Ask Airfare Watchdog: Price Drop Credits

Q: Last week I purchased two tickets for $580 to travel from Savannah to Phoenix. Today I saw the exact same flights on the exact same days for sale for $240. Is there anyway I can get the difference back on my tickets, which of course are non-refundable?

—K.W., Savannah, Ga.

A: You can get part of the difference back, at least. Only three airlines will give you a price drop credit in full (Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest). But none of those airlines fly Savannah to Phoenix, so most likely you're flying on an airline that will charge a $150 "ticket re-issue" fee, which will be deducted from your refund. Doesn't seem fair, does it? Airlines change their schedules and cancel flights with no penalty, but if you change anything, you're charged a fee.

Q: My wife and I think we're savvy travelers and like to think we know all the tricks of the trade. Lately, we've had a disagreement about when are the optimum times to request a seat assignment and to check in for your flight. She feels that if you wait until arriving at the airport to get a seat assignment, the coach seats might all be assigned and they would likely give you an upgrade. She also feels this is the case for checking in later at the airport.

It seems to me that if all the economy seats are assigned, they would select one of their best customers (a very frequent flyer) for the upgrade and give you that person's economy seat. I'm guessing that checking in at the last minute only increases the chance that you will get bumped. If this is what you prefer, fine. So who's right?

—P.B., Reno, Nevada

A: I'd say you're right, and your wife is wrong. Airfarewatchdog wonders if all airlines won't do this one day in order to increase revenue. You're right that airlines are more likely to upgrade someone who has attained upper status in their frequent flyer programs. And to answer the bump question, we think it's true that you increase your chances of being bumped if you show up at the airport without a seat assignment. On the same subject, some airlines, most recently British Airways, are charging for advance seat assignments (even in business class).

Q: Is it accurate to say that airline passengers flying on the cheapest fares or on frequent flyer tickets are the most likely to be involuntarily bumped?

—A.W., San Diego, Calif.

A: Policies vary from airline to airline, but as a general rule, the answer is yes. A customer who has upper tier status in the airline's frequent flyer program, or someone paying full fare, will get priority on many airlines.