Low-Fare Guarantees: Gimmick or Good Deal?


Welcome to the Today in Travel Question of the Week. As always, you can submit a query below or via email.

Dear Carl,

I enjoy reading your newsletter and was hoping you could write about lower price fare guarantees. I recently booked a flight on US Airways, and about a week later I noticed that the price had gone down. Since USAir advertises a lowest price guarantee, I called them. They said that they still charge a $150 fee to re-book your itinerary (even though it's the same flight, just a lower price) so it's really only beneficial if the price decreases more than $150. This seems a bit ridiculous to me.

Regards,

Mindy

Dear Mindy,

US Airways' low-price guarantee functions in the exact way you describe. Here are the program rules, in US Airways' own words:

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"When a new lower fare becomes available after a ticket has been purchased, customers are entitled to a lower fare guarantee refund within the following guidelines. We will deduct a $150 change fee ($250 for international travel) and apply residual funds in the form of a US voucher. Additional rules and restrictions may apply. Call our Reservations Desk to seek a lower fare guarantee."

Not exactly a great deal, is it? Like you said, US Airways' low-price guarantee is only useful if your fare drops by over $150. US Airways knows this, and designed a policy that insulates it from all but the most drastic price swings. In fact, by deducting $150 from the fare difference, even large fare drops are barely worth the trouble. Would you go through all the paperwork and hassle to collect $25 of a $175 fare drop? US Airways is betting most people would say no.

Simply put, US Airways' low-cost guarantee is a wolf in sheep's clothing: The program looks customer-friendly, and then it bares those teeth.

Fortunately, many major airlines' low-fare guarantees can actually benefit the customer, but only if you're diligent, quick, and very, very lucky. Most guarantees require you to find the lower fare the same day you book (good luck with that!) and provide documentation of the lower fare, usually in the form of a URL and screenshot. Naturally, no airline is going to make it easy, but these guarantees can provide a significant return if everything falls into place.

  • American will refund the difference in fare and give you a $50 promo code.
  • Continental will give you a refund and a $100 travel certificate for jumping through a similar set of hoops.
  • Delta also offers a refund and $100 travel voucher.
  • Frontier gives you 2,500 EarlyReturns miles if you find a lower fare.
  • Expedia, Travelocity, and Orbitz all have similar low-fare guarantees, and Orbitz also offers its Price Assurance rebates on fares it sells.

Have a similar experience you want to share, or tips that might be useful? Did I miss a decent low-fare guarantee? Leave a comment below, and as always, submit any questions of your own for future entries. Thanks!

(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)

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