A way around the new restrictions. USAirways, Continental, and American have all announced a change that says unused nonrefundable tickets don’t retain any value. You can make a change (while paying a $100 change fee, naturally) before you fly .. but if you don’t know what your plans will be, you lose. Here’s a workaround that will work on USAirways and Continental (but not American, because of a quirk in their rules).
If your original ticket cost $500 and you decide to not to go, the rules say you’ve lost $500 — or you can make a change before your first flight leaves. Here’s what to do: find a refundable/unrestricted fare to anywhere that’s $400. Apply the full value of your restricted ticket to the new unrestricted ticket ($500 minus $100 change fee = $400). Now you have a $400 unrestricted ticket. It’s actually still nonrefundable because of the way you paid for it, but you can make any changes that you want for a year into the future.
No extra money out of pocket and you retain the ability to make changes in spite of the new fare rules.
This won’t work with American because they also have a rule that says you cannot apply an unused restricted tickets towards the purchase of an unrestricted ticket. Grr.
P.S. Where do you find cheap unrestricted tickets? Try short-haul routes. The NY-DC shuttle is ~ $400 unrestricted, for instance.