How to Haggle for Airline Tickets

We Haggle on Cars, Houses – Why Not Plane Tickets?
Haggling has gone on as long as commerce has existed. We negotiate cars and houses every day, and buying from auction websites can be considered a modern form of haggling. And of course, customers routinely haggle over prices in markets and bazaars the world over. So why don’t we haggle on other things like plane tickets?

First of all, it would be impractical to haggle over everyday things like a gallon of milk. But special purchases can often be made with more satisfactory terms if you’re willing to try negotiating. Airline tickets even allow some room for negotiation if you’re not satisfied with the results when you search for cheap tickets.

If you spend a lot on airline tickets every year, and are part of an airline’s frequent flier program, you have more leverage than someone who rarely travels. Also, even if you can’t get a break on price, other parts of the flying experience are negotiable. For example, you could ask for an upgrade, or a day pass to an airport lounge.

Alternative Types of Airfare Haggling
Have you ever purchased a plane ticket and then noticed that the price dropped after you bought it? You can ask for a refund or credit towards future airfares. In most cases you must purchase through the airline website to be eligible for such a reimbursement. Policies vary, but Airtran, Alaska Airlines, American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways, and Virgin America do this.

Another tactic for negotiating airfares is to get someone else to do the haggling for you. Travel agents can often negotiate much better deals that individuals, especially if you’re willing to book a hotel and rental car at the same time. You’ll usually get the best results if you’re traveling to a popular destination like Las Vegas, Orlando, or New York.

If you plan to do the haggling yourself, be prepared to spend time on the phone with a representative at the airline’s toll-free number. If you get a representative who is not amenable to negotiation, you can always hang up and try again. You may get a different agent who is more open to negotiation. You’ll want to avoid overseas call centers, simply because many of the representatives are less experienced and less willing to deviate from scripts with which they have been trained.

Haggling With Airline Phone Agents
Here are some tips for working with phone agents:

  • Always be polite, and thank the representative for their help
  • Use queries like, Is there a way for me to get a lower fare?
  • If you’re open to traveling different times of the day, or from alternate airports, say so.
  • Mention if you are a student, a government employee, or are in the military. But keep in mind that many discounts offered to these groups are off full (expensive) fares.
  • When appropriate, ask if using the airline’s commuter service could get you a lower fare.
  • Keep in mind that saying no and “walking away” sometimes makes a price drop magically.

While FareCompare readers can always find terrific deals on cheap flights, a willingness to haggle politely with airline representatives gives you one more tool for ensuring you’re getting the best deal.

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Published: October 6, 2011