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I'm currently doing some research on cheap tickets between Europe and China. Since my return flight is more than 6 months from now, I'd appreciate the possibility to change the date.

However, while browsing I came across this:

Not flexible ticket Frankfurt-Beijing both ways - ~550 EUR
Change of flight date: 125 EUR (?), I'm having a really hard time finding info on that

Whereas:
Ticket with flexible flight date: One way >1000 EUR plus approx 300 EUR the other way

Are flexible tickets never worth it, or am I missing something? Lufthansa definitely does everything in order not to tell me what the rebooking fee is.

  • 9
    often with non-flexi tickets, you pay the difference in fare AND a change flight fee, which sometimes can be more than simply buying a new ticket. – EdmundYeung99 Jul 21 '15 at 22:24
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    I read of a man in Japan who booked 1st class ticket, ate for free in the 1st class lounge then rebooked the flight for the next day. Reportedly he did that for a year until somebody discovered it. That may have been a worthwhile case. Otherwise .... :-). – Russell McMahon Jul 22 '15 at 19:21
  • More relevantly. I had a client change instructions mid journey such that I had to go back to a factory I'd finished at. It cost me the complete loss of a booked fare on a subsequent leg plus a new fare at a substantially higher rate than the lost one. A flexible ticket may have saved me that. (And, no, I could not extract the difference from the client - complex). – Russell McMahon Jul 22 '15 at 19:23
  • If you're ever running late for a flight on which you have a coach seat you could buy a refundable first class seat to get through security faster (priority screening line) and then once you're past security cancel the ticket. I'm sure many will decry the ethics of doing this but it is a use of refundable ticket. – Dean MacGregor Jul 22 '15 at 20:42
  • @DeanMacGregor When I've been in a big hurry for a connecting flight, I've just explained it to the other passengers in the security queue and they've let me push past them. – David Richerby Jul 22 '15 at 21:51
17

I can't speak specifically to Lufthansa, but with some experience on other airlines - if you change your flight on a saver-style fare, you pay a change fee and the difference between the fares.

If you are close to the date of travel the saver fares are generally sold out, so you are paying the difference between saver and flexi, and often a "we've got limited seats" premium on top of that because of airline yield management, e.g. buying six months out may save you 500 euros or more compared to a change two weeks out.

Looking at Lufthansa's website, the same flight is 2,146 euros in two weeks time, so using that and your totals as an example, a late change might result in overall payment of:

 550 (saver) + 125 (fee) + (2146 - 550) (new fare minus original) = 2,271 euros

Obviously this is substantially more than the 1,300 euros for purchasing a flexi fare to begin with.

  • That's not right---even if you buy a flexi ticket now, you will still need to reprice to the higher tiered fare in the event of a change if the availability in your present booking class is depleted at the time of change. – Calchas Jul 22 '15 at 10:44
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    @Calchas no one is talking about changing class. last minute tickets cost that much more for the same class! – JamesRyan Jul 22 '15 at 10:55
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    @JamesRyan Booking class != travel class, see: travel.stackexchange.com/questions/45667/… – jpatokal Jul 22 '15 at 11:22
  • @Calchas That will probably depend on the specific airline and booking class. I'm pretty sure I've seen flexible fares in the U.S. where you did not need to pay the fare difference to change them, but I'm not sure about Lufthansa's rules. – reirab Jul 22 '15 at 14:13
  • @JamesRyan I am not talking about changing cabin. But each cabin (by which I mean a place where you sit, such as "economy" or "coach") will have numerous booking classes (e.g., for AA in descending order of availability, Y B H K M L V G S N Q O are all economy classes). Your fare will decide which booking class (or "booking code" or "bucket") you may occupy, and the airline will actively open or close those classes to adjust the price. – Calchas Jul 22 '15 at 14:49
23

Flexible tickets are worth it if and only if it's highly likely you will need to change your tickets at short notice.

If you're on a business trip of uncertain length (say, negotiating a contract), this kind of thing is frequent, and a flexible ticket that costs $1000 is a better deal than a fixed ticket that costs $500 plus >50% odds of needing to pay a $2000 walk-up fare — especially if that negotiation drags on and you end up changing your reservation two, three or four times. One of my previous employers mandated that all tickets purchased in advance be flexible for this very reason.

If you're a backpacker, on the other hand, this is unlikely to ever be the case, and it'll be much cheaper to buy fixed tickets and work your own schedule around the fixed dates. For your cheap ticket, the "change fee" is in addition to the fare difference, so the total cost with a last-minute change would sum up to $500 (original ticket) plus $125 (change fee) plus the difference between the original price and the walk-up fare (potentially >$1000).

Note that the conditions of flexible tickets vary, and many do charge the fare difference as well. However, since flexi fares are more expensive in the first place, on busy routes with some spare capacity the fare difference to the cheapest available seat is often zero.

  • 5
    Outside of business travel, if you're going somewhere to help someone after the birth of a child, you probably should get a flexible ticket; babies have this really annoying habit of not being born when expected. – Dan Neely Jul 23 '15 at 2:17
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Yes. Ignoring the possibility of changing the time of the ticket, which the other answers have covered well, there's also the ability to cancel it outright, which is often equally relevant. Most full-price tickets can be cancelled either completely for free or with minimal fees, which makes them extremely useful if travelling on a business trip, for example, which you're not sure is going ahead.

It's also worth pointing out that most flexible tickets (often called full-fare or full-price tickets) typically come with other perks, often airline dependent, such as:

  • More airmiles.
  • "Preferred" seating or a wider choice of seats (e.g. exit rows).
  • (Occasionally) business lounge access or similar.

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