February 25, 2024

Bucks: Getting Credit if Airfares Fall After You Buy

Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Most everyone has had the experience of searching carefully for the best airfare and booking a flight, only to see the ticket price later drop. (With fuel prices rising, that might not be happening as often, but it still occurs.)

Airlines typically offer credits or vouchers for the difference in price when that happens, although most of them mute the benefit by imposing a hefty change fee when you try to claim the credit. But a lot of consumers don’t realize they may be eligible for a credit, or don’t act fast enough to claim it. The flier first has to know the fare has dropped, and then must call the airline in time to request the credit before the price goes up again. For that reason, a lot of travelers don’t take advantage of the credit. A recent survey by MasterCard found that 71 percent of people searching for airfares weren’t aware of the availability of such credits and that 10 percent knew they existed but didn’t know how to take advantage of them.

So MasterCard has teamed with the travel site Yapta to offer a service aimed at making it easier for travelers to claim the credit. Called MasterCard PriceAssure, it works like this: You go to the service’s Web site and enroll your MasterCard. Then, you use your card to buy your ticket directly from an airline and elect to have PriceAssure track your itinerary. (The service is available on major carriers including Delta, American, United and JetBlue. It’s not available for flights booked through a travel agent or a third-party Web site.)

If the price drops before your flight departs and you’re eligible for a credit, you get an e-mail telling you so. (Yapta offers this level of service free for fliers, regardless of what credit card you pay with, by tracking your confirmation number.)

At that point you have two options. You can call the airline’s customer service line yourself, and pay no charge.  Or, for a fee — $19.95 per itinerary, regardless of the number of people traveling — you can have MasterCard’s PriceAssure do the work for you and notify you of the credit. Registering and having your fare tracked is free; you pay the fee only if you’re eligible for a credit and you have MasterCard arrange for it.

There’s a couple of big caveats, though — mostly because of the big airlines’ practice of charging a change fee even if you’re not switching your itinerary. Such fees are as much as $150 for domestic flights on Delta, United and US Airways. American uses a variable change-fee structure that can go as high as $250 for domestic flights and up to $500 for international flights. So the drop in the fare needs to be significant — at least $169.95 for a domestic ticket, if you add in the PriceAssure fee, for you to actually claim a credit on the pricier airlines. Other airlines’ fees are lower ($100 for Virgin America; $75 on AirTran), so the change in fare needn’t be as drastic for you to qualify. JetBlue does not charge a change fee if you’re only claiming a lower fare, so you may be more likely to actually collect a credit on their flights.

Here’s an example from the PriceAssure Web site:

You paid: $580.80

New Fare: $316.40

Difference: $264.40

Less change fee plus Price Assure fee: $150 plus $19.95 = $169.95

Your credit: $94.45

In a trial run of the service, the average savings for those who qualified for a credit was $140. According to Yapta, the average flight has 21 price changes over a 45-day tracking period.

The credit is good for future travel on that same airline — you don’t get an actual refund on your MasterCard billing statement (unless you bought a refundable ticket; those fares are generally refunded to the card you used to pay). Practices vary by airline, but most carriers send an e-mail to fliers to document the credit. Generally, credits must be used within a year.

The main benefit of the service, a Yapta spokesman said in an e-mail, is it lets you avoid the “long and cumbersome” process of calling airline customer service to arrange for the credit.

Have you ever claimed a credit for an airfare that rose after you purchased a ticket? Do you think this new service is worth the fee?

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=4ac92b50e9b283a477fb70534be6d170

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