Low-Price Guarantees: Good Deal or Shameless Marketing Ploy?

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Man on laptop and phone (Photo: Index Open)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 23, 2010. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, booking strategy, car rental, cruise, hotel, Sarah Pascarella, vacation package.

Low-price guarantees—everybody has them, from airlines to cruise lines, travel agencies to opaque booking sites. But do they really mean anything? And are they worth the hassles tied in with trying to claim a guaranteed low price?

"For the most part, they're just hype," says SmarterTravel columnist Ed Perkins. "Two barriers impede claims: One, all sorts of detailed claim procedures, which, if not followed, disallow the claim, including tight time limits. Two, requirements that the supposedly lower-priced service or item be exactly the same as the one under guarantee. More often than not, the suppliers can find—or build in—sufficient differences to void a claim."

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Rick Seaney, CEO, FareCompare.com, says for the companies, the value lies in customer reassurance, not necessarily a payout. "The amount of money they spend [on paying out guarantees] is relatively small compared to the value they get for consumers saying 'they've got my back.' In the scheme of things, the likelihood of another person booking that same flight for a lower price is relatively low, so the payout is relatively low compared to the customer goodwill."

Like many services within the travel industry, low-price guarantees have the potential to offer a good value; but, they require research, personal advocacy, patience, and lots of follow-up. Most guarantees offer some variation of the following promises:

  • The price you book is the lowest available, across suppliers.
  • If you find a lower price after you book, you can submit a request to get that cheaper price, a refund in the amount of the difference, or a fixed guarantee payout (e.g., $50, $100).
  • You must submit your claim within a specific time period for a specific travel purchase (e.g., same-class seat on the exact same flight you booked, same-class hotel room for the same night you're staying, etc.)

There are plenty of "outs" for the company to deny a claim, so be sure to read the fine print and individual company caveats. Additionally, go through each company's policy with a careful eye: No two guarantees are exactly alike, and what gets you a refund at one travel provider may not hold any weight with another. For example, a low-price guarantee might say if a traveler books your same-class hotel room at a cheaper price for the same night, you'll get a refund of the price difference. However, if another traveler books a two-night stay and you've only booked a one-night stay, you would not be able to file a low-price guarantee claim. Or, let's say you've found a lower price for a same-class seat, on your exact flight, on a competitor travel provider's website. Some companies only honor cheaper prices offered on their own sites, so in this scenario you would not be able to submit a refund request.

But if you do find you've booked a trip that's met all the requirements for a low-price guarantee, go ahead and request your refund or credit—just be prepared to wait, follow up, and then wait some more.

Know that the low-fare guarantee information may be difficult to track down, for starters. "It's not easy to find the guarantee information on [travel suppliers'] websites to submit a claim," says Seaney. "It's not an area the companies focus on [publicizing]."

I searched around on several websites, mainly major travel agencies and airlines, and found the information buried or was unable to locate it at all. I did, however, get instantly routed to the correct guarantee pages by going to Google and typing in the company's name plus "low-cost guarantee" as a search term. To save time searching for your travel provider's requirements, bypass the direct site and go through your preferred search engine.

Once you have the correct information, submit your claim exactly as the company requires, and be prepared to get back in touch with receipts, as well as documentation to prove you found a lower price. Your claim may also be met with silence at first, in which case you should keep getting back in touch until the guarantee is honored. The squeaky wheel, in this situation, will eventually get the grease.

"A couple of years ago I put [guarantees] to the test myself," says Seaney. "I bought tickets just before I knew the price was about to go down, specifically with carriers where I knew they all had the low-fare guarantees. I bought the tickets, the prices went down, and then I submitted claims on all the airlines.

"In the end, after being persistent, everyone adhered to their policies and most even threw in a kicker certificate," says Seaney. "Submitting the claim, though, was non-trivial: Some you had to submit a form, [or] make a phone call. There was not a lot of automation equivalent to getting that refund [or] credit. I had to be persistent over a couple of days, take a few minutes each day to sort it out and respond to emails." You should expect the whole process, from claim to refund, to take a few weeks.

"I assume that they settle enough claims to preclude fraud charges, and they probably want a few success stories to post," says Perkins.

If you're willing to do the research, paperwork, and follow-up requests, you may become one of the success stories, too.

Your Turn

What's your opinion of low-price guarantees? Have you ever successfully submitted a claim? Share your expertise by submitting a comment below!

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