave 12 hours earlier. I hate that.) In any case, here’s the reason (and you’re not going to like it): Airlines see your ticket as a contract to get you from here to there on a given set of flights (this is why they hate hidden cities and back-to-back ticketing, and all of the other little tricks to save money). They aren’t required to change that contract just so you can fly a day earlier. They believe, frustratingly, that they are selling you a seat, not a reservation, just as tickets to a Broadway show gets you a seat on a given day, not simply entrance to the theatre.

Of course, the frustrating part is that if they cancel your flight at the last minute and book you on a different flight, they don’t have to compensate you. But the long and the short of it is this: unless you’re flying on a low-fare carrier, who understand that changing a flight is part of traveling, you’re gonna pay.

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  1. “They believe, frustratingly, that they are selling you a seat, not a reservation, just as tickets to a Broadway show gets you a seat on a given day, not simply entrance to the theatre.”

    The HUGE difference is that I can sell or trade my Broadway ticket to a third party and I can use or not use the Broadway ticket as I see fit (if I buy season tickets, I do not get punished if I decide not to use a ticket or leave the show early).

    If they want to play the ‘you are buying a seat’ game, then let me use/dispose of the seat as I see fit.

    BTW, Broadway does not over sell the seats available for a show.

  2. ok, so you cant change an airline ticket because the contract is for that seat, but why cant you change the name on a ticket, why do they care who sits in that seat as long as they sold it?

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