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Getting a Refund When Airline Ticket Prices Drop


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I think it’s become clear airline prices aren’t exactly set in stone. Neither is your ability to get a refund if say *gasp* the price drops.

While I may have gotten to the point where I won’t buy a plane ticket without the right credit card—that’s for the frequent flier points and travel insurance, mind you—this doesn’t require such mind-numbing devotion. If the price on your plane ticket drops after you’ve bought it, you could actually get that difference back.

Truth be told, how much you get back actually depends on the airline that you booked in. In order to pull off the refund, the fare has to often drop by a certain amount — not always, but often. JetBlue, Alaska and AirTran are among some of the chosen ones, because they’ll refund you the difference even if the price drops by a penny. If you have to book a ticket far, far in advance, these are the ones to choose. In fact, I could probably kiss JetBlue for this alone!

That doesn’t mean other airlines won’t give you a refund; all it means is that the fare has to drop significantly more before you’ll get anything back with other carriers. You’re entitled to a credit on Virgin America if the price drops by $75 or more. Likewise, you can get money back from Hawaiian Airlines if your ticket drops $100 or more. Tickets on the bigwigs—like American Airlines, Delta, United and US Airways—are only eligible after $200.

It sucks to say, but if you’re booking on any of these other airlines, you probably won’t get the full difference back. If your flight needs to drop by $200, you’ll get whatever the difference is after $200. If the new value of a $500 American Airlines ticket was $250, you are only entitled to $50. The money that you don’t get back—the “threshold” you must reach—is actually the fee that is used to reissue the ticket at the lower price. You only get what’s left after the fees eat up your refund.

Getting money back is something, though, that you’ve got to actively manage. Most people won’t actually benefit unless they have the foresight to set up fare tracking, which is a lot simpler than it sounds. Yapta, which is free, constantly checks the current price of your ticket and sends you an alert if it’s eligible for a refund. It’s also often the second thing I set up after I book a flight. TripIt Pro, which costs 50 bucks, will also track your refund.

If you manage to get lucky, the residual difference often gets refunded in the form of a voucher or credit. Typically, it expires after one year so it’s useful if you plan on flying again on the same airline later on. The process to claim the difference usually varies from airline to airline, but Yapta has some decent information on where to call. They also have step-by-step directions if you’ve been tracking your flight on their website.

Mostly, though, those fees I listed above only really take into account domestic flights within the United States. International fees are usually slightly higher, but those tickets are often more expensive and fluctuate much more. Theoretically, you could do this for almost any airline if you had the tools to track everything. Unfortunately, though, I’m not Yoda and this is super flex depending on each ticket’s specific rules. May the market be in your favor.

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