There are no more surprised travelers than those who think they know how to change or cancel an airline ticket - then find out there's a hefty fee for the courtesy. Such fees raised $1.2 billion for the airline industry in the first half of this year.
Think you know the latest airline policies? Test yourself:
Case 1: You use United frequent-flier miles to buy a ticket to Chicago. Two weeks before the trip, you realize you can't go. Can you cancel and redeposit the miles in your account without penalty?
Answer: No. United, Delta and most other airlines charge $150 to cancel an award ticket and redeposit miles in your account.
Case 2: You book a nonrefundable ticket on Delta.com, then realize 20 minutes later that you booked it for the wrong day. Can you cancel it without paying a fee?
Answer: Yes. Delta's "Risk-free Cancellation" program lets you cancel a reservation without penalty within 24 hours. Few airlines allow this, but Delta does.
Case 3: You are visiting an aunt in Florida when she dies. You call Spirit Airlines and request to change your nonrefundable ticket home to leave two days later than planned. Due to the bereavement, will they do it without charge?
Answer: No. Even for a death, Spirit charges $100 to change your ticket, plus the difference in price between your old ticket and the new one. Most other airlines charge even more for changing a ticket for any reason - $150 domestic and $250 international (the exception is Case 2 above). Only Southwest Airlines has no change or cancellation fees.
Airlines have wildly varying bereavement-fare policies, so check with them.
Case 4: You are in London and get homesick. You want to change your nonrefundable ticket to fly home a day early. Can you fly home early without penalty?
Answer: No. It'll cost you a $250 change fee - plus the difference in the cost of the old and new ticket. However, most airlines do have a program where you can confirm or stand by for an earlier flight on the same day you were scheduled to travel. Costs vary from free to $75.
Four right: The sneaky airlines can't fool you.
Two-three right: You're naive but quick to get a clue.
Zero-one right: Can we sell you a bereavement fare for $3,999?