How to Get the Lowest Price on Airfare, Even After You Buy

by Nora Dunn on 14 June 2011 1 comment
Photo: egdigital

As much as being a full-time traveler might sound glamorous, I spend a lot (I mean it! A Lot) of time researching the best way to get from A to B, and the cheapest way to book it. And as somebody who’s always on the hunt for the best deal, I often get “click paralysis” when it comes to clicking on the big final ominous “Purchase” button, fearful that I’ll find a way better deal as soon as I commit. (Yes, it has happened before).

Booking airfare in particular seems to be an area mired in confusion, changing rates, and endless schemes. From cookies being buried in your browser that raise the rates every time you perform the same search, to having to search at Tuesday at midnight to get the “best rates,” it seems that we have to contort ourselves into these awkward positions to get a decent price.

Wives tales and rumors abound about getting the best rates; the next thing you know we’ll be told that we have to eat only spinach for two days and perform a search while standing on one foot and listening to classical music in order to get the lowest price on airfare. I mean, really.

Despite my little rant here, I recently found a few free sites that ease the pain of booking airfare and helped me get the lowest price. Not only were they instrumental in my finding the best rates for my recent booking of a trip from Toronto to Florida, but I got the peace of mind in knowing that if those rates go down, I’ll get a refund.

Yapta

Did you know that some airlines will give you a refund if the price goes down even after you buy your ticket? Yapta knows.

Yapta specializes in tracking flight prices, both before and after you buy. It’s a fairly user-friendly site with a standard search engine. You can track the price changes (and you register with only your email, first name, and a password), receiving emails with weekly summaries, as well as special alerts when prices go down. (My only beef with this widget is that it tracks only the specific flights you enter, so if your plans are flexible you have to enter many possible flights to track them individually.)

Yapta’s big claim to fame is that they help you get a refund on the difference if your flight goes down in price after you buy. With an easy tracking system and even pre-populated forms to submit to the airlines, it’s simple to track flights and to apply for a refund.

Be warned though, only a handful of airlines have formal refund policies if the price goes down after you buy a ticket, and oftentimes the price difference needs to be above a certain dollar amount (eg: $75 or $150). For long-haul flights though, I can see value in using Yapta to track prices. And although there’s value in choosing an airline with a refund policy, it never hurts to approach an airline without one and to ask for a refund on a price difference. This applies to airlines and retailers alike; you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

FareCompare

As another airfare comparison search engine, FareCompare works almost the same way. I enjoyed reading their take on the best times to buy flights, and it has lots of gee-gogs that Yapta doesn’t have. For example, you can use a map to see where you can go given your travel budget, or you can search flights for price-per-mile (for people wanting to get the most distance for their airline dollar — great if you’re on a frequent flyer mile run).

Other than these great little search features and a useful collection of articles and tips on when to buy/where to fly etc, I found using FareCompare to be considerably less user-friendly than Yapta when it comes to the brass tacks of tracking flights. I could enter an email address to track flights, but I didn’t seem to get tracking emails regularly, and navigating the flights I was tracking on the site itself was cryptic.

But as a well-rounded search engine and educational resource for booking flights, FareCompare stands its ground for me.

Kayak Explore

The one downfall of both Yapta and FareCompare is that in order to track flights, you need to know where you’re going! KayakExplore has little to do with tracking airline prices, but may be a fun way to choose a destination. You enter your starting point, and can filter results by selecting maximum price points, countries/continents you’d like to visit, flight times, stuff you’d like to do, and even the weather you want (from “Freezing” to “Hot”, and even “Ouch”)!

Tips for Getting the Lowest Price on Airfare

Getting the lowest price on airfare is no small task, and something that can suck you into countless (fruitless) hours online. I speak from experience, as the queen of spinning my wheels yet getting nowhere. “Click paralysis” is my nemesis. Here are a few tips to help you book your next flight with confidence.

Act fast. If you get an alert that the price has dropped, jump on it. Price drops can last as little as a few hours, depending on how many seats they release at the lower price and how popular the route is.

Buy at least 7 days in advance. I’ve been burned by this before; cheap last-minute flights are non-existent (or at least, not to be counted on). As soon as you get to less than a week from departure, the price skyrockets. My flight to Florida went up 25% overnight between eight days and seven days before departure. (Thank goodness I bought my ticket prior.)

Airline’s don’t refund with cash. If you can convince an airline to give you a refund on the price difference, don’t expect cash. Instead, you’ll receive a credit or voucher with that airline for future travel. Also, beware of processing fees, which not only detract from the refund amount, but are often paid out-of-pocket.

Stop searching after you book. Once you’ve bought your ticket, do yourself a favor and stop searching. If you’re like me, you researched and researched your options before you bought, and you’re not likely to find something wildly cheaper afterwards. (And if you do, you’ll only beat yourself up for finding it too late.) By tracking your flight prices with a tool like Yapta or FareCompare both before and after you buy, you can rest assured that you’re likely getting the best prices available.

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This is all good to know! I just bought flights for me and my friends. I keep tracking it and hopefully it'll go down.