Some carriers are far more generous than others when it comes to giving passengers money back if the fare on their flight decreases.
The price of flights is known to fluctuate wildly depending on all sorts of factors -- nearly all of them mysteries to the average traveler. Figuring out the optimal time and date to book a flight will probably always be a source of frustration, and for many travelers, there's nothing more annoying than purchasing a flight only to see the price dip sharply a few days later.
Recently, word has slowly spread that some airlines and booking sites will refund the fare difference between what the traveler paid and the newly lower price. Which carriers offer refund policies, and how exactly do the programs work? The answers to those questions can seem nearly as confusing as trying to time the booking of a flight at the least expensive moment possible.
To make navigating the refund policies easier, Airfarewatchdog.com has created a helpful chart giving the rundown on which carriers give refunds, which ones charge fees accompanying those refunds (and how much), and how these refunds are given (travel voucher? credit issued to the original form of payment?).
Unsurprisingly, the domestic carriers with the stingiest refund policies (i.e., none) are Spirit Airlines and Allegiant. Both airlines are known for cheap fares almost as much as they are notorious for charging the gamut of fees from checked baggage to seat selection and beyond. Not only do neither offer any refunds when fares drop, but Allegiant has been looking into charging travelers extra even after they've booked a flight.
Far more common are the refund policies of the so-called "legacy carriers" like American and United, which allow refunds only for passengers who completely rebook their itineraries -- and who pay fees (typically $150 for domestic flights) for doing so. In other words, unless the fare drops more than $150 for a domestic flight, there's no sense whatsoever in applying for a refund with one of these airlines. Since it's exceptionally rare for such a dramatic price drop to occur, few travelers ever get the chance to take advantage.
The carriers with the best refund policies, on the other hand, also happen to be those with the best baggage policies: If the fare drops, JetBlue and Southwest simply allow passengers to rebook their flights with no fees, and with the money credited directly back to the passenger's form of payment.
Mind you, none of these refunds occur automatically. It's up to the passenger to track fares and rebook, if need be, to get a refund, though using a free fare-tracking service like Yapta is far easier than keeping up with the fare fluctuations on your own.
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