This is sure to be dismissed as just another attempt to earn ancillary revenue, and perhaps it is just that. But Continental Airlines today announced a new option for consumers to lock in a fare for 3 days for fees starting at $5, or for 7 days for fees starting at $9 (the "starting" part is key, because fees vary depending on the route). Continental has always allowed you to lock in a reservation for 24 hours and to cancel with no fee or penalty. But this is different.

Under the reservation lock policy, your seat was held, but the fare could go up or down while you made up your mind to book.

This new option allows you to lock in  the fare as well as the reservation.

Let's say the fare on a route you wish to fly is $400 round-trip one minute, but then goes down to $200. Should you bite? But first, you have to check with your wife, or your boyfriend, or check your bank account or consult your business partners. While you're checking, the fare goes back up. We see this happen all the time.

Under FareLock, you get to lock in the lower price for 3-7 days. There is no commitment to buy the fare, but Continental says in its somewhat vague press release that the option is only available on certain itineraries and fares. Like most fees, this one is non-refundable. The fee "will vary based on a number of factors such as the itinerary, number of days to departure and the length of the hold." For example, we were offered to "farelock" a Newark to Hong Kong fare of $1200 for 7 days for a $19 fee.

There's no telling if Continental will actually make money on this. If consumers consistently lock in lower fares, the airline could actually lose revenue. But if enough consumers use this option, and lock in higher fares (and don't shop around in the meantime), obviously Continental could be the winner. It's anyone's guess how this will play out, and whether or not other airlines will match this policy (some European airlines already offer it).

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