How Do Price Guarantees on Travel Websites Compare?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Have you ever booked a flight, only to find out a few weeks later that the price of the ticket had dropped?

Airfare comparison site CheapAir.com just introduced a program to put an end to buyer’s – or flier’s – remorse. The Price Drop Payback program allows people who book through their website to monitor the price of a ticket on that flight and get a refund equivalent to the difference if the price drops between their purchase and their flight. The program is being rolled out after a six-month trial period, during which the average user saved $52 per flight, according to CheapAir CEO Jeff Klee.

But CheapAir isn’t the only travel comparison website that offers such a guarantee. Here’s how CheapAir stacks up against its rivals’ policies.

CheapAir: If you find a cheaper price on the same flight after booking through CheapAir.com, you’ll get paid the difference. There’s a cap of $100 for the payout, and you’ll receive it only in the form of credit to be used on a future booking through the website. It’s also important to note that you’ll have to monitor the price yourself – it doesn’t happen automatically – and you can only get a refund once. So if the price of your flight drops $20 after a week, you have to decide whether to take the $20 right then and there, or gamble that it will drop even more if you wait.

Expedia: This popular website kicks things up a notch by not only refunding the difference in price, but also by throwing in a travel coupon for $50. But Expedia kicks things down several notches with one very big caveat: It’s only good if you find a lower fare within 24 hours. As such, it’s not so much a protection against price drops as it is an assurance that they found you the best price available the day you bought your ticket.

Hotwire: This website extends the price-match window a bit, promising a refund of the difference if you find a better airfare or hotel rate within 48 hours. However, it does not promise any additional coupons or credits when you find a better fare.

Orbitz: This website has a similar program to Expedia’s, which it calls the Low Fare Promise: If you find a lower fare on a flight you just booked, fill out a claims form on the Orbitz website by midnight CT that day to get a $50 coupon toward your next Orbitz purchase (the fare must be at least $5 cheaper to qualify). Another program, Orbitz Price Assurance, offers more long-term protection: If another customer on Orbitz books the same flight or hotel as you at a lower price, you’ll be refunded the difference. Compared to CheapAir, Orbitz offers a higher potential refund (up to $250 per flight and $500 per hotel room), and will grant you the refund automatically. On the other hand, the better fare must be found only on Orbitz, and you only receive the refund if someone else books that same flight or hotel. As such, you’re probably less likely to actually get the refund, though it has the potential to be higher if you do.

Priceline: Similar to Orbitz and Expedia, Priceline will refund the difference if you find a lower-priced flight within 24 hours, as well as throw in a $50 credit toward your next Priceline vacation package. If you use the Name Your Own Price program, however, you get the Big Deal Guarantee, which will match any price you find up to midnight the day before your trip (and throw in $50 credit toward your next Priceline package). The downside is that you only get this benefit if you use Name Your Own Price, which allows you to get lower-than-published prices for the cost of being locked into whichever airline accepts your bid. If you’d rather have more control over your airline, flight time and hotel, the program isn’t for you.

Matt Brownell is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by email at matthew.brownell@thestreet.com, or follow him on Twitter @Brownellorama.

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