Orbitz to refund up to $250 if your airfare drops

Get this: Orbitz says it will send you a check if you didn't get the cheapest fare for a flight booked on its site. Up to $250. Automatically. No need to do any legwork yourself, or file a claim, or fly from Obscure City A to Obscure City B on Preferred Carrier C. Sound too good to be true? I did some digging around, and as far as I can tell, this deal seems legit. However, it comes with a few restrictions, and the wording leaves Orbitz some wiggle room.

I did an airfare search on Orbitz and I found a link to Orbitz Price Assurance, a new, as-yet-unpublicized feature that promises shoppers, "If another customer books the same flight at a lower price, we'll automatically send you the difference in cash." To determine how solid this deal really is, I tried calling and emailing Orbitz' media reps but got no response. So, here's what the Orbitz site has to say.

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In the details, Orbitz says that once you book a flight, it will track it, and if it finds another customer is able to book the same flight on Orbitz for at least $5 less, it will issue you a check worth the difference (up to $250) within 30 days of your trip. Unlike lowest-price guarantees offered by other providers, which require the customer to find and report lower prices themselves, the language used in Orbitz' Price Assurance indicates that Orbitz will do all the work automatically, checking it's system each day for cheaper fares up until your departure day. Whatever differences are found will then be totaled and a check mailed to the address you supplied during the booking process.

There are some guidelines that must be met before a refund will be offered, most notably:

  • Another customer must find a cheaper ticket on the exact same flight, in the same cabin, and subject to the same fare restrictions. Here, Orbitz says it will only compare restricted fares to restricted fares and unrestricted to unrestricted. Now, there are several different classes of fares within the restricted and unrestricted categories, but Orbitz doesn't say there has to be an exact fare-class match to qualify.
  • Only lower fares found on Orbitz.com count towards refunds. Cheaper fares from other providers don't qualify.
  • Fares booked as part of a package are not eligible.
  • Special fares like military and corporate discounts aren't eligible.
  • You don't get a refund if you cancel your flight or if the airline itself offers you a refund.
  • Price drops "resulting from changes to an air carrier's fare filing policies or practices" won't be counted toward a refund. My airfare jargonese is a bit rusty, but this rule seems to be saying that if an airline changes its fare-pricing structure, any resulting price differences won't be counted towards a refund. So, let's say you booked an American fare on Orbitz the day after American rolled out a $20 systemwide fare increase, and then the day after your booking American rolled back the increase. Because the price change came from an American fare-policy change, you might not be eligible to get your $20 back from Orbitz.

Only time and experience will tell how easy it is to get a refund through Orbitz Price Assurance. However, being a for-profit enterprise, I suspect Orbitz wouldn't create this policy if it thought it'd be losing tons of money. And the airlines are doing their best to help Orbitz out: There have been 18 fare increases across the industry so far this year and there's not much hope of a decrease coming anytime soon.

Have you purchased a fare through Orbitz on or after June 6? If so, post a comment below about any experiences you have with Orbitz Price Assurance.

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