The price of airfare fluctuates depending on demand and other factors, and it’s common to see different prices for the exact same itinerary throughout a single day. So what can you do if the price of a flight you’ve already booked suddenly falls? Here are some tips.
With that in mind, consumers often struggle with knowing when to book their flights – do you book now or do you wait it out? At the end of the day, travelers can research the price of flights and use tools like the Hopper app to try to predict when the lowest price will be available, but really, that’s about it.
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What price guarantees do airlines offer?
Some airlines offer price guarantees for the first 24 hours after you book, but these offers sound more intriguing than they are, says travel and credit card expert Jason Steele.
“While the advertisement of a price guarantee can sound great, many of these offers are of limited value,” he says. “For example, Delta and Alaska will refund you the difference if you find a lower fare for the same itinerary, but only within 24 hours of booking. But the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires airlines to offer you a refund within 24 hours anyway, so you can realize the lower price with any airline by canceling and rebooking within 24 hours.”
Note that the DOT’s 24-hour rule for airfare is good for flights that depart in at least seven days.
Delta’s price guarantee is probably the most intriguing since you can receive a $100 travel voucher and the difference in your fare “if you find that your exact same Delta ticket is at least $10 lower on another U. S. — based travel website.”
JetBlue offers a similar promise of a $50 voucher if you find a fare that’s at least $5 less elsewhere on the same day of booking, which may be worth pursuing. But Alaska Air’s price guarantee only refunds the difference for fares at least $10 cheaper found within 24 hours, and that’s pretty pointless if DOT regulations let you cancel your flight and get your money back within 24 hours of booking anyway.
If you decide to watch flight prices for 24 hours after booking, you’ll need to be vigilant. Scott Keyes of Scott’s Cheap Flights says the most important thing to do if you’re hoping to take advantage of an airline’s price guarantee policy is to notify the airline quickly.
“Remember, airfares are constantly changing. They’re not set in stone for weeks at a time, but often changing by the day if not by the hour,” he says. “When you’re filing a claim, you need to notify the airline quickly so they have time to verify the lower price you found before it disappears.”
Other ways to get a refund if the price of your airfare drops
As of this moment, airlines are being generous with their cancellation and rebooking policies due to COVID-19. In fact, many airlines like Delta and American have introduced worry-free guarantees that let you book new travel now for later this year with the knowledge you can change it to a later date without change fees.
But as Keyes points out, in normal times, airlines charge change fees for each time you want to trade in your flight for another – even for the same itinerary that happens to be at a lower price.
Let’s say you’ve booked a flight to Paris for $1,000 with Delta Air Lines. If the price drops to $400, you can’t just rebook and pocket the $600 difference, says Keyes.
“Instead, Delta will take the change fee out of the fare difference, leaving you with as little as $100 in savings on the new $400 flight.”
Travel expert Chris Lopinto of ExpertFlyer.com says to keep in mind that, generally speaking, basic economy fares can’t be changed at all. Even if you are willing to pay a change fee, you’re out of luck.
When it comes to paying a change fee to secure a lower price on airfare, however, the difference has to be larger than the change fee, says Lopinto. And with many change fees coming in over $200, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll be able to pay a change fee and receive a meaningful refund.
Then again, Jesse Neugarten, CEO and founder of the million-plus member discount subscription service Dollar Flight Club says COVID-19 has made it so big refunds could be a reality. In fact, some of Dollar Flight Club’s recent research suggests “airfare prices will decrease by 35% on average through 2021 and then sharply increase 27% on average (above 2019 levels) through 2025 as demand rebounds.”
If this winds up being the case, then it’s plausible that refunds could outweigh change fees at least part of the time.
See related: Prepping your post-pandemic rewards travel strategy
Major airlines’ refund and change fee policies
|Airline||Change fees||Refund policy|
|Alaska Air||$125 for domestic or international||If the cost of your itinerary is lower, Alaska will offer credit toward future travel or a refund depending on the type of ticket you purchased.|
Also, note that you cannot make any changes to Saver fares once 24 hours have passed.
|American Airlines||$200+ for domestic and up to $750 for international flights||If you purchased a refundable ticket and you want to cancel, you can get a refund back to your original form of payment within 7 business days. For a nonrefundable ticket, you can get a refund if you meet a handful of exceptions including a schedule change of more than 4 hours or a change in military duty.|
|Delta Air Lines||$200 for domestic and $200 to $500 for international flights||Refund for any price difference after the change fee comes in the form of an airline voucher|
|Frontier Airlines||Up to $119||If you want to cancel your booking, you can pay the change fee and receive a travel credit for the remainder of the value of your ticket. You must make a new booking with the voucher within 90 days.|
If you purchased the WORKS, on the other hand, you can apply the value of your purchase to a new ticket without any penalty or retain the value of your purchase for use within one year of the transaction date.
|JetBlue||Most fares cost $75 to $200 to change, but Blue Extra fares don’t have any change fees||JetBlue also has a Best Fare Guarantee that says you can get a $50 travel voucher if you find the exact same itinerary for at least $5 less on another website on the same day of purchase.|
|Southwest||No change fees||If you cancel a flight with Southwest, you’ll receive travel credit in the amount you paid you can use toward another flight.|
|United Airlines||Domestic change fees start at $200 and international change fees start at $400||United Airlines may or may not provide a refund of the difference if the price of your airfare drops within 30 days; this is an unofficial policy, so you’ll need to inquire with the airline.|
Given the high change fees on most airlines, Keyes and other experts agree that the best use of time and energy is to focus on getting a good price the first time.
Once you’ve booked a flight, it can take a lot of time, energy and money to change it.
“Instead, focusing on holding off booking until you get a great fare is the best way to go,” says Keyes.
With that being said, there are some easy ways to make sure you know if the price of your airfare drops significantly, including setting a price alert on a flight you’ve booked.
“Google Flights and Kayak are two of the best metasearch airfare sites to do that,” says Keyes.
However, you’ll have to check Southwest flight prices manually since they don’t show up in search engines.
TripIt Pro is another service you can use that will notify you if the price of your airfare drops, and it comes with a 30-day free trial.
In other words, spend time researching the price of airfare for your destination or use an app that can help you predict when pricing might be lowest.