EAGAN (AP) -- The nation's major airlines have a new message for customers: it's our way or the highway.
On Thursday, Northwest Airlines and Delta Airlines followed its biggest rivals by adopting a "use it or lose it" policy for nonrefundable tickets, the low-priced seats typically bought weeks ahead of a flight.
US Airways last week became the first major airline to throw out the one-year grace period for passengers with nonrefundable tickets who miss flights. The Arlington, Va.-based carrier, which is restructuring itself in a bankruptcy proceeding, said it wanted to make cheapest tickets less attractive in order to drive customers to buy higher-priced tickets with fewer restrictions.
By the end of the week, American Airlines and Continental Airlines said they'd go along. And now, Northwest and Delta are joining in.
"I just think it's got to be the dumbest thing they've ever done," said Kevin P. Mitchell, head of the Business Travel Coalition, a group that represents large corporate fliers. Rather than create revenue, Mitchell predicts the moves will cost carriers in lost business to low-fare airlines.
Under the change, passengers with nonrefundable tickets who miss a flight will lose the value of their ticket. Previously, passengers could take up to a year to rebook a missed flight. They had to pay a re-booking fee ranging from $100 to $150.
The new policy is on tickets for travel beginning Oct. 1.
The airlines will still allow passengers with a nonrefundable ticket to rebook a flight if they call in advance, pay a $100 fee and ask for a specific flight to rebook. Passengers will no longer be allowed to carry a credit a year.
"An airline seat is a perishable product," Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said Thursday. "Once a flight has departed we no longer have an opportunity to sell that seat."
He said Northwest officials believe it's reasonable to ask customers flying on discounted fares to notify the airline in advance if they don't intend to use that seat, so it can be sold to someone else.
The airline will still allow travelers using its BizFlex nonrefundable tickets to miss flights.
And Northwest said it won't clamp down on so-called "standby" travel as the other major airlines are.
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