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may 18 2011

A new way to get cash back when fares drop

Airline glories (Courtesy Anders Sandberg/Flickr)

Most fliers don't know that major U.S. airlines have policies that qualify you for a refund if the fare goes down after you book. Of course, they don't tell you when your fare changes—and who actually keeps track of these things?—so travelers rarely see the money.

Enter, Mastercard, which has come out with a service for customers that automatically tracks flights they've bought. Why? Because sometimes fares drop so low that airline ticket holders are entitled to a cash refund (minus a change fee that's typically $75 to $250). It's rare but does happen on some airlines, such as American, Delta, United, and—last but not least—JetBlue (which stands out for not charging a change fee).

Mastercard cardholders can sign up for the free service at mastercard.com/priceassure. After you sign up, the company will e-mail you when you're entitled to an airline credit (or flight voucher) for a plane ticket you've bought with the card. For $20 per itinerary, Mastercard will file the pesky money-back paperwork with your airline (no matter how many people in your family may have booked tickets on that flight). Or you can file the paperwork yourself with an airline's customer service department for free.

It's worth noting that Mastercard's service searches for fares on that specific trip only; it doesn't search fares for an entire date. It also only covers tickets booked directly with an airline, not a travel agency.

Mastercard's service is powered by Yapta, a tool that this blog has told you about before for doing a similar service. If you don't own a Mastercard, you can go to Yapta directly and sign up for the same free service by entering your confirmation number for a specific flight. Yapta also only charges $15 to file the paperwork.CORRECTION: Yapta discontinued this service before teaming up with Mastercard. [I regret the error.]

Meanwhile, Orbitz has had a similar offer for a couple of years with its Price Assurance program. If another Orbitz customer books the same itinerary for less than what you paid, you automatically get a check for the difference (up to $250 per ticket). No paperwork required.

It's no fun to find out you've paid more for your ticket than the guy sitting next to you. Now you don't have to worry about the constant swings in airfares.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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