Southwest tries to charge me $175 to switch flights

This has nothing to do with running, cycling, triathlon or sports at all. But…

I flew to Phoenix on Friday. When I bought my tickets, I deliberately flew Southwest because I knew this trip was going to be sort of up in the air and everyone knows Southwest is great for changing flights.

I booked a flight back to SFO on Wednesday originally because that was in the middle of the week and I could always change it to Tuesday or Thursday. Then, it started to seem like I should fly back Tuesday (which is today, btw), because I needed to work. A week ago, when I checked online, it was $37 to switch the Wednesday 8:10 a.m. flight to the Tuesday 8:10 a.m. fight. But, I didn’t do it, because I still wasn’t sure and wouldn’t it suck if I ended up having to switch it back. That was stupid.

A bunch more things came up and I definitely needed to get back on Tuesday, so I went back online to make that switch. Only, now it was $79.

Yes, yes, you don’t have to pay change fees on Southwest, but you do have to pay differences in ticket prices, which have become prohibitively high the closer to the flight.

I figured I’d just ask at the airport when I flew out. Everyone knows it’s easier to change flights at the airport.

Nope. At SFO, they wanted to charge me $115 for the change in ticket prices. From Wednesday to Tuesday. I had a ‘seven day’ fare apparently and they didn’t have any of those fares available. (I don’t know what that means either.) But, you have seats, right? Yes, but you have to pay the difference in the prices. Can I fly standby? Southwest doesn’t really have standby. To fly standby would require an upgrade from my fare, which would also cost $115.

At the gate, the attendant said she couldn’t see that many days ahead on the computer.

The rest of the weekend I checked online. It remained around $80-90 to change. Yesterday I called. The woman said, sure, we can put you on the 6:30 a.m. flight Tuesday morning. Great! Then, she said, it’ll just cost $75. AGHHHH.

But, there were seats available on the 8:10 a.m. flight to SFO today. And on the 10 a.m. flight and the noon flight and the 2:30 p.m. flight. Everyone agreed if I went to the airport in the morning, there was NO WAY they wouldn’t let me just switch onto one of the open flights. I’ve never had a hard time switching flights at the airport – even on United, which has so many other problems. So, Maggie dropped me off at the airport at like 7 a.m. on her way to work.

Sure, the woman at the airport said, they could put me on the 8:10 a.m. flight. It would just cost $175 to upgrade my fare. I can’t pay that, I said. She suggested I check online. I didn’t say that I was hoping she would have more power than the internet. Instead, I said, is the problem that there aren’t seats? No, there are seats. So, are you going to fly the seats empty? Yep.

The airline has to make money somehow, she said, and they don’t charge a change fee. I didn’t say that I would pay a $25 change fee instead of the jacked-up last-minute fare. I didn’t say that ideally the airline is making money doing it’s actual job, not screwing people over at the last minute. Instead, I said, but there are empty seats on the flight leaving in an hour, right? Yep.

She said maybe I just bought this fare without any intention of using it and now I’m trying to rip off the airline for a more expensive seat. I didn’t say that that was the most idiotic thing I’d ever heard, because the seats on the plane were ALL THE SAME. I didn’t say that I was simply trying to change from one flight on Wednesday to the EXACT SAME FLIGHT on Tuesday, and that they had been the same price when I purchased the ticket, that they were equivalent, that one wasn’t better than the other — except to me.

Instead, I said, but you’re just going to fly the plane empty? Yep. Isn’t it better for the airline to just switch me to the exact same earlier flight, in the seats you haven’t sold. You may end up needing my seat tomorrow. You may be able to sell it or you may have delays and be begging me to give it up tomorrow. Isn’t it better for the airline to put me on the earlier empty flight? She said, “I understand.” But, I don’t think she did.

‘There just wasn’t anything she could do.’ Which is my least favorite phrase, because either Southwest lacks the basic computer capabilities of every other airline or what you mean is there just isn’t anything you want to do.

Steve had to fly Southwest last-minute to LA from San Francisco recently and it cost close to $300, which never went down in price (he kept checking), and yet the flight was less than half full. So, it appears that Southwest has made a decision that they’d rather jack up last-minute prices even if it means they’re not be able to sell all the seats. I’m pretty sure basic economics suggests that’s not a great plan to maximize profits.

Because, here, in this example, they flew a plane with empty seats instead of getting the $30-40 I’d be willing to pay to be in one of those seats; they may end up really needing my seat tomorrow and it may cost them more even than that $175 they were trying to take from me; and, I’m way, way less likely to fly Southwest now in the future. That’s kind of a loss for them all around.

4 thoughts on “Southwest tries to charge me $175 to switch flights

  1. Southwest has become much less friendly for flying since they bought out Air Tran in 2010. they’re becoming a bit more of a standard airline. Bike charge is up to $100 each way as well from $50 last year.

  2. bureaucracy, and the old Enron mindset of business people anywhere. The people at the airport who probably make very little money are without power to do anything. Some kind of dumb decision has been made by someone… probably a Sociology major, and that has been made Policy for this company. Now they do stupid stuff.

    Get used to it. It is life, and it is all pretty dumb. 🙂

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