3 ways to reduce airline change fee charges

According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau, airlines collected $2.6 billion in revenue from reservation cancellation and change fees in 2012. That's a 7.3 percent increase from the year before.

All signs point to this year bringing in even more money.

In April, United bumped its change fee on a non-refundable ticket from $150 to $200. The other major airlines followed suit. American, USAirways and Delta now all have $200 fees. Delta topped the list for change fees collected last year, totaling $778.4 million.

As a consumer, there's not much you can do to avoid these fees -- you could pay extra for a fully refundable fare, but it's going to be a lot extra.

Here are 3 possible options:

1. American Airlines has started selling Choice Plus fares which may be worth it if your travel plans are in flux.  For $68 more per ticket, you get one checked bag, group one boarding and no change fees. It's not refundable and if you cancel, your money is still locked up in American Airlines credits. The $68 now could be a lot better than a $200 hit down the line.

2. Keep an eye on your flight's schedule. Airlines change schedules all the time. A flight that was supposed to leave at 6 a.m. may get shifted to 6:15 a.m. a month before departure. If that happens, feel free to call the airline.   Often, they'll let you change or cancel with no fee if their own schedule changed.

3. Finally, you could always fly a carrier without change fees. Southwest still doesn't charge cancellation or change fees.

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