It’s a trick many travelers have never heard of: many major airlines will refund at least some of your ticket if the price goes down between the day you buy and the day you fly.
At least four airlines - United, Southwest, JetBlue and Alaska - will send you the difference if the price of the ticket you bought goes down, says airfare expert Rick Seaney. The money is refunded in travel vouchers that are good for a year. But others, like American, charge a “change fee,” which can be as high as $150. Obviously, the ticket price has to drop more than that in order to get money back.
Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo, says this trend is a true sign of the times. Last-minute incentives like refunds are becoming more popular as a way for airlines to stay on travelers’ radio in an age of increased competition, high fuel prices and lower overall spending. They tend not to advertise the refunds, according to Saglie, but the information is out there. You can monitor price changes at sites like Yapta.com, which tracks prices for flights that interest you. Yapta alerts you when prices drop so you can buy at the airline’s website at the optimal time. You can also choose to be alerted when award seats become available. If you’ve purchased a ticket through an airline and the price drops, Yapta gives you explicit instructions on how to claim the travel credit. Or, for a $15 fee, Yapta will get it for you. Travelzoo, which Saglie works for, will link you to airlines and sales incentives as well.
But the easiest thing to do if you’re a frequent flier, Saglie says, is to sign up for airline e-mail alerts, which promote special web sales and discounts. Airlines use these e-mail lists to promote short-term sales that could be gone in as little as 24 hours, and you may only hear of them if you're on their distribution list.
Not all airlines have gotten aboard the refund train, though. The major legacy carriers have, with some caveats, but many international carriers have not. And, because this involves airlines, fees are sometimes unavoidable. Beyond the change fee, look out for other smaller charges that may make the incentives simply not worth the time it takes to redeem them. But you stay on top of it – trolling the web for specials, bonuses and price changes – you will find there are many options for putting some money back in your wallet. These days, you can’t ask for much better than that, especially at the airport.