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Want to Avoid Airline Fees? A Credit Card May Help

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If you haven’t heard, the airline industry has all but given up trying to make a profit just by charging for airfare. The notion that these companies will stay in business by charging passengers for transportation has been replaced by a new model: Passengers pay for their tickets, but then face the possibility of many fees, which can often add up to more than the ticket itself. In addition, airlines now earn substantial income by selling their miles to banks that offer them as rewards to their credit card holders.

One of the most bothersome of these fees is the change fee. In 2013, many carriers increased those fees to $200, and happily collected the fee and re-sold your seat to someone else. Now, upstart carrier Virgin America has released a new credit card that offers a change-fee waiver as a benefit to cardholders.

A New Credit Card Offer to Cut Fees

Virgin America just released two new credit cards through its partner Comenity Capital Bank. While both cards offer the benefit of a free checked bag, the Virgin America Premium Visa Signature card also grants cardholders a waiver of change or cancellation fees. This means that just by holding the card, travelers are exempt from the airline’s $100 change and cancellation fees on paid tickets. Unfortunately, cardholders will still be responsible for paying an applicable fare difference. In addition, an award redeposit fee of $100 will still apply when changing an award ticket issued with Elevate frequent-flier points. There is a $149 annual fee for this card, and new applicants can earn 15,000 Elevate points, worth about $330 toward airfare, after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening.

Other Cards That Alleviate Change Fees

The American Express Platinum card offers a $200 annual airline fee credit that can be applied to change fees. Cardholders must first designate an airline to which they want to apply the credit. Once that is done, cardholders will automatically be credited for up to $200 a year in fees, which include seat selection fees, baggage fees, and in-flight meals and entertainment charges. There is a $450 annual fee for this card. Similarly, the Ritz-Carlton Rewards card from Chase offers a $200 fee credit against non-ticket charges by any airline. There is a $395 annual fee for this card.

Another popular strategy for rewards card holders is to earn rewards with an airline that doesn’t charge those fees. Southwest Airlines offers several credit cards from Chase that earn points in its Rapid Rewards. Since Southwest Airlines charges no change fees for paid or award bookings, this program is a great way to avoid change fees altogether. In fact, customers who cancel award bookings immediately receive all of their points back, while those who cancel paid bookings just receive a credit toward future flights. This means that award bookings are essentially fully refundable tickets, a feature other airlines normally charge a large premium for.

Other Ways to Avoid Change Fees

While some credit cards can help travelers find relief from excessive change fees on some airlines, most carriers still impose these charges. Thankfully, there are still ways to avoid these fees. First, airlines are now required to issue full refunds upon request within 24 hours of purchase, and many airlines extend that offer to midnight of the following day.

If it’s too late for that, you could try to rely on a bit of luck by hoping for one of two things to happen. The first is that the airline cancels a flight or changes its schedule, which is somewhat common with domestic flights booked far in advance. When that happens, carriers will offer to make a change for free or offer a full refund. The other possible event is a change-fee waiver due to weather. When storms are predicted to affect several cities in a region, airlines will issue change-fee waivers that allow passengers to rebook travel to avoid delays.

Finally, travelers who need to make a change due to a medical condition or the death of a close friend or family member can try to appeal to the airline to waive its change fees. To have the best chance of success, speak with a customer relations supervisor and be prepared to offer some written documentation of circumstances that are beyond your control.

Credit cards have been offering travelers a way around baggage fees for some time, and hopefully more banks will start offering products that help cardholders avoid the dreaded change fees as well.

At publishing time, the American Express Platinum card is offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com may be compensated if our users apply and ultimately sign up for this card. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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