It's no fun to find out you've paid more for your ticket than the guy sitting next to you. But given the constant swings in travel pricing, it's practically impossible to know if a good deal is actually the best one—and when to take the plunge. Increasingly, websites have been adding a new kind of insurance, giving travelers tools and guarantees to take the risk out of clicking BUY.
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 Yapta. Two years ago, the site introduced its free airfare-tracking service, which e-mails you the moment your fare dips. For $15, Yapta will file the pesky money-back paperwork with your airline. Last summer, Orbitz got in on the business, 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.
"Users of our fare-tracking system begged us to track hotel rates," says Yapta CEO Tom Romary. So as of March, the site has done just that, monitoring rates at more than 110,000 hotels worldwide. Just pick a property and sign up to be alerted whenever it slashes its price for your travel dates. Yapta's system is most useful for properties that let you cancel for free—in which case you simply rebook at the lower rate. (Some hotels have change fees, so you'll have to do the math to know if it's worthwhile.) Once again, Orbitz jumped in, and this May, its Price Assurance program was extended to hotels, offering automatic reimbursements of up to $500 if somebody else on Orbitz scores a better rate for the same room on the same day.
Not to be outdone, this year Travelocity rolled out a rate-protection program similar to Orbitz's but geared toward air/hotel and car/hotel packages. Called PriceGuardian, the service automatically refunds your credit card up to $500 if another Travelocity customer books your trip for less. Anyone want to give money back on car rentals? Anyone?