Guaranteed Airfare

By | September 15, 2006

The Cranky Flier blog focuses on the customer service experience of air travel, among other things. On Sunday, he posted a story about fighting USAirways on a fare downgrade.

A fare downgrade is the situation in which, after a fare is purchased, a lower fare becomes available, and you downgrade to that fare on your ticket, thus leaving a residual, which is most often a credit, although as he points out, sometimes it can be a monetary refund. It is a guarantee that they will honor a lower price.
Some airlines don’t allow fare downgrades at all. For one, if you read the fine print of sale fare advertisements, they will often slip in things like, “For New Bookings Only”. And we can see where they are coming from. If you go to the store and buy a toaster, and next week your toaster is on sale, do you come back and try to get the difference? And if you do, how successful are you? Of course, airline rules have always been different, as everyone on the plane is paying a different price.

But if an airline has a rule regarding a downgrade, usually it says you can reissue the ticket for a lower fare if one becomes available. They may opt to charge you the change fee on the ticket. These things do depend.

Cranky Flier’s second problem was USAirways insisting that the reservations agent must be able to book the fare in order to get this credit and that the fare he called about was internet-only. We assume that he booked online. Our best recommendation for argument is that he booked online, and thus is eligible for a new internet-only fare. If he booked over the phone, then called about an advertisement for an internet only fare, he would have no recourse, but the new fare was available through his original booking channel.

The secret, we have learned, to getting an organization to do what makes total sense to you and in line with their written policy is persistence. Realistically, if what you say is even partially reasonable, you just have to cut through the individuals not authorized to listen to logical well-thought out arguments. Many call center employees are inexperienced, undertrained, and limited in their authority. Empower them to help you by asking them if they can transfer you to someone who might be able to discuss the matter to your satisfaction. If you have the time to be transferred until someone agrees with your point of view, you may get your money.

As an aside to that, we emphasize that you review the airline’s publicly available policies and the text of any special offers and think about what your case is before pursuing it, be it trying to get a lower airfare or otherwise. For example, being forced to overnight due to a mechanical failure cancelling your flight is not a justification to demand upgrade to first class on the next flight. If everyone bumped off a plane got a free upgrade to first class on the next flight, coach would be empty. Be realistic. Not only have your case well thought out, but have your remedy well thought out as well. Never ask a company what they will give you. Tell them what you think is reasonable.