Rebooking Your Flight Could Save You Money. Here’s How.

Rebooking Your Flight Could Save You Money. Here’s How.

For years, most airlines imposed stiff penalties for customers who wanted to change or cancel existing flight reservations. Because of this, travelers were essentially locked into the price they paid for a ticket, regardless of how airfare fluctuated afterward. Anyone who paid a premium to lock in a trip would later be left frustrated about overpaying.

These days, being on the wrong side of the equation isn’t as bad as it used to be. Customer-friendly airline policies mean you might be able to travel at the lower price, even if you’ve already paid in full. Is there a catch? Of course. But it’s more reasonable than you might think. Let’s dig in.

Using Airline Change and Cancellation Policies To Secure Price Drop Refunds

In 2020, most airlines temporarily waived their change and cancel fees as a way to motivate customers to travel during the pandemic. After extending fee waivers multiple times, many airlines made the policy permanent, allowing travelers to modify their plans at will.

One unintended consequence of this change is that now customers can use this policy to lock in price drops after booking their initial ticket. Essentially, if the cost of a ticket drops compared to what you paid for it, you may be able to cancel and rebook at the lower price—locking in the difference as a credit toward future flights.

It’s important to note that not all airlines are quite this liberal, though U.S. travelers will find plenty of options.

Flexible Booking Policies

Every airline sets its own rules for which fares (if any) are changeable and, therefore, eligible for price drops.

Alaska Airlines: Main cabin and first class fares have no change fees but Saver fares cannot be changed.

American Airlines: Main cabin, premium economy and premium cabin fares have no change fees for all domestic flights and most international flights beginning in North or South America. Basic economy tickets cannot be changed.

Delta Air Lines: Tickets purchased in the main cabin or above can be changed or canceled without any fees, but basic economy tickets cannot be changed.

Frontier Airlines: Only tickets purchased with the WORKS package may be changed or canceled.

JetBlue Airlines: There are no fees to change Blue, Blue Extra, Blue Plus or Mint fares, but Blue Basic cannot be changed.

Southwest Airlines: Southwest does not charge any fees to change or cancel fares.

Spirit Airlines: Changes and cancellations are fee-free, as long as they’re made at least 60 days before departure.

United Airlines: Most tickets originating in the U.S. in economy fares or higher are eligible for free changes. Basic economy tickets are excluded.

Some international airlines may also allow customers to claim price drops, either directly or indirectly.

Credits and Refunds Are Not the Same

Before you get too excited, keep in mind that any price drops you secure aren’t true refunds: the difference in fares is provided in the form of an airline credit rather than a refund to your original form of payment. In other words, you won’t ever see that cash again—but at least your next trip will be cheaper.

These flight credits come with several restrictions, the most common being that they typically expire one year from when the ticket was originally issued (not the date you requested the price drop). If you booked your trip far in advance and didn’t get a price drop until last-minute, you might be left with only days or weeks to use the credit before it expires.

Flight credits on Southwest, an airline known for customer-friendly policies, never expire and Delta has extended all credits through the end of 2023. For other airlines, make sure you keep track of expiration dates so you don’t accidentally forfeit your credits.

Can You Claim Price Drops on Award Tickets?

With more airlines moving to dynamically-priced awards rather than flat-rate costs, the number of miles required for an award flight can also jump around depending on when you buy. So if you checked the price of an award after booking and saw it’s now available at half the cost, you might be wondering if you’re eligible for a refund on the number of miles required on that ticket.

The good news is, like on normal cash fares, award tickets often come with flexibility that allows you to rebook at the lower mileage amount. However, the exact rules can be different on awards versus paid fares, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Before making any changes or cancellations, double-check if there will be fees involved.

One other thing to keep an eye out for: mileage redeposits sometimes get hung up in processing. For airlines that allow you to “change” your flight to the exact same one online (immediately locking in a lower price), this isn’t an issue. However, if you’re forced to fully cancel and then rebook, waiting a day for your miles to be redeposited might be long enough for the price—or available inventory—to backfire.

What To Do If Your Ticket Isn’t Eligible for Price Drops

Occasionally, tickets won’t have any flexibility built into them, making you ineligible for potential flight credits if prices drop. This is typical with basic economy tickets, low-cost airlines or some international carriers. In some cases, your ticket might be entirely inflexible while in other scenarios, the fees simply make it cost-prohibitive.

In cases like this, you’ll be out of luck more often than not, giving you a good reason to carefully consider fare options next time you book a trip. However, there’s always an exception: if the airline initiates an involuntary schedule change or re-routing, the customer can usually request the ticket be canceled for a full refund. Then, you’ll have the freedom to rebook at a lower price (if prices have gone up, you can usually request a change to your preferred flight for free).

Bottom Line

Obviously no one ever wants to pay more than they have to and airfare fluctuates so often that it’s possible prices will drop after you’ve booked and confirmed your seat. Now, you’re no longer out of luck. If you’re willing to monitor prices and notice that fares have dropped, several airlines make it possible to lock in a price drop. Then, the only frustration left will be deciding where to go next.

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