If you follow the travel blogs, you’ve probably already heard the news that most major airlines have increased their ticket change fees. This means that once you purchase your airline tickets, you are pretty much locked in to that fare even if the price drops, because the penalty for cancelling your original ticket is too high.
Luckily, many other vendors in the travel industry are not quite so inflexible. In the case of rental cars and hotels, you can usually cancel a reservation that you’ve already made and re-book at a lower price when a price drop occurs (assuming you haven’t booked a special nonrefundable discounted rate in the first place). This means that you can and should be monitoring your travel reservations continuously for price adjustments so you can save your family money.
When it comes to my family’s travels, I usually book a car and hotel reservation the same day I book my flights, just to have an option in place in case availability later becomes tight. You never know when a conference might come to town and eat up all the available hotel rooms, so you want to have something you can live with so you aren’t stranded.
But you should never consider these reservations as your final offer. Every few weeks, check prices again for any price drops. I’ve personally saved many hundreds of dollars on car rental reservations over the years, as cars are the most often in price flux. If you still can’t get a rate you are happy with, wait until a few days before your vacation and give a site like Priceline a try.
Hotels are similarly subject to lots of price fluctuation. Sometimes, I’ve managed to save money on the very same hotel I’ve previously booked just by searching at a hotel’s website again (don’t forget to check for special rates like AAA each time too, if you are eligible). And, at the very least, you may be able to spot a new deal at a competing hotel that is just as good of an option for your family if you keep up your search efforts.
Of course, all of this monitoring is an investment of time and can be stressful. Luckily, there are increasingly some services that do it for you. When it comes to car rentals, Autoslash.com is the leader in this space. After you book a rental, you can input your travel reservation into Autoslash’s system, and the site automatically reprices your rental and advises you of price drops. Autoslash has had some growing pains, as the car rental companies don’t like the service they provide. For example, you used to be able to book a lot of rentals directly on the Autoslash site, but many car rental companies aren’t playing ball with Autoslash in this manner any more. (Edit: there are some reports that the repricing engine is no longer working, so the site may even be at risk of being on the way out.) So you may still want to check your car reservations on your own in case the service doesn’t survive in its currently existing form.
Recently, a website following a similar model to Autoslash was launched for hotel reservations: Tingo.com. If you book your hotel reservations on this site, it automatically monitors them and rebooks you at a lower price if the price of your hotel drops. I have not used this service yet, preferring to book my hotel reservations directly on the sites of the hotel themselves (particularly when I have status in a hotel loyalty program), but if you have used Tingo, please comment on your experience!
Although cars and hotels are where you can benefit most using automated help, remember that all is not lost on airlines either! On most airlines, you will almost never save any money on ticket price drops, simply because change fees are extraordinarily high these days. But there are two exceptions to this rule:
- First, if you see a price drop less than 24 hours after you’ve booked on most major airlines, you can usually cancel the original ticket at the higher price and rebook at the new reduced price. Be sure to call your airline immediately if you see that this is the case.
- The second exception is for any tickets you book on Southwest. Although Southwest’s discount fares (“Wanna Getaway”) are not refundable, Southwest will issue you a credit good for one year if you re-book a previously-booked flight at a lower price. Southwest is the only major airline that does not charge any change fees, so there is no penalty when you try to cash in on a fare that has dropped.