Airlines actually do let you make changes to your tickets, even for non-refundable reservations. That said, the fee (in addition to paying the fare difference) is typically in the range of $175, which is probably the worst price gouge in the industry. So how do you get around it?
Well, even with non-refundable tickets (aka the super cheap ones almost everyone buys), most airlines have a 24 hour change or cancellation policy that gives you a mulligan in case you hit the 'Buy' button while looking at a calendar from the wrong month or year (and you'd be surprised how often that happens). The only other way to protect yourself is to buy travel insurance, which usually isn't worth the cost, but is a good idea if you have any reason to believe that your plans might change. Planning your first-ever vacation with a new significant other? Might want to insure that trip, just in case.
Beyond that, there’s always Southwest Airlines, who only charges you the difference in fares to make a change. Sometimes it involves stopping in Albuquerque on your way from Oakland to Los Angeles, but, hey, at least you’re not paying fees.
Here's something to take you back to the '80s: Some people still insist on having airlines provide them with a physical paper copy of their ticket, and not just the one you print out at the check-in kiosk. Who are these folks? We can only assume they are older travelers who don't feel comfortable arriving at the airport empty-handed, leaving it to "chance" that their ticket will magically materialize from some machine. That, or they're die-hard scrapbookers.
Flying 67 legs around the world? Your carrier of choice might wind up booking with a smaller airline that still uses paper tickets, and guess who pays for the privilege? Paper ticketing costs airlines more than electronic tickets, and airlines love returning the favor. These days paper tickets will run a $25 or $50 charge. If you really want a tangible souvenir of your odyssey from DFW to Portland, print up a boarding pass when you get to the airport, then show it to your grandkids. For everyone else, keep your eyes open for the charge, book with major airlines that use electronic ticketing, or book your multi-segment trip individually.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.