Imagine I sat down at a diner and ordered a burger and fries. I went ahead and paid the $10 and they brought me my plate. At this point, I decided maybe I didn't want to eat the fries, so the waiter says, "No worries, sir, let me take that out of your way." He whisks away the fries and leaves me with the burger. Then he returns with a bill for $5. "What's that for?" I ask. The waiter says, "Oh, that's your change fee." "You mean I'm not allowed to eat the burger I already paid for because I don't want to eat the fries?" So now I've got a $15 hamburger.
Oh, and the waiter went and sold my fries to some other customer for even more money.
Folks, that's what the airlines in this country are allowed to do. I bought a round-trip ticket to DC, but it turns out I'm already going to be in New York next week, so I can't use the outbound ticket. But I still want to use the return ticket so I can come home.
Not allowed to do that. If I don't show up for my outbound ticket, the airline cancels the entire trip. There are no refunds, which I'm fine with -- it bothers me a little that they can both charge me and resell the spot, but I understand opportunity cost. What gets me is that if I want to use the return portion of the trip I already paid for, I have to pay a $200 "change fee". Get this -- there is no change to my flight or to my seat or anything except that some other flight I don't want to take gives them the right to charge me nearly half again as much as the original trip.
It should be illegal for me skipping one flight to have a financial impact on my future flights.
Hotels don't do this. If I reserve a room for Monday through Friday but can't make it until Tuesday, if I call up the hotel, they'll say "You have to pay for Monday, of course, but there's no reason you can't come in on Tuesday. And we won't charge you more."
Ridiculous. And downright greedy.