Track air fares for money back

September 9, 2008 4:05:46 PM PDT
Soaring fuel costs and the sagging economy have driven the airlines to charge for things that used to be free. From pillows to peanuts, blankets to baggage -- some airlines are charging for just about everything these days.But one of the best kept secrets in the airline industry could give you some money back. Every airline has guaranteed air fare policies. It basically means, after you purchase your ticket, if the price goes down, you are entitled to a refund. The problem is airlines aren't required to alert you when prices drop, but we found an easy way to get your money back.

Frequent traveler Joe Barron found a way to at least try to beat the airlines at their own game, by using a free website called yapta.com. It's like your own personal travel agent that tracks fares for you, alerts you when prices go down and helps you get a refund if you qualify.

"This was very, very user friendly," he said.

Yapta.com CEO Tom Romary explained, "What yapta does is connects you to that constantly changing pricing environment, so that you don't have to miss out on a deal."

Romary says his site has saved travelers millions of dollars since launching last year. The website tracks air fares two ways -- either before you buy or after you've already purchased your ticket.

He said, "If you bought a $400 ticket on United, for example, and the price dropped $250, even on a restricted ticket, they would offer you a travel credit good for 12 months for $150."

All you do is log on, type in the information about the flight you're planning or one you already have booked, and the site will alert you for the lowest fare. In Barron's case, he had already purchased two round trip tickets to Amsterdam, so all he did was type his confirmation number on yapta.com and let the website track the fare for him.

"(I forgot about it until) one day there was a dramatic drop," Barron recalled.

By email yapta alerted Barron that his flight had dropped $600. Not only did the website notify Barron, they also sent him a step by step guide on how to get his refund.

"Continental sends travel vouchers a week later," Barron said. "It was seamless."

So with the money he saved, he and his wife got two tickets to Mexico.

On restricted fares, yapta takes into consideration the change fees before the site alerts you. Yapta is free but for $15, the company will actually contact the airline for you and get your refund.

We checked on some other air fare websites and got the details for you.

All of the websites listed below are free to use.

Yapta.com:

  • Alerts you via email when there's a price drop for your tagged or booked ticket.
  • Provides specific instructions on how to refund or exchange your ticket for the cheaper one.
  • Added on refund/exchange fees will not exceed the original ticket price.
  • It's up to you to contact the airline for refunds (Yapta gives you the link), or Yapta can do it for a $15 fee
  • You don't have to book a flight for Yapta to check for alternatives. You simply have to "tag" a flight, and Yapta keeps an eye on it until the departure time. You can book it at any time, or not at all.
  • Rebooking fees for each airline are conveniently listed on yapta.com.
  • Searches most US airlines and many international.
  • Kayak.com:

  • Gives you a link so you can buy the ticket directly from the airline. Kayak does not book the flight for you.
  • Will refer you to another online ticket buyer (like orbitz.com) if they have a better rate. The idea is that you shouldn't have to search every online ticket site, since Kayak searches every one for you.
  • Every question emailed to Kayak gets a personal response from a kayak.com employee. No response is automated.
  • The biggest drawback of the service is that it only finds the lowest fare for the moment of the search. It will not check for future price drops.
  • Orbitz.com:

  • Searches other sites for the best deal, but you can book the flight directly through Orbitz.
  • Features a "Price Assurance" program that tracks your flight and issues a refund if another customer books the same flight for a lower rate. The catch here is that if the price drops, but no one else books it at the lower price, you're stuck with the original price of your ticket.
  • Orbitz handles the rebooking process, and mails the refund check to you.
  • CheapTickets.com:

  • One nice feature this site offers is an update on severe weather situations. Cheaptickets will waive any cancellation fees if inclement weather prevents you from traveling.
  • Provides useful links to major US airlines' cancellation policies.
  • Don't waste your time with these:

    Travelocity.com:

  • Users can register with a free FareWatcher Plus Program that sends notifications of price changes and special offers for up to 10 destinations. It looks at the destination instead of the flight, so it's not very useful unless you don't have specific departure and arrival dates.
  • With the program, you have the option to only be notified if the price drops by a certain amount (for example, you can set it so that you won't get an email if the price of your ticket only goes down by $5).
  • Airfare.com, BookingBuddy.com, Expedia.com, FareCompare.com, Mobissimo.com, Sidestep.com, StudentUniverse.com:

  • These sites check the basic flights published by major airlines, but don't offer special services. Most of them actually provide links to send you to more functional sites like Kayak.com and Orbitz.com.
  • These airlines don't charge for changes made to tickets: Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest and United.

    Here are the normal change fees for other airlines:
    Continental: $50
    Delta: $100 for US flights. Usually $200 for international flights, depending on the location.
    US Airways: $50

    For airlines not listed, contact a service representative to determine how much an exchange costs.

    Low Fare Guarantees: Keep in my mind that in order to be eligible for any low-fare guarantee refund, the flights must have the same dates, origin, destination, layovers, cabin and flight number. Most of the Low Fare Guarantees apply only to tickets purchased online.

    American: They will refund the difference if you find the same flight for at least $5 less on any other online site, and give you a $50 travel credit. But beware: the guarantee only applies if you find the cheaper fare on the same day you purchased the original ticket.

    Continental: If you find your Continental flight listed more than $10 cheaper on any other travel website, Continental will pay you the difference and give you a $100 travel certificate.

    Delta: Delta does not have an official low-airfare guarantee. It has a no-questions-asked cancellation policy, but only for tickets purchased one day prior to the cancellation.

    Northwest: If you find your flight listed at least $10 cheaper, they will make up the difference and grant you a $100 travel credit.

    United: Will refund the price difference if exchanging your ticket for a cheaper one purchased through them. If you find your flight listed anywhere else for at least $5 cheaper each way, the United website claims, "We know how to make it up to you."

    US Airways: Will refund any difference in ticket fee.

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