True, most airlines let you do that before the new regulations, and the new rule does not include fares purchased within seven days of departure, but for most of us it provides a little breathing room. Next time you buy airline tickets, go back and check your reservation carefully: are the dates and times the ones you want? Is your name correct -- meaning, does it match the ID you'll use at the security check-point? Did you suddenly notice a cheap airfare? You've got a day to sort this all out, so use it.
2. Look for airlines with low or no change fees.
Couple of options here: Consider booking with Southwest and if you think you might need to change your ticket because this discount carrier is the lone U.S. airline with no change fee. That, and it's "Two Bags Free" policy are increasingly the only things that distinguish this airline from the legacy carriers (American, Delta, United and US Airways) since its "discount fares" get more expensive all the time (earlier this week, Southwest launched an airfare hike that was widely matched by the competition).
Other low-cost carriers generally have cheaper change fees than the legacy airlines. For example, Frontier only charges $50 per change fee, while JetBlue and Virgin America charge $100. Alaska charges $75 for online changes and $100 if you make the switch by phone.
3. Buy a non-refundable ticket or "change-your-mind" insurance
Refundable tickets are a much pricier option, maybe too pricy for some as well as being a pain to get your credit card (in two billing cycles) but you're guaranteed peace of mind if there's a sudden and unexpected cancelation. Frontier's Classic Plus fares are fully refundable, as are American's Economy Saver Fares, Delta's Flexible Fares and Virgin America's Main Cabin Select fares.
And United has a program (that was actually started by the now merged Continental) that offers a twist between non-refundable and refundable fares, that they call "FareLock". For a fee you can extend the 24 hour guarantee from 3 to 7 days to change your mind.
However, in many cases these get-your-money-back deals can cost you more than the change fee, though maybe not more than a change fee plus the fare difference. Think carefully before you make such a purchase.
4. Look for bundled-fee deals and change fee discounts
This may be the way to go if you require a few fee-based perks. Example: American's Boarding and Flexibility package gets you on the plane ahead of most flyers, which gives you first crack at that all-too-scarce overhead bin space if you use a carryon-on, plus it gives you a change fee discount of $75. JetBlue's Even More Space fares give you roomier seats, early boarding and refundable fares. Prices on all these bundled deals vary quite a bit depending on where you're flying but can be quite reasonable.
5. Flight insurance.
When it comes to any kind of insurance, caveat emptor. Be sure to read the fine print, then read it again and go over it a third time. Make sure what you think is covered is in fact covered.
6. When all else fails…
There's a reason they call the cheapest airfares non-refundable. That said, once in a blue moon, you may see an airline waive a change fee, particularly if there's a medical emergency and you have a doctor's report plus you are exceedingly polite, but do not count on this. You've heard the old saying, "business is war"? It's true, and the airlines are in a war of survival as oil prices rise ever higher. Airlines won't give us a break so give yourself one by being a smart airfare shopper.