Above image courtesy of Kevin Dooley
Know what’s better than finding cheap airfare? It’s getting a refund on airline tickets when the price drops! If you didn’t know this, don’t feel bad; fine prints not really my strong suit either. Most flyers have the wrong assumption that only premium refundable airline tickets have special privileges, and by clicking the purchase button you’re locked in to that price. Believe it or not, that’s not entirely true; all U.S Airlines, and even some foreign Airlines, have a Guaranteed Airfare Policy that protects consumers when airfare drops or if you happen to find the same flight cheaper elsewhere.
But before you get refund happy, and start blasting the customer service line each time the price drops a few cents, there are restrictions depending on the airlines.
Airlines are able to stipulate their own qualifying limits, with some being more draconian than others. The limit you must hit also serves as their “re-booking” fee to reissue a new ticket (I know, I’m rolling my eyes too) that applies once you hit that limit. So for instance, lets say your original Hawaiian Airlines airfare of $300 is now $150. Hawaiian Airlines has a limit of $100, so you would “pay” the re-booking fee of $100 and they would refund you the difference in the form of a voucher or credit in the amount of $50. I know…$150 sounds a lot better, but hey, I’m surprised we get anything back at all.
Here are the limits that need to be reached before refunds on airline tickets kick in:
|Airline||Refund Price Drop Limit|
|Alaska and AirTran||Any price drop|
|JetBlue and Virgin America||$75 or more|
|Hawaiian Airlines||$100 or more|
|American Airlines, Delta, United and US Airways Airlines||$200 or more|
What if I find the flight cheaper elsewhere?
If you’re lucky enough to come across the same flight cheaper on a 3rd party booking site, most airlines do have a low price guarantee. It’s rare but it does happen. Depending on the airline the process can range from super easy (Alaska Airlines) to what-the-hell (Delta). If you’re willing to jump through the hoops and plead your case, it is possible to get some money back. Go here to see Airfarewatchdog’s nifty chart and how they explain the low price guarantee policies.
So how do we get our refund on Airline tickets?
You need to act fast. The window for refunds closes quickly. Realistically, most of us want to just pay and forget. Constantly tracking daily fluctuations of airfare is no ones idea of a good time and between work and life who has time to hit refresh every 10 minutes until take-off? Best thing to do is to setup refund alerts using Yapta (free) or Tripit Pro ($49 US/Year).
Yapta goes a step further and provides some pretty spot on instructions on how to also negotiate refunds, from who to contact and what to say. Unfortunately, they don’t cover all airlines, and some companies, like Southwest, keep their data pretty close to the chest. For them, you’ll have to go to their website.
Once you discover a price drop, or a lower price elsewhere, get on the phone, submit the online request, take screenshots, and get some money back.
What if I purchased the Flight from Priceline or Orbitz?
If you book through 3rd party sites like Orbitz or Cheaptickets, Yapta can track the price drop, but won’t automatically alert you to a refund. You’ll have to call the site you purchased from directly to work it out.
Hopefully this travel hack helps keep more money in your pocket. It’s not incredibly intuitive and does require a bit of work, but the policies do exist. For the budget conscious, every little bit helps.
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I wish all airlines had something like this. So many of them are… jerks for lack of a better word. My mom went on a business trip last month and paid for extra legroom (just a short haul flight) but they bumped her onto the next flight because they over booked, and didn’t give her a seat with the legroom she paid for. When she complained they just said sorry- no refund or anything.
I really have a difficult time comprehending that. It’s definitely one of those few industries where, as customers, we are completely at the behest of the company. Which, sort of makes it a small victory if we manage to even get a penny back from them!