Beware of handling fees when booking flights through a third party

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A couple traveling home to Pennsylvania from the Jacksonville International Airport on Monday morning was surprised to be told they could be charged $50 by American Airlines for speaking to an agent.

It’s called an “External Reservation Handling Fee” and if you book with a third-party like Expedia or Travelocity, it’s possible you could be charged for calling your airline directly to change a reservation.

“Unfortunately, the convenience of online is great. Now you’re going to pay for it,” Mary Fowler said, a local travel agent and owner of Riverside Tours and Travel.

Fowler said these fees are not new, but the charges are being assessed by airlines more often than in past years. She suggests the problem stems from a lack of regulation in the airline industry.

Frontier Airlines website says they charge $25 per passenger to rebook.

Delta, American Airlines, and JetBlue will charge you $50 to take over your reservation from a third party. United may also charge a fee in these cases.

If you book with a travel agent or directly on an airline’s website, you can avoid these fees.

“If you are using online booking, unfortunately, at this time that is going to be, that’s just a new normal,” Fowler said.

It’s a new normal that’s not sitting well with some travelers like Jane Kinzig. She was visiting her family in Jacksonville for the Fourth of July. She was supposed to be on a flight home with her husband to Erie, Pennsylvania at 5 a.m. Monday morning but the weather delayed things.

“This is a huge inconvenience, and I would like some kind of compensation. We still haven’t figured out what the weather problem is,” Kinzig said.

News4JAX checked flight tracking data and found American canceled the flight to Jacksonville Sunday night – that would have been their flight home Monday morning.

An American Airlines agent helped Kinzig rebook her flight home for Wednesday but that’s more than 48 hours after her initial flight. And because she booked her original flight through AAA, the agent on the phone told her she would be charged $50.

News4JAX has confirmed with American that Kinzig won’t be charged this fee because this was an involuntary change to her flight. Fowler said buyers should still beware of the possibility.

“Just make sure to look at the fine print,” Fowler said. “When you’re booking online. Always read the terms and conditions. If you scroll down to about paragraph three, nobody ever looks at them. But if you do, historically, it will say we reserve the right to charge you a fee.”

In an email, a representative with American Airlines said, “American does charge a reservations fee to manage a reservation ticketed by a third party, but that fee does not apply when a flight is canceled, we rebook due to an involuntary change such as this.”

However, travelers should know they could still be charged a reservation handling fee if they contact an agent more than 24 hours after their flight is canceled.

About the Author:

Tiffany comes home to Jacksonville, FL from WBND in South Bend, Indiana. She went to Mandarin High School and UNF. Tiffany is a former WJXT intern, and is joining the team in 2023 as Consumer Investigative Reporter and member of the I-TEAM.