Purchasing airfare is often a guessing game. You never know for sure if you’re getting the best deal or if the airline will launch a sale or drop fares and offer a better price in the future.
If that happens and the fare drops, you might assume that you’re out of luck. Sometimes that’s the case. However, there are times you can cash in on the savings even after you’ve booked your ticket.
Some may even be surprised to learn the ways to get credit when the ticket price drops with several major U.S. carriers, so let’s look at just how to do that.
Related: These are the best credit cards for booking airfare
Getting a lower fare within 24 hours of booking
The U.S. Department of Transportation requires a 24-hour free change, hold or penalty-free cancellation window for flights that originate or end in the U.S. on any airline, as long as 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:
- 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 re-price it for you. Note it only applies to price changes within 24 hours of booking. Also note, if the airline offers a free 24-hour hold, it doesn’t have to also offer the 24-hour cancellation window.
Related: Understanding airlines’ 24-hour hold and cancellation policies
Ticket refund policies for the major US airlines
Once you get outside that 24-hour free cancellation window, you’re left at the mercy of the individual airline policies. Fortunately, many airlines have enhanced their policies over the last few years — for the better. 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), you can fill out a form to request a refund of the difference. 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 rebook it yourself to save money.
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After the 24-hour mark, you still have a chance to receive a credit if the fare drops, depending on the fare type purchased. This is because Alaska Airlines no longer charges fees on main cabin and first-class fares if you need to change or cancel your flight — only saver fares will still incur fees.
For example, if you book one of the more flexible fare classes and the price goes down, you can cancel, receive a travel credit and rebook with the credit.
This recently happened to me. The price dropped, and since I booked with a Companion Fare I couldn’t simply cancel and rebook. Instead, I called Alaska Airlines and requested a credit for the difference in price. The process was easy, and my original flight booking could stay intact.
Just note that Alaska Airlines’ travel credits 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. You are also able to give the travel credit to a friend or family member if you find yourself not flying on Alaska Airlines in the near future.
Flights booked solely with Alaska Airlines miles also don’t incur a fee if canceled. So, if your flight goes down in price, you can always cancel and rebook. 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. This excludes most basic economy fares and some tickets that originate outside of North and South America.
This means if you booked a flight that falls into the “no change or cancellation fee” category, you can call American Airlines, and it can re-price the ticket for you at the less expensive fare.
For paid fares, the difference in price will be given to you as a trip credit which you can use toward a future flight. Trip credits expire one year from the date the flight credit was issued. If you purchased a fully refundable fare, though, you can cancel your flight, receive a full refund to your original form of payment and then rebook at the lower price.
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). However, the type of award booked will determine the process to go through. If you purchased a regular award, you can call American, and it can re-price the fare for you within the same booking reservation.
If you booked a Web Special award — which doesn’t allow voluntary changes — you must cancel the reservation and then rebook with the reinstated miles. In my experience, miles go back to the account they came from almost instantly.
Delta Air Lines
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 the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean to anywhere in the world (excluding basic economy tickets), there’s no change fee. Basic economy flights cost between $99 and $199 to cancel, while flights originating outside of those fee-free regions will incur a fee of up to $400 to cancel.
If your flight is eligible for a free change or cancellation, you can call Delta, and it will re-price the ticket for you. For flights that incur a fee, you’ll have to do the math to see if paying a change fee is worth the price difference. 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. If you booked a flight in 2022, all eCredits expire Dec. 31, 2023, which is a “book by” date, allowing you to still travel in 2024.
Related: Delta extends all tickets and vouchers through 2023 in an industry-leading move
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.
For reservations booked as basic economy, you can still cancel your flight, but with an associated fee in miles. For those flights, Delta will deduct between 9,900 and 19,900 miles from the amount it redeposits into your account when you cancel. For these particular flights, you’ll have to see whether or not it’s worth it to cancel and re-book if the fare price drops.
Related: How to change or cancel a Delta Air Lines flight
Unlike many of the other airlines listed, Frontier Airlines doesn’t offer an ongoing fare type that allows you to cancel for no fee. Its policies have also become less favorable over the past year, as you can no longer cancel 60 days before your flight for no fee.
However, the fee to cancel a flight is $99 for each direction of travel, so if you find that the price decreased more than the cost to cancel, you can always cancel, and you’ll receive a flight credit for the amount paid minus the cancellation fee. You can then use the flight credit to rebook at a lower price. You must, however, use the remaining flight credits within 90 days once received (although you can still book for a future date as long as the schedule allows), and they are nontransferable.
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 — as a flight credit.
You can then use that credit to book the same flight at the lesser value and the remaining value expires one year from the date of issue. 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.
Now, if it’s an award ticket that has decreased in price, the process is slightly different. You can cancel any Frontier Airlines flight booked with miles, but there’s a $75 redeposit fee for your miles to go back into your account. However, if you purchased a Last Seat Award flight, the fee is waived.
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 elimination of change and cancellation fees on most fares — except Blue Basic fares — re-pricing your flight for less is possible.
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 when the flight was purchased and, unlike some of the other airlines, can be used to book a flight for another passenger. (If you booked prior to March 8, 2023, your travel credits expire one year after the credit is issued, not from the original purchase date).
Related: JetBlue makes no-notice devaluation to travel credits
The same policy applies when using JetBlue TrueBlue points to book a flight, and since it doesn’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) but, unfortunately, can no longer be used in combination with reservations booked with points — leaving you with credits to use for a future reservation.
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. Rather than offering you a refund of the fare difference, though, 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.
Related: How to change or cancel a JetBlue flight
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 rebooking required. Best of all, you can do this easily online without any phone calls to the airline required.
If you already purchased Early Bird Check-In, that benefit will stay intact if you re-price your flight 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. And as of recently, flight credits no longer expire.
If you paid with Rapid Rewards points and you re-price the fare, you’ll receive the point difference back into your account. It’s truly as simple as it sounds.
Just note that this process can be complicated if you have a Companion Pass and have a travel companion’s reservation attached to yours. In that case, you’ll need to cancel your companion, re-price the fare and then add your companion back on, so be sure there’s plenty of space on the flight before you do this.
Spirit Airlines also allows free flight cancellations, but only if the flight is canceled 60 days or more from the date of departure. If you see your flight price has dropped two months out, you can cancel and rebook to get back the exact fare difference.
For flights within the 60-day window, there’s an associated fee, depending on when the flight is canceled. If the price drops when a fee is required, you’ll need to determine whether or not the price difference makes up for the fee amount.
When canceling and rebooking, you’ll ultimately end up with a reservation credit for the difference in fare, which is valid for trips booked within 90 days of issuance on any flight available in the system. However, credits can always be applied to bag and seat fees, so if you don’t plan to use the credit for another flight, you can apply it to one of Spirit’s many extra fees.
If you booked with points, there’s always the possibility that the flight has decreased as well. However, the cost to cancel an award ticket is $110, so you might not find the fee worth the savings.
Like most other major airlines, United has also gotten rid of change fees for most fare types (except basic economy tickets), 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. However, for basic economy tickets, there’s no option to change or cancel your ticket.
United usually allows you to change your flights online. The amount of credit you’ll receive is clearly displayed. However, the system often does not allow you to modify the trip to the exact same flight and fare online, even if the price has dropped. So, to take advantage of fare fluctuations, you may need to change to a different flight that day to get a future flight credit. And then, of course, you could theoretically switch back to your original flight or fare if the price is right.
There are also tales of a little-known policy that may allow for a price adjustment within 30 days of purchase, sometimes with a $50 fee attached, so it doesn’t hurt to ask United if the above method doesn’t work for you and you’ve booked your flight within the last month.
Redeposit fees are also waived for award travel with United for the same eligible fare type and route as paid fares. If your award booking goes down in price, you can cancel your award reservation without a fee and rebook at the lower price.
Other ways to get a refund after a flight 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 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 rebook
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 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 rebook your ticket for a lower price, cancel the original reservation at no cost if or when you are eligible and receive a refund.
Book via a program that guarantees the price in case it drops
There are a small but increasing number of ways to book your airline tickets that offer a price protection guarantee in certain cases. Google Flights is experimenting with this feature, and the Capital One travel booking site sometimes offers built-in protections as well.
Air travel almost always involves dynamic pricing based on supply and demand. One person may pay $200 for their economy seat, while the person in the next seat has paid three times that amount.
Sometimes you’re stuck with what you paid. Other times, if you’re 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 miles) back, depending on the airline and timeline.