Delta’s travel agent re-ticketing fees — not new, only higher and now enforced

My recent post about Delta’s $50 travel agency change fee generated a fair amount of commotion, along with a response from Katie Hulme of Delta Airlines’ Corporate Communications.

“Contrary to reports, Delta has not introduced a new ticket reissuance fee for voluntary changes to tickets booked by travel agencies. This is incorrect – there is no new fee.”

In short, she wished to clarify, not that the fee is a mistake, but that it has been in effect since 2006, and that is it “is in line with industry standards.” She added that the fee does not apply to changes due to “irregular operations.”

In the interests of clarification, Delta is partially right. It is an old, but well-hidden fee. Many other airlines do have such a fee, but it is generally lower and with more waivers.

Southwest, as most travelers would expect, cheerfully changes reservations without a fee. In fact, agency ticketless reservations MUST be changed by phone, not via computer. JetBlue reduces fees for changes made online, but they don’t discriminate between agency and airline direct reservations.

United has a Reservations Servicing Fee of $25 for changing tickets made through “external sources.” – i.e. any type of agency and other airlines. But they waive it for higher fare categories, 1k and Global Services members, and reservations made by Star Alliance partners.

American Airlines only officially waives the fee for Executive Platinum members, but I have had a couple clients tell me they were not charged. And the American External Reservations Handlinge Fee is officially only $15 per ticket, $20 at the airport. Curiously enough, American also has a telephone “seat assignment” fee, which doesn’t usually affect travel agents, unless the client has booked a tour or air-sea package through a cruise line.

Most airlines do have a fee for reservations made by phone, so perhaps it’s not unreasonable that they charge something additional by phone to change a booking. But in reality, most travelers who book through an agency generally call that agency for changes. (In fact, as many agents will attest, many clients who DON’T book through an agency will often call when they need a change or have a problem.)

Delta, along with other carriers, does indeed waive fees for last minute “irregular operations,” i.e. a canceled flight. But the airline does require that agents reissue tickets for advance schedule changes. Which we and other agents do as a service, usually without a fee because it’s unfair to charge a client for something they didn’t ask for, even though it’s a fair amount of time and paperwork.

My sense is that in the rare cases when clients don’t call, or email, it’s usually an emergency. Some travelers call an airline after hours, but if the airline refers them to the ticketing agency, which is standard practice, customers cheerfully contact us afterwards, if it’s not urgent.

Perhaps the reason that this issue has surfaced now is because there is less airline willingness to waive the additional fees. While it’s impossible to get stats on past waivers, the major complaint I have had from clients is that airline agents were “less than helpful” or sometimes suggested they call their agent. But, usually, airline personnel were willing to make the change if the passenger indicated it was after hours or indicated they were in a real hurry.

When the change fee is $150, plus a fare difference, it’s not like the airline isn’t making any money on the deal. In fact, more than once, I’ve heard that an airline reissued the ticket in a much more expensive way than our agency might have been able to do.

Back to the clarification. Delta’s fee technically is NOT new and they are not the only airline to charge one. But as of now they do charge more and with fewer exceptions than other major airlines.

Photo by “Captain of the Green and White” on Commons