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jun 01 2009

Airfares: Fees are gone for good at Orbitz and Travelocity

Earlier this spring, the big booking engines all announced a short-term banning of their usual flight booking fees, which had tacked on an annoying $5, $10, or more onto a flight's prices. The moves, which were supposed to last only through May, are now officially permanent. Expedia started the trend last week. Today, Orbitz and Travelocity are following suit—and that's not the only customer-friendly change sticking around at both sites.

While we're on the topic of Orbitz and Travelocity, it's worth noting that both have price guarantee promotions. Orbitz's program, called Flight Price Assurance, works as follows: After you've booked a flight at Orbitz, the site will give you a refund if another Orbitz customer later books the same flight for less. The service is free and happens automatically, no registration required. (We've blogged about the program before.)

Travelocity's PriceGuardian program, meanwhile, works similarly, but with vacation packages. If you book an air-hotel package with Travelocity, you will automatically receive a refund if another Travelocity customer books the same exact trip for less money. PriceGuardian was originally proposed to end September 30, but Travelocity is expected to announce its permanency today, according to the Wall Street Journal.

These guarantees sound great, no doubt. But the problem is that, from our perspective, the odds of actually getting a refund seem pretty low. To be awarded a refund, the price of your flight or your flight-hotel package has to drop after you've made your purchase, obviously. Then, someone else has to book your same exact itinerary—same dates, same flight times, same hotel and room-style selection, if applicable—at the same site where you booked. If another traveler pays less for the same flight as you, but books directly through the airline or via a different travel site, it doesn't count. No refund.

Also, there's pretty much no oversight into these guarantees. Orbitz and Travelocity are each solely responsible for tracking their own prices, and it's not exactly in their financial interests to try extra-hard to give money back to customers. Overall, we're a bit skeptical. The websites say they've given refunds to thousands of customers a month, and if you're one of them, we'd love to hear from you.

[Editor's note: This post was modified for clarity at 4:30pm ET.]

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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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