Airlines that offer you a credit if the price of airfare drops
Purchasing airfare is often a guessing game, as you never know if you’re getting the best deal now ... or if the airline will later launch a sale and offer a better price in the future. If that happens and the price of fly drops, you might assume that you’re out of luck. While that's sometimes correct, there are times you can cash in on the savings even after you've booked your ticket.
Some may be surprised to learn that there’s a way to get a credit when the ticket price drops with several major U.S. carriers. Today we’ll take a look at how to do just that.
Some of these policies are ongoing while others may be more generous at the moment due to the ongoing pandemic. We've detailed all the airlines' coronavirus change and cancellation policies here (and are constantly updating it when rules change).
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Getting a lower fare within 24 hours of booking
You probably know that the U.S. Department of Transportation requires a 24-hour free change, hold or cancellation window.
If you purchase a ticket with an airline that originates or ends in the U.S. on any airline, you can cancel that ticket without any fees or penalties within 24 hours if the booking was made at least seven days before departure. This rule applies to both paid tickets and award tickets booked with miles. So if you purchase a ticket only to find out that it’s on sale a few hours later, you should do the following:
- Cancel the old ticket and receive a full refund.
- Then, book an entirely new reservation at a lower price.
This is probably the easiest way to lock in a lower price on an already booked ticket, unless the airline will simply re-price it for you, though it only applies to price changes within 24 hours of booking. Also note that if the airline offers a free 24-hour hold, they don't have to also offer the 24-hour cancellation window.
Ticket refund policies for the 8 largest US carriers
Once you get outside that 24-hour free cancellation window, you’re left at the mercy of the individual airlines. Let’s take a look at how the major U.S. airlines handle price drops on existing tickets.
Alaska offers a very limited price guarantee, where if you purchase a ticket online and within 24 hours find a published price from a third-party site for at least $10 less than what you paid — for the same flight — then you can fill out a form to request a refund of the difference. It used to be that this policy applied to lower prices found at any time before departure, but Alaska changed it back in 2018.
As it stands now, it’s difficult to see why you would bother filling out a form when you can just cancel your ticket within 24 hours (per DOT requirements) and re-book it yourself to save the money. The only real advantages are not having to work with an online travel agency in the event of a schedule change or irregular operations and earning 3x bonus miles from your Alaska Airlines credit card.
Post the 24-hour mark, as of May 1, there are no fees on main cabin and first-class fares if you need to change or cancel your flight — only saver fares will still incur fees (although fees are waived if the flight was booked between Feb. 27, 2020, and April 30, 2021).
This means if you book one of the more flexible fare classes and the price goes down, you can cancel your flight and receive a future travel credit for the price paid. You can then re-book your flight at a lower price using that travel credit. Unfortunately though, the difference between the price paid and the new fare will still remain as a travel credit and expire one year from the date of issue. However, as long as you book by the expiration date, you can still travel up to 11 months later.
Flights booked with Alaska Airline miles also no longer incur a fee if canceled, so if your flight goes down in price, you can always cancel and re-book. However, if you're using your miles to book a partner airline, partner award fees are nonrefundable.
American Airlines no longer charges any change or cancellation fees on premium cabin, premium economy and main cabin fares. While this excludes most basic economy fares, those that originate in Africa, Australia, Europe, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East and New Zealand also do not incur change fees — along with all basic economy flights booked prior to April 1, regardless of the originating destination.
This means if you booked a flight that falls into the "no change or cancellation fee" category, you can call American Airlines and they'll be able to re-price the ticket for you at the less expensive fare.
For paid fares, the difference in fare will be given to you as a flight credit which can be used toward another future flight. Flight credits expire one year from the date the flight credit was issued.
Or, if you booked your flight with AAdvantage miles, you can always get the lower fare price (since basic economy fares aren't available when using miles), but the type of award booked will determine the process to go through. If you purchased a regular award, you can call American and they can re-price the fare for you within the same booking reservation.
But if you booked a Web Special award — which doesn't allow voluntary changes — you'll need to cancel the reservation and then re-book with the reinstated miles. In my experience, miles go back to the account they came from almost instantly.
Delta Air Lines
Delta offers a Best Fare Guarantee that covers flights booked online and on its app when you find lower fares — of at least $10 in fare difference — on other websites. If your claim is approved, Delta will refund you that difference and give you a $100 voucher. For any changes outside of this window, you’d need to incur any change fees.
For flights that go down in price the day after the reservation was purchased, depending on the fare bucket booked, you can have your ticket re-priced within the same reservation to get the lower fare.
Typically, for all tickets originating from North America to anywhere in the world (excluding basic economy tickets), there's no change fee. However, through Dec. 31, there's a change fee waiver in place for basic economy tickets. Additionally, if you purchased a trip on or before April 30 for a trip originating outside of North America — regardless of the fare type — change fees are waived for those fares as well.
If your flight is eligible for a change or cancellation, you can call Delta and they will re-price the ticket for you. For paid fares, the difference in the price paid will be given to you as an eCredit, which normally expires one year from the date the original flight was purchased. But, for right now, all eCredits with an original expiration date in 2021 and all new tickets purchased in 2021 will expire on Dec. 31, 2022.
For flights booked with Delta SkyMiles, as long as your flight is cancellation-eligible (same rules apply as above), you can have your flight re-priced and the difference in miles will be redeposited into your account with no fee.
Unlike many of the other airlines listed, Frontier Airlines doesn't offer an ongoing fare type that allows you to cancel for no fee. However, you can cancel any flight booked 60 days or more prior to departure for no fee and retain the value of the flight. If your price decrease happens to be within this allotted time frame, you can then re-book. However, Frontier has waived all change fees through Sept. 30.
Or, if you purchase "The Works" bundle as an add-on when booking your flight, one of the perks is that your flight is 100% refundable. This means if your flight drops in price, you can cancel and receive a full refund — including the price of the bundle — in the form of an eCredit.
You can then use that eCredit to book the same flight at the lesser value and the remaining value expires one year from the date of issue. Or, if you happen to have Frontier's Elite 100K status, you automatically receive "The Works" bundle at no additional cost on every flight you book.
JetBlue used to have an extremely generous policy if a fare dropped — giving you a five-day window to re-price your fare. Unfortunately, this policy is no longer around, but with the recent elimination of change and cancellation fees on most fares — except Blue Basic fares — re-pricing your flight for less is now possible again. This used to be only possible for JetBlue Mosaic members, but now everyone is eligible.
As long as you purchase an eligible fare, you can cancel your flight for no fee and then re-book with the travel credit you receive. Credits are valid for one year from the date issued and, unlike with many of the other airlines, can be used to book a flight for another passenger.
The same policy applies when using JetBlue TrueBlue points to book a flight and since they don't offer Blue Basic fares for points reservations, all fares are fully refundable. The taxes and fees paid are returned as a travel credit (almost instantly), so when you are re-booking your flight, you can apply the travel credits back to cover the taxes and fees. But to ensure you are eligible for travel insurance benefits that come with many popular travel credit cards, you'll want to charge at least $1 to your card and not use the travel credits in their entirety.
Similar to Alaska and Delta, JetBlue also offers a Best Fare Guarantee against finding a lower fare on a third-party website, though you must find the lower fare on the same day you make the reservation. But rather than offering you a refund of the fare difference, it will just provide you with a $50 credit toward future travel on JetBlue. Keep in mind that the fare price must be at least $5 less to qualify.
Southwest has, by far, the most generous fare refund policy and makes it incredibly easy for you to see if your flight has gone down in price. Since Southwest has no change or cancellation fees, you can always change your flight to the exact same flight originally booked — no canceling and re-booking required.
If you already purchased Early Bird Check-In, that benefit will stay intact as well.
If you paid for the fare with dollars, you’ll end up with a credit for the difference in fare price which can be used toward a future flight. The credit is valid for one year from the date the flight was originally booked and can only be used in the name of the original traveler. If you paid with Rapid Rewards points, you'll receive the point difference back into your account.
Just note that this process can be complicated if you’re a Companion Pass-holder and have a travel companion’s reservation attached to yours. In that case, you’ll need to cancel your companion, re-book the fare and then re-add your companion.
Similar to Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines also allows free flight cancellations if canceled 60 days or more from the date of departure. So if you see your flight price has dropped two months out, you can cancel and re-book. The only caveat is that you'll end up with a reservation credit for the difference in fare which must be used within 90 days of issuance — one of the shortest expiration dates when compared to most other airlines. However, credits can always be applied to bag and seat fees, so if you aren't planning on using the credit for another flight, then you can always apply it to one of Spirit's many extra fees.
Since Spirit eliminated its award chart earlier this year, there's the possibility that a flight purchased with points also decreases. The same cancellation fees apply, so if you are 60-plus days out, you're still able to cancel for no fee, and then re-book. Although if you have elite status with Spirit or are a Spirit Airlines cardmember, redemption fees are always waived.
Like most other airlines, United has also gotten rid of change fees, which helps if a fare goes down in price. This includes most economy and premium cabin tickets for travel within the U.S. (which includes Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands), between the U.S. and Mexico or the Caribbean, and for international travel that originates in the U.S. Basic economy ticket fees are only waived if purchased through Dec. 31.
This means if your eligible flight goes down in price, you can cancel and re-book for the same flight. You'll then end up with a flight credit for the difference in fare which can be used for up to one year from your original ticket issue date. However, if you notice the price drop within 30 days of the original purchase date, the ticket can be re-priced — instead of having to cancel and re-book (this doesn't apply to basic economy fares). Technically, this costs $50 per passenger, which isn't worth it since you can simply cancel and re-book, but there are many reports that United will waive this fee.
Redeposit fees are also waived for award travel — for the same eligible fare type and route as paid fares — as long as the flight is more than 30 days from the date of departure.
If your award booking goes down in price more than a month out, you can cancel your award reservation with no fee and re-book at the lower price. If it's within the 30-day time frame of your departure, you'll be charged anywhere between $50 and $125, depending on your elite status. Premier 1K members can always cancel an award flight at no fee.
Other ways to get a refund after a price drop
Of course, there are some other ways to get a refund if the cost of your flight decreases after booking, and these will generally work across all carriers, though it’ll take a specific set of circumstances for them to work in your favor.
Pay the change fee. Although most airlines got rid of their change fees, depending on your route and fare bucket, you might still be looking at a high fee to cancel your flight. If your flight doesn't qualify for a free cancellation and if the price difference is greater than the change fee, it could be worth making the change and eating the fee.
Get a cancellation fee waiver, and re-book. There are all sorts of situations where you might be entitled to a free cancellation and a refund — if your fare doesn't already qualify for a free cancellation. The most common is when there’s a significant change to the flight’s schedule. If your flight’s schedule has changed, and you can re-book your ticket for a lower price, just cancel the original reservation at no cost and receive a refund.
Air travel almost always involves dynamic pricing based on supply and demand. One person may pay $200 for a transcontinental economy seat, while the person in the next seat has paid three or four times that amount. And while sometimes you're stuck with what you paid, other times, if you got unlucky or mistimed the purchase of your ticket and see a significant price drop, you may be able to get some of your money (or points) back, depending on the airline and timeline.
Additional reporting by Jason Steele.