Airlines have change fees. Should we?

Somehow, I got to the Madrid airport a lot earlier than I expected to. “Just in time to take the earlier flight back to Newark,” said Ms. “You’re Lucky I Speak English” Continental Airlines employee.

Just in time, that is, if I was willing to pay the $50 change fee.

It wasn’t a tough choice.  Sit in the airport for 3 extra hours or pay $50 to get to my office 3 hours faster.  Since I consider my in-office hourly rate to be higher than $16.67/hour, I forked it over.

And Ms. Continental smiled so sweetly as she violently ran my credit card and racked up another $50 in sales for the day.  And for what?  For printing out a new ticket?  For the 2 minutes it took for her to switch my reservation?  The earlier flight wasn’t sold out, so moving me around wasn’t costing them anything.  In fact, since I was moving to an earlier flight, that gave them another seat to sell on a later flight, and gave them more time to sell it!  They got more cash and more profit potential!

Airlines have very strict no refund/no exchange policies, just like we do, but they’ve figured out how to use it to their advantage. (BTW, here’s a tip for you or your box office managers:  when customers do complain about not being able to get tickets refunded because their plans change, etc., my sales team reminds them that buying theater tickets is a lot like buying airline tickets, or cruise ship tickets, or any vacation ticket.  They tend to calm down a bit when they realize we’re not the only industry that doesn’t give cash back.)

So if airlines do it . . . should we?

If your cat had to be rushed to the VET because she ate your Annie action figure, and you’d rather see Shrek next week instead of ‘tomorrow’, would you pay $5/ticket to switch ’em?  I bet you would.

In fact . . . would you be more inclined to purchase tickets in advance to a show if you knew you could make a switch later on for a small fee?

I know I often buy airline tickets weeks in advance to lock in a deal, knowing that if my plans change, I’ll pay the fee and move the tickets as I need.
Would theater patrons do the same?

Of course the problem here is seat locations, and sold-out shows.  This isn’t a service everyone could offer, but it seems it could be designed in a way that could do two things:

  • Make the patron happy
  • Make the production more money

And shouldn’t those be the goals of every one of our initiatives?

  • Stef Work says:

    Just a question– in the long run- aren’t you losing money? Hypothetically speaking–
    Say the tickets for your production are $30. Say customer one has a ticket for tonight’s performance. Their cat fifi needs to go to the vet. Or something… you know the same tragic story that the box office hears many times.
    For a same-day exchange fee of $10 they get a ticket for next Wednesday.
    You just sold a seat for $10.
    How do you recuperate the $20 that is lost due to not having that seat available next week?
    Total income: $40 ($30 with $10 exchange fee)
    Total of two tickets: $60
    Still out $20.
    With the available ticket tonight, you could sell it, and possibly make $10.
    Or with the lack of complete sell outs in the current conditions, the seat will probably be unsold.
    Tweak the numbers to apply to the current ticket for the current production with all handling fees, and in the end, it is still a loss.
    I am all for selling all the available tickets, but seriously, the labor of the exchange (you are at least spending half of that in labor fees to print new tickets, sell old tickets, etc).
    What is the point?

  • isaac butler says:

    Would you say airlines have done a good job of “making the patron happy” through their fee-addled process of providing customer service? I’d say “no”, and that would give me pause before adopting any of their policies. People already think theatre is too expensive, tacking on extra fees isn’t going to change that, the customer won’t think “ah, you see, before they didn’t allow any exchanges at all! oy, so inconvenient! now, they allow me to change tickets and charge me a little bit. totally worth it”. They’ll think, “This greedy schmuck is nickel-and-diming me *again*”. I doubt someone who paid $120.00 a pop for Schreck, already fuming at the ridiculous “service charges” and “venue fees” and other hidden bullcrap the Shuberts tack on wants to turn around and be charged $5.00. Frankly, with all of the service fees that come with tickets, you should be providing your patrons the opportunity to exchange for free.
    Also, your $50.00 at Continental was very cheap indeed. The last time I wantedto change to an earlier flight they tried to charge me almost $600.00 to do it (a cancellation fee plus buying brand new tickets at full price).

  • Jay says:

    I’m not opposed to cancellation or ticket change fees. What I am opposed to is the price of these fees. Each major airline now charges $150 if you want to cancel a flight — changing tickets with the same origin/destination and dates can usually be cheaper.
    Recently I cancelled a trip to Rochester that cost me $120. It doesn’t make sense for me to pay $150 just to get to use that $120, so I’m out of luck. The airline has an extra $120 AND what’s worse, since I cancelled the flight a month in advance they have plenty of time to resell that ticket and make another $120 or more.
    This is unacceptable in my eyes.
    I have my own advice for airlines in this case (the customer pays a certain percentage of the ticket based upon when they cancel the flight) but this is not the way to do it with theatres.
    If you must charge a fee, it needs to be within reason. $5 for a $100 is acceptable. $25 is not. $1 for a $25 ticket is acceptable. $25 is not.
    Ultimately you want to keep the customer happy. If not, they’re going to find another airline out there – and there are plenty of airlines … er shows … to choose from.

  • I don’t think pointlessly gouging the consumer is ever a good idea. I intentionally steer away from stores that charge “re-stocking” fees for returns, and I delay buying airline tickets just to make sure I don’t have to pay some stupid fee for changes.
    Theatre is a luxury for most (at $125 a ticket, it’s becoming a luxury for fewer and fewer, that is), and excessive fees on top of that will only serve to push people away.

  • Jean says:

    Okay, my complaint is that this “No refund/No exchange” thing isn’t a two way street. Case in point – Impressionism changed their opening date to 3/24. Patrons with regular tickets for that date have had their seats cancelled and are being offered refund or exchange. If I have a business meeting planned and it gets changed to a night on which I have theater tickets, I have no recourse.
    The airlines also reserve the right to cancel your ticket, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

  • Dana says:

    I very much like the idea of having the option to exchange tickets for a small fee. If I were to buy a $125 ticket and something important comes up, I would be a much happier customer if I could pay $15 to switch my ticket than not have the option to switch at all.
    In terms of the show not losing money, producers could figure out what the most effective scenario is, which would probably depend on how well the show is selling. Stef Work seemed to be making the assumption that tonight’s now empty seat would not be resold in time and the seat for next week would have been sold to someone else for $30. However, if a show has a bunch of empty seats and are unlikely to fill them all for next week’s show, then what’s the harm? Or depending on how well the show is selling, perhaps people could make exchanges up until, say 48 hours before the performance. (Aren’t a lot of tickets sold the day of anyway?) The person could then have the option of paying a fee, switching to a night when there are a number of empty seats (say from a Saturday to a Tuesday), or switching to a seat that is in a price bracket below the one they purchased it in.
    Like the posting about “Have it your way,” I think consumers are generally happier when they have more options. And I know I would be more inclined to buy full priced tickets several months out for a hot show if I had more flexibility.

  • Sounds like a plan to me ! Sign me up to support a “Change” fee.
    In marketing that feature, make it more appealing to buy in advance and state VERY clearly that there can and will be a change fee if one wishes to change. Also, let people know there is certianly NO guarantee that the change date they wish will be available.
    As a theatregoer (on top of many other hats), I would certainly be more inclined to buy my orchestra seats for a show I know is hot armed with the knowledge I can also change if something comes up.

  • Drew says:

    Out here in the provinces, I instituted an exchange fee a few years back. $5/order. I based it on the Arena Theatre in DC that charges $2.50/ticket. Since most orders are 2 and a per ticket fee would be hard in our then software, I averaged it out.
    StefWork has a point – If you let someone exchange the day of due to an emergency, you now have a ticket for tonight that you may or may not sell depending on a variety of factors. If people are clamoring for tix and you can sell it to the next caller, everyone wins and the theater makes an extra buck.
    On the other hand, if none of the shows are sell outs, than the theater really doesn’t lose out on the “unsold ticket”, gets the benefit of the fee and the customer gets to do what the rest of the theater’s in town probably won’t do. Change their tix.

  • Vap12 says:

    I think it’s a fantastic idea.
    Issac, this wouldn’t add to the cost of a ticket unless you opt to change the date. At the moment, you would simply lose your tickets if something came up. This is especially useful for people with children or caretakers of the elderly.
    If the concern is money lost on the ticket given the small amount of time available to resell it, you can charge different fees depending on the change made. This way, a same-day change is $15 while one that is 3 weeks out only costs $5.
    I have had to miss shows because of a death in the family and other mishaps and I would have gladly payed $5 to postpone my tickets.

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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