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How to Save on Airfare Even After You’ve Booked

You’ve no doubt heard holiday airfare prices are going up. But if you’ve heard that, you’ve probably also heard they’re going down. Both sentences are true, and therein lies the holiday traveler’s conundrum: Is it better to book now or wait a little longer?

For those who aren’t comfortable waiting, take heart: Booking doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done shopping. There are a handful of little-known tricks that give customers a chance to save money even after they’ve purchased a ticket.

  • Many airlines offer low-fare guarantees that provide refunds and/or credits to customers who find the identical flight they booked for a lower price. While these guarantees typically apply only to fares found on the same day a customer books, this season’s rapid-fire fare changes make finding a lower fare more realistic.
  • Beyond that, many carriers give customers until midnight the day after booking to cancel a reservation free of charge. Airlines with this policy currently in place include British Airways, Continental, Delta, KLM, Lufthansa, and United.
  • Finally, it’s worth noting that fares are changing drastically this year, in some cases enough to warrant paying the change fee to get a cheaper price. While it’s unlikely most people will discover a price drop that’s greater than the change fee, it’s worth keeping in mind.

Below is a chart with low-fare guarantees and change fee amounts from all the major domestic airlines. Keep this handy when shopping around, as well as during the 24 to 48 hours after you book. You never know when a lower fare might pop up.

Airline Low-Fare Guarantee Change Fee
AirTran None $75
Alaska Refund fare difference, $100 discount code, same day as booking $75 online, $100 otherwise
American Refund fare difference, $50 promo code, same day as booking $150
Continental Refund fare difference, $100 travel certificate, same day as booking $150
Delta Refund fare difference, $100 travel voucher, same day as booking $150
Frontier 2,500 EarlyReturns Miles, same day as booking $100
Hawaiian None $150-$200 ($30-$50 interisland)
JetBlue Refund fare difference in the form of JetBlue travel voucher $100
Southwest Refund fare difference in the form of Southwest travel credit; no same-day restriction $0
Spirit Passengers can modify itineraries, but any fare decreases are subject to change fees $100 online, $110 otherwise
United Refund and $100 travel certificate, same day as booking $150
US Airways Refund minus $150 change fee $150
Virgin America None $50 online, $75 otherwise

What about online travel agents (OTAs)? Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz all offer some kind of low-fare guarantee, though Orbitz’ Price Assurance is by far the best of the three. Orbitz tracks your itinerary from the day you book until the day you depart, and automatically sends you a check if someone books your exact itinerary for a lower price. Expedia and Travelocity have 24-hour windows on their low-fare reimbursements.

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