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Pay a fee and lock in airfare

Continental lets you hold airline tickets for up to a week, but you'll pay. Is this a useful new service or just another way to gouge fliers?

By Teresa Mears Dec 14, 2010 1:50PM

Perhaps you once paid a fee to "lock in" your mortgage rate.

Now you can pay a fee to lock in your airfare.

Leave it to the airlines to find yet another fee: Continental Airlines now will give you the option of locking in a fare for 72 hours or seven days, while you decide whether to buy the ticket -- for a fee starting at $5 or $9.

Carl Unger at Smarter Travel priced some itineraries and found fees of $9 to $29 to hold the fare. The highest fee was for a Newark to Boston flight. He sees plusses and minuses for the new service. He writes:

FareLock is likely targeted at business travelers, but could make sense for anyone flying last-minute or on an emergency basis. It's relatively cheap insurance on a flight that you may or may not need to book, and gives customers a few days to see if competing airlines can match Continental's fare.

He points out that you can still hold a flight for 24 hours free (a perk offered by most major airlines) so the fee offers you a chance to extend that either 48 hour or six days. The option is not offered on all flights from Continental, which is in the process of merging with United.

Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott has ranted plenty about airline fees, but he classified this as a "good fee" because it gives customers a chance to buy a service -- "think of it as buying an option on an airline ticket" -- they couldn't get before. The only danger he sees is if airlines decide to do away with the free 24-hour hold.

Elliott noted that the airline industry collected $2.5 billion in luggage fees and $1.7 billion in ticket-change fees in the first three quarters of 2010.

The unnamed blogger at Flight Wisdom isn't sure that customers will pay for FareLock. He noted that American Airlines' Your Choice program, introduced in June, has not been that popular. That program lets fliers pay a fee, in the same range as Continental's FareLock, for priority boarding, standby rights or cheaper ticket changes.

I can see that being able to lock in a fare while you firm up travel plans would be useful at times. The cost is comparable to buying travel insurance. On the other hand, I can dream of a system in which changing your flight plans would not cost more than the original ticket.

What do you think of the new FareLock? Is it a useful service or just another customer-gouging fee?


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