Is It Wrong To Reprice Airline Tickets To Save?

Filed Under: Travel

I just saved nearly 15,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points, and I’m about to score a ~$350 American Airlines voucher, all off an upcoming weekend trip to New Orleans… I think.

There has never been a better time to reprice flights

Given the huge drop off in demand, we’re seeing airlines offering some incredibly low fares at the moment. If you’re comfortable traveling and have travel you could plan, I don’t remember the last time we saw fares this good.

There’s one other interesting wrinkle here — in addition to most US airlines waiving change fees for most tickets purchased in March, most airlines are also allowing free changes to tickets purchased at any point, for travel through April 30, 2020.

In a few weeks we’re planning on taking my mom on a trip to New Orleans, and as of now our plan is still to take this trip. I happened to look at our flights this morning, and noticed something interesting, but not surprising.

Saving 14,800 Rapid Rewards points

I redeemed Rapid Rewards points for two tickets from Tampa to New Orleans. Looking at the outbound flight this morning, the fare had dropped to just $49 one-way.

The fare for my mom’s Southwest flight went way down

Southwest never has any change fees, and they actually kind of encourage customers to reprice tickets. With this change, the price per passenger for the same flight dropped by 7,400 Rapid Rewards points.

For two minutes of effort I saved 14,800 Rapid Rewards points, which I value at ~$200. Awesome!

Getting a $350 American Airlines credit

Ford and I are flying from Miami to New Orleans, and the tickets we booked on American cost $375 per person at the time, which was steep for the short flight, but it’s also what made the most sense for our schedule.

I’m looking now, and the same exact flights cost $200 per person.

American Airlines is allowing free changes on flights — even those booked before March — so I should be able to lock in the lower fare. I guess there are two ways I could go about it:

  • I could just cancel the existing ticket, and have a $375 per person credit to use towards a future flight, and then separately book the same flights for $200 per person
  • I could call American and see if they can just reprice the ticket and issue a $175 per person credit

Our American fares dropped by $175 per person

Is it wrong to reprice flights?

At the moment there are so many opportunities to reprice existing flights and save, but I guess the question is whether it’s wrong to do so? Nowadays I try to do the “right thing” in life as much as I can, and I’m trying to decide where this falls.

In the case of Southwest I have no qualms repricing tickets, because they have the same policy they’ve always had, which is to allow all passengers to reprice flights, and get refunds if the price drops.

But is it any different for a ticket on a legacy airline, which has a temporary blanket waiver in place? The waiver is presumably in place to give flexibility to those who are no longer wanting to travel.

At the same time, for those of us who are still comfortable traveling, is it wrong to take advantage of the savings? Circumstances have changed and the airlines should be happy we’re still traveling, but at the same time repricing isn’t exactly what the policy was intended for.

If this isn’t universally the “right” thing to do, does the answer vary depending on whether you:

  • Simply reprice the flight and get a $175 credit per person?
  • Cancel the existing ticket and use it as a future credit, and buy a new ticket, giving the airline more short term revenue?
  • If either of the above are “wrong,” I should note that first class is about $100 more roundtrip than my original fare; would it be “wrong” to give the airline more revenue and take advantage of the current policy to reprice in first class without change fees?

On the other hand, the truth is that the airline business isn’t really a people business. They have policies in place, and the rules are the rules. For the most part they don’t change policies because they actually care, but rather because market conditions force them to.

The rules allow for changing without fees, so is it really our job to think of the underlying intent? Airlines certainly don’t extend that courtesy to us when we call two days after making a booking 10 months out and realize we book the wrong date.

Bottom line

At the moment airline fares are as low as we’ve seen in a long time, and when you combine that with airlines’ general change policies, in theory this presents a situation where you can often reprice flights and get a voucher for the fare difference.

Is it wrong to do that, though? I’m curious what you guys think.

Comments
  1. If you are trying to do the ‘right thing’ as much as possible in life nowadays, then maybe you should not fly at all? Not necessary to risk getting the virus or giving it further when there is no need for it.
    We should all socially distance ourselves as much as possible during these tough times.

  2. No, it’s not wrong. Airlines gut you as a passenger when they can. It is only right to do the same in return.

  3. Not wrong at all. Airlines have been happy to screw us passengers over for years, and United is still trying despite their recent gestures. If you can work within the rules they provided to get a better fare with out any shady shenanigans, then it is fair game.

  4. FYI – I did this through the app and was able to change my flights instantly, with no fees, and was issued a credit to my card used to book, of $70. Airlines don’t feel bad about charging us for everything so I say take advantage of it while you can!

  5. You can basically always do this – but with the fee – so in the simplest terms, yes it’s right because it’s policy.

  6. @ Kris — I’m not sure I agree that’s actually best, all things considered?

    First of all, if everyone completely stops living their lives, that will destroy the global economy, and could have major ramifications. Unless everyone in the world is going to self quarantine for weeks, I’m not sure not traveling is helpful.

    As far as traveling from Florida to New Orleans goes, those are both pretty low risk areas. As long as we’re careful on the plane, wash our hands, etc., I’m not sure I see the huge downside to that? It’s one thing to travel to somewhere that is theoretically much higher risk where I could be spreading it, but I don’t think that applies here.

    That’s my take, at least…

  7. It is wrong. The airline would not charge you extra when prices go up but you would “charge” the airline when prices go down.

  8. @Lucky I don’t believe AA charges a change fee to reprice into first class. I’ve done it as recently as a year ago.

  9. Airlines and airfares are a marketplace where 90% of the time the airlines have the upper hand. When market forces shift and opportunity presents itself (still under their rules don’t forget) taking a decision that you believe is to your advantage is prudent and rewards the engaged consumer.
    Case in point, I rebooked two business class award flights this week on UA that had been substantially marked up for the Olympics (I know, it may be moot in the end). Reduced the redemption from 175k to 70k for EWR to NRT and from 110k to 45k for the first leg of my return.

  10. Oh my god this is an insane question to begin with – you shouldn’t fly at all! Isn’t your mom very sick? Why risk transmitting anything to her to any other elderly or sick individual? If you don’t ABSOLUTELY need to go – why do it?! Set an example… go in the fall.

  11. Ben absolutely. They would steal Jesus off the cross if it would save them a dime so yes reschedule your ticket.

    That’s awesome your seeing really reduced airfare. Might be because it’s a hub or Florida I think up to this point has been one of the harder hit states. In any event, I am not seeing reduced prices yet out of CMH.

  12. Interesting post and am curious how this would work if you or others do it. I think I’ve read about at-least some (American, for one) airlines offering a “one-time” change. Since I think the way to do this on American would be to “Change Reservation” and accept the same flights at a lower price, would this count as a Change and therefore lock you into the itinerary if the situation changes / deteriorates further?

  13. @ Matt — This is to celebrate my mom finishing her 18th round of chemo, and a major surgery. We absolutely understand the risks, and don’t take any time for granted. While I can appreciate your concerns, this isn’t a decision we’re taking lightly (and it’s still something we’re monitoring on an ongoing basis).

  14. You never owe anything to the financial bottom line of multi-billion dollar corporations apart from avoiding outright fraud and crime. Same for airlines as for any other industry. Hope this helps.

  15. I never worry about repricing Southwest flights because they always offer fare drops even before this time. Ironically I just took advantage of the Jetblue new waiver this morning and got back 25k TrueBlue points back for a flight next month. My other flights in July haven’t dropped yet.

  16. I always check to see if my Southwest flight prices have gone down. Part of why I fly them is because of the ability to do so and save the money. Why should I stop now? I did yesterday. There were savings but nothing that I would call extreme.

    These are for-profit companies. This is not like shaking your grandmother down for money in a vulnerable moment. Airlines don’t give discounts when you’re in vulnerable moments — like when your granny dies and you need to go to her funeral. They gouge you. Their response is something like this ‘it’s capitalism baby’

  17. It is right to reprice. I just repriced an AS flight next week and saved $250. Likewise the hotels in the Bay Area are now $175/night cheaper and I repriced those too. Whether I’m actually going to fly next week is another question.

  18. Airlines always take the least consumer friendly policies, and have infinitely more resources at their disposal. Not to mention, if they go bankrupt, we’ll be paying for their bailout (not the case if I go bankrupt!)

    It’s well within the rules. I have already chosen to pay more to use one of the big three carriers, I don’t mind chipping that cost down a bit in the same way that they chip their costs to serve me down at every opportunity.

  19. The question doesn’t even make sense. Why would there be any moral or ethical qualms about repricing an airline ticket. Think for one second. If you had a legitimate reason to change your ticket, the airline wouldn’t hesitate to upcharge you for the change (and add a hefty change fee as well). You also say that you frequently do this on WN and justify it by saying that “it’s part of their rules.” Well, AA has amended their rules so that it is now “part of their rules as well.” QED.

  20. EVERYONE READING:

    Go watch the first 14 minutes of Joe Rogans latest episode. Episode #1439 with Michael Osterholm.

    His guest is a world class epidemiologist.

    He explains that we are only seeing the beginning of coronavirus spread. Based on preliminary estimates In 3-7 months they expect 45 million hospital beds to be taken and 96 million people to get sick and 450k to die.

    In Italy people in their 40s are getting very sick and hospitals are having to chose who they let die, it’s not just the elderly. Please make your self aware. It takes 10 minutes to be informed.

    This will bring travel to a hault. Prepare yourselves.

  21. @Lucky – Since you will be celebrating such a big milestone for your mom with this trip, you should stay at a top end 5* hotel suite (or perhaps penthouse). Then, if the virus spreads to New Orleans, you mother will “unfortunately” be stuck in the hotel 😉

  22. +1 to AW “The question doesn’t even make sense. Why would there be any moral or ethical qualms about repricing an airline ticket.” Airlines are not charities. If they meant to charge you $500 but accidentally charged $5 to your credit card and still issued your ticket and you kept quiet about it, that would be different.

  23. Re: Southwest – you aren’t “taking advantage” of anything because the ability to reprice has been their policy since forever.

    If repricing your AA ticket, @Dave makes a good point. The change fee waiver applies to a one-time change, I believe, so if you “change” your ticket to reprice, and then later decide to cancel for whatever reason, you’re screwed. So it seems like you should cancel the old one, take the credit, and then apply a portion of it to the new one. I know it shortens the validity of the new ticket, but does AA still consider this a “change” since you’re paying entirely with a credit? Might be worth reaching out to AA on that one.

  24. @ Azamaraal — My mom is coming from Tampa, and it’s between Southwest and Spirit in that market. Guess a Big Front Seat could have been a good idea, but Southwest had a better schedule. 🙂

  25. @Lucky

    Just to provoke some thoughts.
    1. In good times, is it wrong for airlines to not refund you if the price drops?

    2. In a time where you should try to avoid non essential travel for the sake of humanity, you are claiming to boost economy. What about you local economy, did you do anything to boost it? Very hypocrite.
    And the excuse just because …. can do it, therefore I can do it. This is what will destroy humanity. Just because he drives a expensive car I should drive one (steal, can’t afford). Just because he has a gun, I should have one. Hypocrite?

    3. While you probably downplay your risk from the virus. Think about your mother. She probably is among the top on list of people who should avoid any public places. I don’t know how you calculate your risks but let me warn you, your calculations can way off if you are biased, especially if you want to go. And I don’t know how you define how low is low risk but FL or NOLA definitely has risks.

  26. If I’m reading the rules correctly, AA won’t refund money spent on upgrades such as MCE. Am I right then in assuming that if I cancel or change I’ll be eating that money?

  27. @ Eskimo — 2) Umm, yes, I do things all the time to boost the local economy? 3) Trust me, I’m thinking about my mother, we don’t take any decisions lightly, and I don’t think you know our situation as well as we do…

  28. @Lucky, dont let that person get to you, obviously your going to do whats best for your mother and other people don’t need to know your spending habits. No need to defend yourself my friend.

  29. Yes it’s wrong. That is, if you’re dealing with a local mom-and-pop store that you respect and care about.

    Airlines would do the exact same thing to you (reprice your ticket when fares go up) if they could get away with it. You don’t need to look out for their best interests — they’re already doing that, always.

  30. I don’t see any moral issue here – you’re within their policy and you’re still giving them business at a time when they need customers (albeit at a lower price.)

    As for the coronavirus, I agree with Ben’s take – people should take reasonable precautions and avoid travel to particular destinations based on local conditions, but over-reaction doesn’t help.

    And as for Ben’s mother, that’s between them and her doctor. Her doctor is the only one who has all the information on her condition, so everybody needs to stop playing armchair expert. I’m particularly looking at you, Eskimo.

  31. So, prior to reading this article I had been trying to do the same thing. I have a Delta flight to PBI next week that I originally paid about $400 for round trip. The same flights are pricing now at $256. Delta would NOT let me change. When I asked about receiving the credit, their answer was that if I tried to book the exact same flight numbers, the system wouldn’t allow it. In the end, I switched to one of the flights to different time on the same day and got a $220 travel voucher.

  32. Lucky – don’t listen to the “don’t travel at all” people. It’s a ridiculous stance to cancel all travel but it’s also a stance that, like many political topics these days, people aren’t listening to reason but rather take the most extreme stance they can.

    I’ve seen so many damn old people – the ones “we” should not travel to protect – out living their lives. In Italy, for example, when they cancelled schools all the grandparents took their grandkids to the park (/eyeroll…so dumb). In Florida, where my parents also live, they’re still out in their water aerobics classes and playing softball. The old guy they interviewed said “I think it’s a personal choice to listen to not go out.” Those with elevated risk should be protecting themselves but if they choose to not alter their lifestyle, what will those of us with healthy immune systems be doing to help them by not traveling? Reminds me of Jerry Maguire “HELP ME HELP YOU!”

    To your question, no, I don’t think it’s wrong at all. To echo those above, the policies are the policies and most of the time airline policies generally stick it to the passenger. If they allow it, they’ve (probably) considered the ramifications. Go ahead and save that dough!

    I got a steal of a ticket to ski out West in two weeks. I’m going for sure.

  33. @ Matt — Any decision will be made by her and her doctor. Again, you don’t know the circumstances, so maybe you could lay off a bit, and recognize you don’t have full information here…

  34. Not wrong at all.

    I’ll fly until the CDC recommends against all discretionary travel. If they think it is contributing to the spread then I’ll cut back.

    And in any case, “doing the right thing” is probably not the PRIMARY motivation for the airlines coming up with these policies (retroactive credits). Pretty sure the airlines will all be going to the government for help and they need to make sure there is no residual anger out there directed at them. These retroactive credits are good business decisions with eyes on the greater prize.

  35. You know what’s not on sale? First class. There are no deals on First class. You want First class you pay for it.

  36. Guys, please read between the lines about what Ben is saying about his mom, and lay off. It’s his mom’s decision, not yours, and not even his – which he says outright. Enough said, and please offer him support, not unwarranted criticism.

  37. Anyone who things its “wrong” to reprice airline tickets is naive.

    Because airline CEOs and shareholders, after years of record profits, huge compensation packages and stock gains, are not going to think it is at all “wrong” to take the taxpayer funded bailout that is shortly forthcoming to be paid for by the U.S. taxpayer.

  38. Airlines take advantage of consumers all the time. I booked a ticket to visit my father who due to his health conditions was likely to pass away soon after I was scheduled to visit him. When his health condition started to deteriorate faster than expected I wanted to reschedule my flight in order to still be able to visit him because otherwise I likely would not have been able to see him ever again. After explaining this to the phone agent of the airline she told me I’d have to pay 2000 euros to change my ticket, keep in mind I was only changing the date of departure by 2 days. Ever since that happened I never feel bad for airlines, so please reprice your ticket.

  39. @Lucky – Sorry missed your response earlier. It is American. Just went through the app and changed flights. It automatically showed me the refund and I got the confirmation email a little while later.

  40. Airlines are changing fare prices to try to extract as much revenue as possible from customers, so there’s nothing wrong with repricing your ticket to minimize the cost to yourself.

  41. Lucky, doesn’t your AA status allow you to cancel and change flights without fees anyway — i.e., even absent the current coronavirus waiver policy? (I never fly AA, so asking genuinely; my middle-tier AS status (MVPG) allows this.)

  42. I see nothing wrong with it ….because I just did it. 😉

    I had a business class ticket from US to MEL. I booked end of Feb; departure end of April. 200,000 one way.

    Price just dropped to 80,000. (IMHO, points are a currency) I quickly rebooked.

  43. Is it wrong that all of the cash (ie. not miles) transatlantic fares that I am monitoring have gone UP over the last two weeks? There’s a near unprecedented lack of demand yet airlines are trying to squeeze anyone who absolutely has to fly.

    There is literally nothing that you can do to an airline (as long as it’s within the strict letter of the law/contract of carriage) that would possibly be immoral or unethical.

  44. 1. Nothing wrong with repricing.
    2. Regarding your trip with your mom, first of all I am glad it’s her decision. But I cannot stress enough how risky this virus is for elders with underlying conditions. For example, CDC lists Japan as a level 2 area, which means they think we should travel except for old people or people who have a health condition. That just shows you the CDC does not suggest any elders or weak people to travel to even “Low Risk” regions. Your mom unfortunately fits both criteria, so I think it’s not about the average risk in that area, but the particular risk for people like your mom.

  45. You said “American Airlines is allowing free changes on flights — even those booked before March — so I should be able to lock in the lower fare.”

    American’s website says: Terms and conditions
    If you purchased a ticket on American Airlines between March 1, 2020 at 4:30 p.m. CT and March 31, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. CT, you may change your flight once without paying a change fee. Tickets must be purchased for travel between March 1, 2020 and January 30, 2021.

    When I go to 7 tickets I have in basic economy that I booked Feb. 20 for travel in July, it won’t allow it. The price dropped $70 each! Is it because it’s basic or outside the window or am I just doing something wrong?

  46. Seriously?! Beyond the fact that you are a self proclaimed germaphobe, taking elective, non-essential trips through international airports is irresponsible from a public health perspective, as well as from a personal health perspective. Those are probably the highest risk environments you could put yourself in short of going directly to China, Italy or one of the other hot spots.
    https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-act-today-or-people-will-die-f4d3d9cd99ca

  47. Is it ‘wrong’ to book a cancellable hotel stay with a higher rate for that amenity, with the possibility that your dates or plans generally may change, and then later cancel and re-book at the non-cancellable rate close in when you are certain you will stay? Assuming the room type is not sold out.)

  48. Spirit airlines—are you able to use a reservation credit as the form of payment when booking at the ticket counter at the airport ?

  49. seriously? all this faux virtuous fishing … come on, are you that desperate for a pat on the back?

  50. Based on the current situation I’m wondering if anyone has done that with hotels.
    I got a couple stays in Hilton hotels in Southeast Asia over the next weeks. Few days ago I checked the current prices and noticed that every property was much cheaper now.
    My reservations cannot be canceled. I’m a Hilton Gold Member in case it matters.
    TIA

  51. Thank you so much for this! I just called southwest and got 5,000 points back on a short flight I’m taking from richmond to Atlanta. Woo hoo!!

  52. First class is on sale, contrary to what is stated above. I am traveling united home from working in hnl right now. I have an economy seat but was offered the option to upgrade to first class upon checkin yesterday for $359 from hnl to lax on a 757. When I printed my boarding pass at the kiosk this morning I checked upgrade options and I could have purchased 1st on the same flight segment for 159. I didn’t take advantage of it. I have never seen an upgrade option from hnl to the mainland for that cheap.

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