Joal Miller contacted us several months ago, asking how to find the best prices for airfare. The FAQ section of our website contains information about searching for the lowest airfare, and was a resource available to Miller.
Although there are tools to alert consumers to price variations, there is no gimmick, trick or crystal ball that will enable any consumer to know when a ticket price has reached its lowest point. Shortly after Miller booked her ticket from Buffalo to Sioux Falls, she discovered the price had dropped by more than $100. Miller wants a refund. But, she bought a nonrefundable ticket. Miller understood that she had purchased a nonrefundable fare, but still felt that it was unfair of the airline to keep the difference in the fare she had paid, once the price dropped.
Does Miller have any other recourse? Most likely, no. The reality is that regardless of how much homework a consumer does when pricing airfare, there is no guarantee that the purchase price of a nonrefundable ticket will be the lowest price. The only way to ensure a refund if the price drops is to pay the higher price for a refundable ticket. And, most people don’t want to do that.
Nonrefundable airline tickets are refundable within 24 hours of purchasing, but not after. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s 24-hour reservation requirement requires airlines to do one of two things: allow customers to hold a reservation without payment for 24 hours, or allow customers to cancel a paid reservation without penalty, within 24 hours of booking.
So, in an effort to find out if there were any other ways to get the nonrefundable ticket refunded more than 24 hours after purchasing, Miller posted a question to our help forums asking “why don’t airlines help consumers when fares drop?”
Our forum advocates, who are industry professionals with valuable insight into the travel industry, understood how Miller felt, but disagreed with her. The forum responses to Miller’s inquiry pointed out that a ticket is a contract, and it binds the airline and the passenger. Had the ticket price gone up, the airline would not have billed Miller for the increase.
So, the moral of Miller’s story is to do as much advance research as you can into multiple airlines’ pricing of the desired itinerary. You can sign up for email alerts from different airlines, or from third-parties, such as FareCompare or Airfarewatchdog.
You can also track the pricing history of the itinerary by searching the U.S. Department of Transportation’s fare database. Some airlines may allow a refund if the price drop is significant, but that would have to be individually investigated by the purchaser.
But, once you decide on a fare and purchase a nonrefundable airline ticket, stop checking the price. If you continue checking the price, you’ll feel great if the fare increased, and not so great if it decreased. But, either way, it’s an unproductive use of your time because up or down, your price won’t change.