One of the good things to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is that airlines eliminated those despised $200 and $300 change fees. I was sure that once things got back to “normal,” the airlines also would return to their former ways. But they haven’t, and this bit of airline largesse provides two ways for fliers to save on fares.
First, you won't be charged extra for changing a flight; if the fare is nonrefundable you’ll get a full credit for future travel.
There's a second way to save, but it may take some vigilance. Even if you don’t change a thing yourself, the airline has probably been busy changing the cost of your booked flight. Several times between purchase and departure, the fare will have gone up and down, sometimes by hundreds of dollars. When it goes down, you should get a flight credit refund.
Years ago, airlines published their airfares in their printed timetables. They changed once a month if that, and were regulated by the government. As technology improved, they were allowed, by clunky mainframe computer systems, to change their prices only three times a day during the week and once on weekend days. Now they can change them whenever they like, and as a result they go up and down like stock market indexes. Most people never check, and consumers leave millions on the table each year.
Soon after booking a nonrefundable New York to Los Angeles airfare on American Airlines, I rechecked and discovered that I could buy a more convenient flight the same day for $200 less. So I canceled, saw a flight credit appear in my account, used the credit to book the lower fare, and pocketed a $200 credit for future travel on American. Not long after, I discovered that a trip on JetBlue purchased with 48,000 frequent flier points now required just 30,000 points. So again I canceled my original flight, booked at the lower point price, and received 18,000 points back in my frequent flier account. (Prior to the pandemic, I would have had to pay a fee on both these transactions.)
Before you say this is a lot of work, it really isn’t. Most airline apps remember your last search, so hit “search” again and you immediately see the latest price either in dollars or points. And although I prefer doing the rechecks myself, there are apps and websites that will do some of the work for you.
Register your flight with Google Flights and they’ll alert you if the price on any flight on your route and day of travel has gone down, as well as check if the fare on your specific flight has gone down. It doesn’t work with frequent flier miles or points, which also fluctuate frequently, so you’re on your own there. Also, I’m not convinced that the alerts are sent the moment the airline changes the price, and with all the junk email we get these days, a fare change alert can be overlooked among the detritus.
What I recommend is that you simply check several times a day after booking. Just hit that reload button on the app or on the website and jump as soon as you see a price reduction. And let’s face it, the loss of this change fee revenue has contributed to the higher airfares we’re all seeing. Get some of that money back by being a savvy fare rechecker.
And not just with airfare drops, Hotel room and rental car rates go up and down as well. If in March you book a room for $260 for a May 25th stay and sometime before you arrive the hotel lowers the price of that room to $150 or $200, they’re not going to tell you. When you check in you’re going to pay the $260 you originally booked. In order to pay the lower rate you would have to learn about the reduction, book another room at the new rate, and cancel the old reservation made at the higher rate. Several years ago TripAdvisor attempted to automate the process of monitoring hotel rates and providing refunds in the case of reductions. Hotels didn’t like Tingo, as this booking engine was called, because obviously they lost revenue. Many refused to play along. A Seattle-based company called Yapta also provided free airfare and hotel price alerts, but eventually pivoted from consumer-facing to corporate travel. It’s since been sold to a travel management company and is still corporate-focused only.
Now the people behind autoslash.com, the car rental booking and monitoring app, have launched hotelslash.com. Autoslash will monitor your car rental reservation to see if you’re entitled to any discounts while also monitoring the price and advising you if there’s a better deal with your original rent-a-car firm or a competitor. Recently launched Hotelslash aims to do the same thing for hotel rates, alerting you when a hotel lowers the price of your reservation while also offering similar room types at other nearby hotels if they’re lower than what you paid. Neither site monitors fluctuations in reservations made with loyalty points, but they can save you hours you might have spent searching for price drops on your own.
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