Orbitz to automatically refund customers if airfare drops

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With its newPrice Assurance program, the online travel agency is giving travelers a powerful new incentive to book flights early and through Orbitz.com. Here’s the gist: As of the beta launch on June 6, if you book a flight and another Orbitz customer subsequently books the same class seat on the same flight for a lower price, Orbitz will reimburse you for the difference—anywhere from $5 to $250.

The company tracks prices from the moment you book until the day you travel and will notify you by email if you’re going to receive a refund (you can also login to check the My Trips web page). If the fare you booked falls from, say, $500 to $450 and then again to $400, you’ll get a $100 refund. Expect a check to arrive about 30 days after you return.

The immediate appeal of the Price Assurance is that it takes the onus off the customer. Unlike other best-price guarantees, you don’t have to monitor fares yourself or scramble to find a lower fare within a brief time period or even request a reimbursement. It also helps relieve that sneaking suspicion that the passenger seated next to you somehow got a better deal.

One noteworthy caveat: the policy just applies to airfare-only purchases. So, if you book a flight along with a rental car or hotel stay, you won’t be eligible for a refund. As always, read the full conditions and terms to avoid any surprises.

There’s no limit to how early you can book a fare, and chances are the earlier you book, the greater the refund potential. But don’t assume a refund will be coming. While Tom Russell, VP of brand marketing, told me that Orbitz anticipates mailing thousands of checks monthly, that estimate may drop if cash-strapped airlines continue to raise fares.

[Orbitz's Price Assurance program]

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