Ask Airfare Watchdog: No Cash Refund If Your Airfare Drops

Q: If an airfare goes down in price after I buy it but before I fly it, will the airline give me a refund for the price difference?

A: No airline will actually give you money back, but currently three will give you a credit toward a future flight, without penalty and in full, when a fare drops, as long as you don't change flights or travel dates. In other words, the new lower fare has to be available on the flights you originally booked. Those airlines are Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest. Most, but not all, other airlines will refund a price drop difference, but they'll deduct a service fee of up to $150 on a domestic fare, and $250 or more on an international one. Some foreign-based airlines will not issue a refund at all. You buy it, you fly it.

Q: Today, a good friend who is a frequent traveler told me that there is a new law that requires airlines to compensate travelers who are bumped or delayed a significantly higher amount than in the past. He said it could go as high as $1,500 for a delay of four hours. Is this correct? If not, what are the current policies of the airlines?

A: New Department of Transportation regulations, which will take at least three months to go into effect, have proposed to increase the maximum compensation for an involuntarily bumped airline passenger from the current $800 to $1,350 (the new rule also states that airlines must inform bumped passengers that they are entitled to a cash payment, not a voucher good for future travel). The maximum payout would kick in only for a delay of over four hours. But this does not apply to flight delays. Currently there is no government-imposed penalty for delayed flights operating within or from the United States. However, in the European Union there is. Even if you're a foreign national, if a flight departing the E.U. is delayed due to a cause reasonably within the airline's control, then cash payments are stipulated. The amount depends on the length of both the flight and the delay. Perhaps something like that will be proposed in the U.S. one day.