My airfare dropped after I bought the ticket. How do I get a refund?

By | April 30th, 2017

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?”

Related story:   Airlines add surcharges

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.

Should airlines offer a refund if the price drops?

View Results

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  • fs2013

    Once you’ve purchased your ticket, you’ve already agreed that you’ve been offered a fair price. That’s the end of it. I agree with the advice to stop watching fares after purchase.

  • disqus_00YDCZxqDV

    If the fare goes up, you’d not want the airline to come after you for the difference !

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    If you want an airfare refund when fares go down, fly Southwest

  • Jeff W.

    It is also important to keep in mind, when you purchase a ticket, you are also purchasing a seat in a fare class. For most travelers, it doesn’t mean much. They only know of first, business, and economy. But there are many fare classes in the economy section. Five seats in class A, five in B, and another 5 in C, for a very simplified example. So when she bought the seats, she bought in B since C was not available. Now a seat in C is available.

    If you are suggesting that the airlines offer a refund automatically, who gets it? There are 5 people in B for one seat. Then if one person in B gets the refund, does someone in A get a refund for the now open in seat in B?

    There is no monetary incentive for the airlines to be doing this. Once you purchase your ticket, I would not be focused on the price anymore. Focus on the schedule, if anything.

  • Inquirer1111

    Agreed, that is why I try to fly SW as much as possible

  • michael anthony

    That’s the moral of the story!

  • greg watson

    My father’s comment on price changes was one of the best I’ve ever heard. “you pay your money, & you take your chances.”

  • Bill___A

    Unfortunately, this is the way the pricing works. Not saying that I like it, but that’s how it is.

  • Rebecca

    It gets to a point with some travel products (or any finite resource, for that matter), when it benefits the seller to offer their product at a loss. If an airplane is going to fly anyways, it’s better to lose part of the revenue than all of it. This goes for cruise cabins, hotel rooms, tour groups, lots of travel related items. So long as the plane is flying, it may happen.

    Any item is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. If you were willing to pay for it, it was obviously worth it to you. So don’t look back.

  • If she wants a refund if the price goes down, there are plenty of credit cards that offer a lowest price guarantee and will refund you the difference if a lower price come up. This is probably the only way she’ll get a refund.

  • joycexyz

    “Free market” has nothing to do with it. It’s kinda like “Do you still beat your wife.” The issue is the contract. She agreed to pay a certain amount, nonrefundable. And, as you pointed out, if the shoe were on the other foot (i.e., the fare went up), she would not be billed the higher amount.

  • DChamp56

    The link to the database doesn’t work for me.

  • JohntheKiwi

    Alaska Air offers a voucher for the difference if a fare drops. You have to notice yourself, and call them, but they issue the difference quickly. As someone said above, you can always exchange a Southwest ticket for a lower fare and keep the difference an a voucher or points.

  • Bill

    I agree … the “free market” dig has no bearing on this case … it’s not like you’re buying a non-finite resource (book, movie, coffee maker) that will continue to be sold well after your purchase with no window beyond which it is no longer for sale. Pay what you are comfortable with and don’t worry about what your neighbor paid … just enjoy your trip!

  • Mel65

    I voted “No” but not because “it’s a free market” but because fares change so rapidly that the idea of trying to track fare differentials and for how long (within 1 week? 3 days? 30 days?) gives me a headache just imagining the overhead of processing the multitude of claims. And of course then there will be the many letters to Elliott saying, “I missed the fare differential cut off by 3 days and they won’t make an exception and process my refund…”

  • Attention All Passengers

    Ridiculous to think that people have nothing but time on their hands to look at airline websites daily (or many times a day ?). Even then it is a total crapshoot…..Can’t trust websites like Travelocity, Expedia, etc. either as they have their own set of rules and cancellation penalties, no changes after booking. One need only read this website and see the multitude of horrors over and over and over again.
    http://www.google.com/flights is the best source of fare information as a starting point…..after that peruse airline websites directly and NEVER use Travelocity, Expedia, Cheaptickets…etc unless you want/like the pain.

  • John McDonald

    the statement …….

    “Nonrefundable airline tickets are refundable within 24 hours of purchasing, but not after”
    only applies in USA or for tickets ex USA. USA is hardly the centre of the universe.
    Stupid rule that makes airfares more expensive.
    BTW
    The cheapest fares are not always found in online searches. Travel wholesalers buy blocks of seats & these are often cheapest. Spoke to a wholesaler, who said they just purchased, yes purchased 1,000 seats over a route with new competition.
    Can’t give away all details, but basically a new airline started on a route. They already dealt with that airline & so they proposed a bulk purchase. They paid a totally non-refundable deposit per seat & guess what, they no longer sold other airlines on the route. Although they packaged the fare with ground content, like accommodation, cars etc., they also sold it as air only, on set dates.
    FYI
    When an airline starts a totally new (international) route, they might do it only twice a week. If the price is right, many people will move their preferred dates to suit to save money.

  • John McDonald

    you buy a widget one day & at some later date the price drops for various reasons(eg. new model widget)
    It’s how it works.
    Airlines seats are very perishable. Good yield managers try to sort it, so the earlier you book the less you pay.
    Airlines are going through a rough time at present. With Korea & terrorism, would not be at all surprised to see many big airfare failures this year.

  • John McDonald

    WTF ? Are you kidding ? It’s not 1 April.

  • Annie M

    Consolidator fares also have different rules and if a flight is canceled you may have issues getting new flights- the consolidator has to rebook you. In addition if you don’t buy travel insurance and have to cancel in many cases non refundable really means nonrefunfable- no credits for use within a year from purchase.

  • Molly

    I just took a quick look and in the overview of typical exemptions, it mentions “many kinds of travel”. I’d bet quite a bit that airfares are on the list.
    In fact, there area significant number of exemptions. And even if it isn’t exempt, the procedure to be reimbursed can be rather time-consuming.

  • KanExplore

    I don’t do it much, but it’s not completely worthless to keep an eye on fares after you purchase, particularly if it’s a trip you take regularly. There are sometimes patterns and flows as to when is the best time to buy certain city pairs, so that by paying attention you will potentially have more information for next time. There are websites that try to track those things historically. But no, most airlines will not refund you any difference. What incentive would they ever have to offer fare sales if everyone who already had a ticket on a flight could then get matched to the sale price? Fares go up and down (usually up). You buy when you think the price is acceptable to you.

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