How to Get Your Money Back When Airfare Drops

Airfare Drops After Ticket Purchases

What happens if you buy a non-refundable airline ticket and then the price on the same flight drops? The answer may be better than you think. In fact, you may be able to recoup some or all of the price difference.

Doing so requires that you track price fluctuations and then request a refund before the price goes back up again – so it takes some diligence – but if you can save even more on your airfare, then why not?

Not every airline offers to “price match” their own airfare, and those that do often charge a fee for it, so you have to be sure that the fare difference is enough to offset the fee you will be charged for making the change.

This table shows which major U.S. airlines allow you to claim some or all of the price difference when a fare drops, and what fees they charge for domestic and international flights.

Airline Price match after fare drops? Domestic flight change fee International flight change fee
 AirTran Yes None None
 Alaska Airlines Yes None None
 American Yes $150 $250
 Continental Yes $150 $250*
 Delta Yes $150 $250
 Frontier No Not applicable Not applicable
 JetBlue Yes None None
 Southwest Yes None Not applicable
 United Yes $150 $150
 US Airways Yes $150 $250
 Virgin Yes $75 $75

 

*It is not yet known whether this will drop to $150 once the Continental / United merger is complete.

If you have booked a flight and then the airfare drops (assuming it drops more than the amount you will need to pay for the change fee), here is a list of dos and do nots for pursuing your refund.

  • Do phone the airline, provide your name and confirmation code, and explain that a lower fare is now available on the web and you are requesting a refund for the difference.
  • Do ask to speak to a manager if the customer service representative is not familiar with the airline’s policy.
  • Do track international fares closely, because wide swings in fares are more likely on international flights.
  • Do not expect your refund to be given in cash. They are always given in vouchers or credit toward future travel.
  • Do not wait too long to use your refund. Most refund credits must be used within 12 months.
  • Do not expect to be able to claim a refund unless you have booked your flight directly with the airline.

Being aware of your airline’s policy about refunding fare differences on non-refundable tickets can offer you some peace of mind when you are buying airline tickets. Online frequent flier forums show that consumers have had the best experiences getting this type of price difference refund with Southwest, AirTran, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue, which are coincidentally the four airlines that do not charge fees for the service.

Of course, you can relieve yourself of the hassle of pursuing a refund by making sure that you book the cheapest airline tickets to begin with. FareCompare has an email alert service that can help you monitor fares, so you can grab them when they are most affordable.

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Published: August 22, 2011