The old saying goes, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Add to that "travel prices." Airlines change their fares seemingly at random. Hotel rates drop suddenly or dramatically increase at the last minute. Even we experts can be flummoxed by unstable travel costs.
To take some of the pesky unknown out of booking travel, a handful of websites offer refunds in the case of price changes, delays, or outright cancellation. While the larger online travel agencies (OTAs) like Orbitz and Expedia offer their own version of best price guarantees, these innovative sites shake up the market with unique vouchers and value adds in case rack rates change or flights get cancelled. Here are three websites with notable travel refunds.
Hotel-booking site Tingo (which, like SmarterTravel, is owned by parent site TripAdvisor) is an OTA unlike the others. Simply book a Price Drop hotel room and, if the room rate changes, your credit card will be automatically refunded the difference in price. Unlike other refund options, users don't have to file a claim in order to receive the refund, and the refund is free, with no added tax or commission. There's also no limit to the number of times your hotel price can drop. To date, Tingo has saved users more than $800,000 on hotel price drops, and about 44 percent of the site's users receive money back.
Not all hotels are available on Tingo (though its inventory is supplied by the Expedia Affiliate Network) and not every hotel available has Price Drop-eligible rooms. But the site offers additional value, including room upgrades as well as a best price guarantee. It also offers travelers the peace of mind that no one in their hotel has found a lower rate.
One of the more frustrating unknowns of travel is finding out when your flight will be cheapest to book. Since 2006, the site Yapta has taken some of that unpredictability out of booking airline reservations. Simply enter your flight details and set up an email alert; Yapta will then monitor the price and notify you if the price decreases. On certain airlines—Alaska, JetBlue, Airtran, Virgin America, Hawaiian, American, Delta, United, and US Airways— you can receive a full or partial refund voucher, depending on how much the flight has dropped in price and the airline's policy. (Both Alaska and JetBlue offer full refunds.) And while you won't be receiving cash back, those vouchers can add up to big savings on future flights: all told, Yapta users have reported more than $200 million in savings since May 2007.
Flight cancelled or delayed? If you were heading to or from Europe, you may be in luck. Refund.me, which claims to "help air passengers to obtain compensation, fast and unbureaucratically," is beholden to European Union airline regulations, so only European flights are eligible. Here's how it works. In the event of airfare cancellation or delay, a user logs onto the site and uploads necessary documents (such as tickets, boarding passes, and proof of cancellation). The Refund.me team of passenger-rights experts then examines the claim for validity, measuring it against EU airline regulations. If your claim is accepted, Refund.me then acts on your behalf to pursue a refund with the airline.
The downside? Its commission is 15 percent of any compensation paid as part of the claim plus V.A.T. (so it's not free, unless you lose).
While the service isn't available for domestic airlines, Forbes.com predicted that similar sites and services will pop up stateside, as passengers grow tired of wading through red tape and paperwork to refund a flight.
It's an interesting reaction to the current travel climate in which airlines continually (and sneakily) increase fees. Travelers not only want the best prices, they want absolute transparency when booking or dealing with airfare refunds. Will other sites hop onboard? We'll let you know.
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Never Overpay Again: Three Ways to Get a Travel Refund.