9/2/2011 11:24 AM ET|
Get a refund on high airfares
Ever booked well in advance, only to see ticket prices sink? You may have some recourse. Also: How to avoid paying too much in the first place.
You book your flight early, carefully comparing prices, and the next week the price plummets. Did you know that you may be able to recoup at least some of the cost difference in the form of a voucher for a future flight?
If not, you're not alone. A recent survey by MasterCard found that 71% of people hunting for airfares weren't aware such vouchers existed and 10% knew of them but didn't know how to use them, a MasterCard spokeswoman says.
"I don't think they know (about the refunds)," said Tom Parsons, the CEO of BestFares.com, a site that offers travel discounts and vacation packages. "It's in the contract of carriage. But how many people read that? It's a bunch of gobbledygook."
With that in mind, fare-tracking services have sprung up to make the job easier on consumers. In a variety of ways, they track fares and alert consumers to price drops to help let fliers know that they have the lowest possible price on an airfare.
How it works
Vouchers after price drops on nonrefundable tickets have been available for decades, but because most people don't read the fine print or don't have the time or energy to track the price fluctuations, getting a refund hasn't been on their radar.
To get a refund, you have to keep checking the price of your flights after your purchase and then pounce if you see that your trip is available for less. Fares change by the day and even by the hour, so you have to request a refund from the airline before the price goes up again.
To do that, follow these three steps:
- Give the customer service agent your name and confirmation code or flight information.
- Explain that you purchased a ticket and that a new fare is available on the Web.
- Ask the agent to issue a refund in the amount of the difference.
"If, despite these instructions, it turns out that you get a customer service representative who is not familiar with their own policy -- which is rare, but it can still happen -- hang up and call again or ask to speak to a manager," says Jeff Pecor, a spokesman for the fare-tracking service Yapta.
However, a few caveats apply, including:
- Change fees are likely. Even though you may be taking the exact same flight at the exact same time as you originally planned -- with only the cost having changed -- most airlines view the refund request as a ticketing change and will charge you their standard change fees. Those fees will then be subtracted from any possible refund. For domestic fares, that fee can be as high as $150. For international fares, fees can go up to $250. So the price drop has to exceed the fee to make the fare eligible for a refund.
- You must buy directly from airlines. Getting a voucher doesn't work if you bought the tickets through a travel agent or through Orbitz, Expedia or Travelocity, for instance.
But if your rate does qualify, you could recoup cash for a future trip -- and your chances for this may be higher than you think because of wide swings in airfares, particularly on international flights, Parsons says.
He says tickets to European countries purchased in January of this year to be used this fall "have dropped a minimum -- almost anywhere in Europe -- of 600 to 700 bucks."
What are your odds?
Those most likely to benefit from refunds book the furthest ahead, says Pecor.
"According to our data, a traveler who books at least 60 days in advance of their flight is eligible for a refund about 11% of the time, so if you can hit that 60-day window, you have a pretty good chance of seeing some price volatility that you can take advantage of," he says.
About 13% of fares Yapta tracked from January to March of this year were eligible for a refund, Pecor says. The average voucher amount was $125 in that period.
With Yapta's service, you can register for free online, and if your particular flight drops in price, you get an email or Twitter alert. Yapta takes the change fees into account and sends alerts only when a price drop exceeds the amount of the change fee. Yapta tracks 11 U.S.-based airlines for price drops. Once you get the alert, you can contact the airline and claim a refund.
For a $19.95 fee per itinerary, you can have someone follow up with an airline for you to get the refund. Yapta in May teamed up with MasterCard to form PriceAssure, which will automatically enter your flight information when you buy the ticket with your MasterCard and start tracking it. If your flight becomes eligible for a refund, the service will deal with the airlines for you and get you a voucher.
Other fare-tracking operations include:
- Orbitz Price Assurance. It starts tracking your itinerary after your purchase. If another customer books the same itinerary at a lower price, you will automatically get a refund of between $5 and $250 per traveler for airlines and $5 to $500 on hotel rooms. The catch is that it has to be the exact same itinerary -- the same flight numbers and dates and class and restrictions.
- Travelocity Price and Service Guarantee. Under this program, you get a guarantee that if you find a better price for the same trip, the service will match it, refund you the difference up to $500 and give you $50 toward your next trip. But you have to do the watching. Its FareWatcher Plus service will watch when prices drop for up to 10 destinations of your choosing and send you alerts.
Help with finding lower fares
Of course, if you book a low fare to begin with, you can avoid the hassle of any refund.
Several websites can help with that. Here are a few:
- Farecompare.com offers historical information on what prices have been for trips to various cities in the past 12 months.
- Travelzoo and Airfarewatchdog will let you see promotions not advertised elsewhere.
- Browser extension Invisible Hand lets you download a finder tool that automatically displays lower prices in a drop-down bar as you compare airfares.
Just knowing that fares fluctuate wildly may reduce consumers' urge to lock in too far in advance and avoid having to worry about a change fee at all, BestFares.com's Parsons says.
He gives this example: "I wouldn't touch an airfare to Europe for January, February or March with a 10-foot pole right now. The pattern's been there every single month: We've seen price drops."
This article was reported by Marcia Frellick for CreditCards.com.
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Sorry, small error in your reporting there. Travel agents can, and do, have the ability to issue a voucher for the fare difference, just like the airlines do. As a matter of fact, they do it exactly the same way, by rebooking the fare, and issuing a voucher for travel on the airline. I know because I am a travel agent, and I supply this service for my travelers every day. If either they or I find a fare that is lower by more than the change fee, I can issue the voucher immediately.
Please remember to carefully check your facts, especially when your mistake can cost someone business. Travel agents are struggling as it is because of undeserved bad press.
A good travel agent is worth their weight in gold...Just ask my clients.
I have been a corporate travel agent for 18 years. There are errors in this article. Travel agencies CAN issue MCOs (airline voucher) for lower fares. My agency scans records every day for lower fares on all tickets issued. We save our travelers thousands of dollars every year. The MCOs are not hard to use. They are valid one year from date of issue and must be used with the same airline that issued the MCO. It can be daunting to deal with an airline to receive a MCO, which is why corporations use travel agencies. We issue MCOs directly from our work system no need to deal with the airline. We are available to our clients 24/7/365. I personally will always use a travel agent knowing what complications can happen while traveling. I like knowing there is someone who has my back and knows all the ins and outs of the travel industry.
The logic here seems to be comparable to the "income tax return logic."
Lots of people look forward to getting a refund (free money!!) just as lots of people are probably now more excited than ever to get a travel voucher/refund on their flights (more free stuff!!), but to get the refund in both cases, you have to pay more up front and the money you get back was really yours all along.
Whether it's smart or not to wait to buy an airline ticket is another matter, but rushing to buy a ticket as far as possible in advance with the hopes that you might be lucky enough to get a (partial) refund seems more like a waste of money (and time) that not a lot of people can afford any more.
I don't see why airlines get away with consumer murder. Why shouldn't I get my money refunded if there's a drop in price? If I bought an HD TV or a blouse from a dept. store and the price dropped, you're issued a price difference right away. Those vouchers are useless due to the high amount of restrictions placed on them. Who needs MORE headaches?
I remember booking an international flight round trip last year. 5 hours after I bought the ticket, the price dropped $200. So I called Delta's international reservation desk, and got lucky. I found a nice lady who not only didn't give me a hard time, she immediately issued me a refund for the difference (WITHOUT ANY FARE CHANGE PENALTY) on my credit card. That's practically an unheard of practice, esp. on an international fare which leaves no leeway for errors or changes. My advice is, if you're a frequent traveler with a particular airline, play nice on the phone and let them know how appreciative you'd be if they could make an exception to their policy for you "just this once". If at first you don't succeed, call back again. You never konw when that one nice person who will let things happen your way is going to pick up on the other end. When the airline sees you fly with them often, they are more willing and open to bypass policy and become more customer-friendly.
I agree with "unitraveller", you have made an error in your reporting - travel agents can issue vouchers and follow the same procedure as the airlines and ---
note to: "ah-duh", it will take exactly one-time for you to be screwed by an airline or a vendor and then spend hours, days, weeks, months trying to get assistance. Better yet, you just missed that LAST flight of the night and now you are at the mercy of the airline to help you - LOL - you will wish you had that 24 hour toll-free emergency number that most travel agents offer these days, and if you REALLY believe that hotels offer travel agents reduced rates all the time you are really living in la-la land. WAKE UP!
As a past Reservations Agent I can add some tidbits. On my airline, a nonrefundable fare meant just that. If the prices went down after you purchased, you had to contact us and if we could rebook you on the exact same itinerary the difference in price would be yours as a future credit for a future flight but only after you completed this flight without having made any changes to it. Refunds were not automatic and were not instantaneous even on the full Y class tickets. The refund would be available after you finished your travel and had made no unexpected changes to any part of it.
The airlines make money when you change your plans. I would safely say more than half of my calls were customer calling to make changes with the result being their original fare no longer available (sold out).
Plus, free checked luggage!! Why fly with anyone else when you have the choice?
I've been SCAMMED by EXPEDIA for two tickets fare.
Once we purchased an adult and an infant tickets,one week before the flight,i called them to confirm it and what was my surprise to learn that th money we paid was only for the adult and they wanted us to pay 3/4 of the amount already paid for the infant.
I will never recommend somebody to EXPEDIA
I have a question for the writer of this piece, Why vouchers for future travel, instead of simply a cancelling and rebooking the flight? . If I buy a tkt and it goes down in price by an amount that exceeds the change fee, all I do is cancel and rebook. That way, I get an immediate credit on my credit card and not a voucher for future use.
I travel internationally a few times a year and always book directly w/ the airline on their site. I'd never use a 3rd party like Expedia or any of them, all I ever read about on the travel websites is one problem after another.
Sometimes when I book a flight sometimes, the price goes down by about $50 - $100, which unfortunately, is less than the change fee charged, so it's a moot point.
That said, AA now sells flight insurance which, amongst other benefits, allows you to cancel or change for a lesser fee. I believe (?) the amount of cost of the insurance varies by the cost of the ticket and whether it's domestic or international, On my last flight to Paris, the fee for the insurance was $29.00 if memory serves me right and so had my flight gone down in price, I could have cancelled and rebooked for a $75. change fee. I don't know if other airlines offer this.
So why not just advise people to cancel and rebook, rather than suggesting they accept travel credit vouchers for future flights?
Note to "Against Living Forever" who calls us all "Entitlement Groupies"
You're so wrong. I probably would have agreed with that statement perhaps 20 years ago when airlines actually cared about passengers flying in the "main cabin", aka coach and now, cattle class. With outrageous penalty fees to have to cancel a flight, even for medical reasons with a doctor's note, cramping us into spaces that are disgustingly tight, now charging for luggage, charging for food and snacks, charging for a pillow & blanket, charging for head sets, and some like Spirit even charging a "convenience" fee to pay for a ticket with your credit card (as if there's a choice!), it's the airlines that are the ones with the Entitlement issues, not the flying public! So get off it!
I switched from being a United flyer to American when they changed the seats and had "More Room in Coach". I guess it was so successful, they added more seats!
The only one with comfortable seats is Jet Blue, who also does not charge extra for luggage snacks, and I fly them whenever possible.
Hi! I've been scammed by EXPEDIA a week ago.
I purchased two tickets for an adult and an infant to travel from paris to new york.
A week before the flight,i called them to make the confirmation,but Expedia said the money we paid was only for the adult not for the infant.
They asked us to pay again 3/4 of the amount already paid for the infant which i think it was settled yet.
They claimed that the mistake was from the airline company and when they tried to processed the infant ticket,something went wrong.
They never called or emailed us to explain the situation,and waited until we called to confirm the trip a week before ,to tell us that we need to give more money.
I think that a SCAMMED !!! i never heard or never see something like this,i will never recommend anybody to EXPEDIA !!!!!!!!
travel agents are about as relevant as a dinosaur
their time has come and gone
imagine how much cheaper travel could be if hotels didn't have to let them
get reduced rates ...plus guess who pays for their commission
using the internet to book your travel is the way to go..so easy
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