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Lock in a Low Fare Before You Buy with This New Website

The sites mentioned in our 10 Innovative Travel Websites had barely been coded ("ink was hardly dry" is so 20th century) when we noticed Options Away, an online travel agency (OTA) that offers "options" on a future ticket at its current price. The deal is straightforward:

Search for a flight using the usual filters—origin, destination, one-way or round-trip, number of travelers, dates, class of service, time of day, and number of stops. For each flight, you can select an option to hold the posted fare for a specified time: 24 hours, three days, seven days, 14 days, or 21 days. If the fare increases, Options Away sells you the ticket at the original price that you had locked in.

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Your only risk is the price of the option. If the fare decreases, you can walk away from the option and buy your ticket at the new, lower price. Options Away is betting that it will take in more in option fees than it pays out in fare increases.

The site shows option prices of $4 for 24 hours, $5 for three days, $10 for seven days, and $15 for 14 days; it does not display a price for 21 days. Press reports indicate than Options Away expects to set typical prices at $9 for a three-day hold to $36 for 21 days. But when I tested a handful of examples, I found only the $4 24-hour fee on all the round-trips I checked, and found 24-hour fees of $4 and three-day fees of $7-$8 only on one-way tickets between Boston and Washington, D.C. Your next try might be a bit more fruitful.

That $4 fee for a 24-hour hold is not much of a deal, because federal regulations require airlines to refund any ticket up to 24 hours after purchase.

So far, the system works only for domestic flights between 52 larger cities you select from a menu. But, as with most such innovations, if it's successful, it will undoubtedly expand to more domestic points and to key international routes.

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