low fare guarantees Putting low fare guarantees to the test

This is the kind of experiment I wish I had thought of first: The guys at FareCompare decided to put various airline websites’ low-fare guarantees to the test. The results are mixed.

They did it by actually buying a ticket on every airline in their test. (They only included airlines that HAD a guarantee, naturally, so that meant American, Continental, Delta (sort of), Northwest, and United. US Airways, Southwest, AirTran, jetBlue, etc., weren’t included, since they don’t have a guarantee.)

Because FareCompare’s fare alerts — which I have strongly recommended in the past — give you several hours’ advance warning when a fare is about to drop, they knew exactly which tickets to buy. They bought the tickets before the fare drop went live. When the fare went down, they took a screenshot of a lower fare and filed for a refund and/or voucher with the airline.

What they found: Lots of variation. Each airline eventually came through, but the amount of effort required varied greatly. It wasn’t always easy: Some denied refund requests at first, or didn’t respond within 24 hours.

The airlines’ policies vary, too. Most required a $5 difference before considering a refund, but Continental required $10. Most give a cash refund, but United only gives vouchers. Most accept a lower fare published on any site, including their own, while American and Northwest bizarrely exclude lower fares that appear on their own sites. Delta doesn’t have a guarantee, per se, but they’ll refund your ticket within 24 hours.

It’s a great experiment. Go read the whole thing.

Note that FareCompare was testing the airlines’ sites only. Some online travel agencies have guarantees as well. For example, the folks at Peter Greenberg’s site recently had to step in to help a reader enforce Expedia’s guarantee.

In all these cases, it’s up to the customer to proactively search for a lower price within 24 hours. No one is going to volunteer the news that the price has dropped. But if you’re willing to spend the time and effort to check the prices again and wrestle with customer service, you could collect a few bucks.

pixel Putting low fare guarantees to the test
Categorized in: advice, airfare, FareCompare, tips

9 Responses to “Putting low-fare guarantees to the test”

  1. Dan Says:

    Great-Now that this is out in the open I wonder how long it is until the death of the low fare guarantee bonus chits.

  2. Mark Ashley Says:

    These policies have been publicly advertised on the airlines’ websites for some time. In each case, it’s been “out in the open” for as long as the policy has existed. Why would this critique kill it?

  3. Dan Says:

    Because now people may start abusing the farecompare feeds and fare guarantees.
    As long as they’re not abused they’ll be around, but if they are-I don’t see them sticking around for so long.

  4. David Ourisman Says:

    This is a great bit of research. Thanks for publishing it!

  5. Petergreenberg.com » For the Press Says:

    [...] “Putting Low Fare Guarantees to the Test” Upgrade: Travel Better – April 25, 2007 [...]

  6. Tony Says:

    If an airline drops its own price, is it possible to get the lower price? I have a ticket with Continental that I see has now dropped $200 from when I purchased it. Should I call Continental and how do I haggle to get the lower price?

  7. Mark Ashley Says:

    I would try calling Continental, yes. You might be charged a $100 change fee, but if you pay $100 and get $200 back, you’re still $100 ahead.

    Few airlines don’t charge a change fee in this sort of a circumstance. United is one of the last ones to do it for free, as far as I can tell:

    Let us know how you do!

  8. PK Springtime Says:

    American Airlines ” Lowest Fare Guarantee” is clearly a deceptive
    maneuver to create the impression that one is actually being given
    the lowest fare, guaranteed. It makes no reference to any time constraint
    whatsoever. Until, that is, a few days later when the fare for the same
    itinerary has dropped from $1668 ( 2 tkts) to $1404, same exact itinerary!
    The webmaster, so-called, is only a master at perpetuating the fraud
    being perpetrated by American. Lowest Price Guaranteed? The
    only thing that accomplished is that I can guarantee American that
    I and no one in my family will book with American again, except as
    a last resort, and that is not likely to happen. American responded
    to my request to more or less call 1-800- tuf-s t u f f. I am going
    to contact the BBB and Consumer Affairs. Enough already with
    these jerks and their deliberate deceptions.

  9. Check in the mail: Orbitz refunds airfare price drops, but is it worthwhile? | Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] – The black art of repricing tickets – Track airfare before and AFTER you buy? – Putting low-fare guarantees to the test – Orbitz [...]

Leave a Reply