#find cheap airfare
Even After Cancellation Fees, Travelers Say They Save by Buying a New Ticket at a Lower Price
Updated Aug. 29, 2014 1:04 p.m. ET
Searching for a Labor Day weekend plane ticket home for my daughter, I saw an attractive $432 fare on American Airlines. I sent her the details and she responded within 90 minutes.
Airfares bounce up and down, often frustrating and angering travelers. But can you get a better price after you buy? WSJ s Middle Seat columnist Scott McCartney joins Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero with the answer. Photo: Getty
Yapta, which began tracking airfares in 2007, has turned its fare-searching technology into a corporate tool to hunt for lower fares and hotel room rates after trips are booked. It’s available to consumers at yapta.com.
Whenever a price drops in the first 24 hours after purchase, or when it drops more than the cost of the airline’s change fee, Yapta sends you an alert and you rebook at the lower price, paying the change fee and pocketing what’s left.
Airlines, having created so much volatility in their own pricing, are offering ways to beat the bounces, too. Last week, British Airways announced it would offer a 72-hour price hold for a flat fee of $10—useful if you see a good price but aren’t ready to commit to a nonrefundable ticket. That’s similar to United Airlines’s FareLock, where you pay $5 to $20 and lock in a price for either 72 hours or seven days.
(Read more from The Wall Street Journal: Five Things To Know Today .)
You could combine the two in a strategy to make sure you are getting the best price possible. Put a fare on hold and put Yapta to work. If the price drops during the hold period, you’ll get an alert and you can jump on it.
Yapta does what consumers or travel managers could do manually: It periodically rechecks the price of a ticket. Airlines don’t embrace the idea, and their pricy penalties for changing nonrefundable tickets limits how often travelers rebook. But neither have airlines put up a fight against Yapta. After all, they are the ones bouncing prices up and down.
When you search for an airline ticket, you usually see one price for a particular trip on specific dates. Airlines, though, actually load as many as two dozen different prices into reservation systems. A number of seats are offered at the lowest price in each class of service, and when those seats sell, reservation computers automatically display the next higher price as the best available.
Several times a day, airline pricing analysts and their computers can change the number of seats available at each price point, and they can change the prices themselves.
Mix in actual purchases and you get a rapidly changing pricing vortex that can anger and frustrate shoppers. One minute you see a good price; the next minute it’s a whole lot higher.
A lot happens between the time you buy and the time you fly,” says James Filsinger, Yapta’s chief executive of the Seattle-based company.
Yapta says its research shows some cities are a lot more volatile for airline prices than others. Tickets leaving from San Francisco were the most volatile of 15 major airports for business travel, Yapta found, and departures from New York’s LaGuardia Airport were the least volatile. San Francisco is a hub for both United Airlines and Virgin America, providing lots of pricing competition. La Guardia, with limited takeoff and landing slots, historically has lacked low-fare competition.
Started by a former airline pricing executive, Yapta now is run by Mr. Filsinger, a former executive at the reservation technology firm Sabre Group. Yapta takes fare data published by airlines and periodically tracks the lowest price available for a trip it is monitoring. So far working only on tickets sold in the U.S. Yapta says there are savings opportunities on 11.2% of all itineraries, after airline change fees.
Most of the chances to get money back come within the void window” of the first 24 hours after purchase. Corporate travel departments typically get a full business day.
When there were savings to be had, the average in a Yapta study of 150,000 itineraries booked from July through December 2013 was $306 after fees on tickets above $500, and $58 after fees on tickets under $500.
The Transportation Department requires at least a 24-hour cancellation window for tickets sold in the U.S. as long as the reservation is more than seven days before departure.
Most airlines charge the full price up front at the time of booking, but must give a full refund if canceled within 24 hours. (They don’t advertise that fact much.) American offers a 24-hour hold on reservations, without payment, instead of a refund in the 24-hour window.
With corporate customers, Yapta loads its software into travel department booking systems. It doesn’t charge for the service but takes a cut of the savings, usually about 35%, Mr. Filsinger said. With consumers, use of the tracking tool is free. Companies, like consumers, can set a threshold on minimum savings before an alert is sent, to take into account change fees and other expenses. The company recently launched a similar system to check for falling hotel room prices, but so far that’s offered only to corporate travel departments and not consumers.
The bigger the fare, the bigger the potential savings, so travel managers say they have seen their most eye-popping results on international business-class tickets.
One Friday, Al Mazzola, director of travel services at Sykes Enterprises Inc. a Florida technology-consulting company, booked a $19,000 business-class ticket from Tampa to Shanghai and back, only to see it fall to $7,000 over the weekend. With the Yapta alert, the company grabbed the new price. I was stunned. I’ve never seen savings like that,” Mr. Mazzola said.
Mr. Mazzola has been using Yapta for more than a year and said he has saved more than $125,000, even after Yapta’s percentage and airline change fees. He said probably 90% of the savings comes in the void period, the first full business day after purchase.
Most of the price changes happen in the middle of the night, Mr. Mazzola says, and the new fares are usually still there when he gets to work around 7 a.m. on the East Coast.
Travel agents can rebook via computer when an alert comes in. The traveler keeps the same seat and the same reservation code. Mr. Mazzola sends an email to company travelers saying, Congratulations, we found a lower fare for you.”
Still, savings are too sporadic to justify booking a high-price ticket in the expectation that it will come down. The company tries always to book the lowest fare, he said.
Similar to United’s FareLock, which Continental Airlines first offered in 2010 shortly before its merger with United, is British Airways’s 72-hour hold option. It can help you hang on to a price if it turns out to be the lowest offered. British Airways said it refunds the deposit—$10 for flights from the U.S. €10 from Europe and £10 from the United Kingdom—if the ticket purchase is made. Seats can only be held 21 days or longer before departure.
The hold fee is offered through ba.com and includes code-sharing flights on partner airlines. A few destinations, including some in the Caribbean as well as Buenos Aires, Cairo, Lagos and some cities in India, aren’t available because of complex fluctuating tax calculations, British Airways said.
United said FareLock fees are nonrefundable even if you buy the ticket and can be used only with United and United Express flights, not Star Alliance partners. FareLock can be used to hold frequent-flier award tickets.
An earlier version should have stated that American Airlines complies with Transportation Department rules by offering a 24-hour hold period on reservations for nonrefundable tickets, instead of a 24-hour refund window. (Aug. 29, 2014)