Orbitz Price Assurance Has Plenty of Holes But Still Marginally Useful

Have you used Orbitz lately? I haven’t because I usually don’t find enough value in the online travel agents to pay their fees, but I’m glad to see that Orbitz is at least trying to create some new value here. Take a look at their new Price Assurance program; a new program that will automatically give you a refund if they find a lower price for your purchased itinerary. It sounds great, but there are plenty of holes in this program that make it not nearly as valuable as you might think.

Here’s the idea. Book a trip on Orbitz. If someone books that exact same flight itinerary after you on Orbitz for a lower fare, then you get the difference. They won’t give you anything until it’s $5 cheaper and you’re capped at $250. So what’s the catch?

There are a couple questionable terms that I’d like to know more about (eg “Fare decreases resulting from changes to an air carrier’s fare filing policies or practices will not be eligible for Orbitz Price Assurance”), and it’s pretty annoying that you won’t get your refund until 30 days after you take your trip when you could get it immediately on some airlines. My biggest issue, though? You may not always get the refund, even if you’re eligible for it.

Remember, someone has to book the exact same itinerary as you for a lower fare. Of course, if you’re flying LAX to JFK, then there’s a good chance that they will be able to compare it relatively often. But if you’re flying from Allentown to Bakersfield, well, there probably won’t be many people booked on the same flights on the same dates as you at all, let alone via Orbitz.

So, it’s a nice addition to Orbitz that at least makes it a bit more worthwhile to pay the booking fee, but there are better ways to handle this. You can do this yourself by registering with Yapta and book directly with the airline to save the fee. Or if you’re concerned about Yapta’s reliability, you could just use brute force and check it yourself.

Still, I know a lot of people won’t bother following up on these things. Since this is completely automated and no additional work is required, there is still some value here. It might just be worth the fee, depending upon the itinerary you’re flying and your willingness (or lack thereof) to do the follow up work yourself.


28 Responses to Orbitz Price Assurance Has Plenty of Holes But Still Marginally Useful

  1. Ron says:

    “I usually dont find enough value in the online travel agents to pay their fees” – here’s value: Booked r/t on expedia, outgoing on CO, return on DL, two different PNRs, for less than what either airline would offer for a r/t on their own flights. Good luck getting this kind of itinerary directly from an airline.

  2. Welcome to the party, Brett. ;)

    http://www.upgradetravelbetter.com/2008/06/24/check-in-the-mail-orbitz-refunds-airfare-price-drops-but-is-it-worthwhile/

    As you say, and as I’ve argued, too, the biggest problem is that someone else has to book the EXACT same flight as you. Same days, flight #s, etc. And they have to BOOK it, not just search for it and find it.

    Orbitz’ PR folks sent me some anecdotal evidence of customer savings, but I’m still quite skeptical that this is a huge deal for consumers. That said, it doesn’t hurt.

    And very occasionally, Orbitz’ price is lower than the fares available directly through the airlines themselves.

  3. CF says:

    Mark – Geez, how did I miss that one?!? I read your blog every day. Oh well. Thanks for pointing this out. Looks like we’re on the same page here. I’m sure there have been some customer savings, so it’s better than nothing, but it’s not exactly something you can rely on to catch every change.

  4. Oliver says:

    But Yapta isn’t exactly perfect either, I think. I usually book a certain fare class (on international trips) in order to be able to upgrade (on United) with miles or SWUs. As far as I can tell, Yapta simply checks for the lowest fare on that route and doesn’t take the fare class into consideration. So I get a lot of “it’s cheaper now” alerts, but they don’t really apply in my case.

  5. CF says:

    Oliver – True, but Orbitz won’t really help here either. My understanding is that Orbitz will either show you the lowest fare or the lowest refundable fare depending upon what you booked. It won’t get into details like you’d need, which is why I’m guessing you book directly at united.com.

  6. maria says:

    This “price assurance” is just a marketing ploy by Orbitz, I doubt they will win any new users from it. I have used Yapta, and although it’s not perfect, I have saved some real money using it. I also like monitoring fares before I buy, which is where i think Yapta really provides the value anyway.

  7. Oliver says:

    Cranky, oh, I know. That’s another reason why I rarely book international travel on Orbitz or any other non-airline site: I can’t specify precisely what I want. Mind you, United doesn’t exactly make it easy for the non travel-geek to find the right fares either, but at least it works once you know how…

  8. Thomas Parody says:

    Here is a real rough approximation for how likely one is to receive a refund from Orbitz. In 2007, Orbitz (along with their sister company CheapTickets) had gross domestic air bookings of $7,111 million. The average domestic air fare for the first quarter of 2008 was $415 (which includes Southwest Airlines). This implies that Orbitz (and CheapTickets) sold roughly 17 million tickets. In 2007, the total number of revenue passengers, less WN, was about 500 million. If Orbitz alone sells about 60% of the tickets between Orbitz and CheapTickets combined (based on web traffic alone), this implies that about 2% of the individuals on a domestic plane (assuming all sorts of regularity here) bought their ticket through Orbitz. Assuming further, that 50% of the people buy tickets before you and 50% buy tickets after you, then one has less than a 1% chance of recouping a fare decrease if such a fare decrease were to occur given that some folks are flying coach and some first/business class. Other restrictions would lower this percentage further. Note that this is Ballpark.

  9. darren says:

    Thomas… the odds are even scarier than you make out because your outbound and return flights both need to match, not to mention origin and destination. Ouch. Orbitz really did a good spin job here.

  10. Thomas Parody says:

    Darren, Thanks for the additional info. On the Cruise Critic message boards, someone said this about the Orbitz program: “When I first heard this advertisement on T.V., I immediately figured that the odds of qualifying for this cleverly disguised guarantee were tremendously against receiving a refund on a discounted fare. The odds are so in their favor that I wouldn’t purchase from them just for spite.”

  11. Michael says:

    This program is stupid. I’ve been looking at fares to europe for the beginning of April. I think they lower the base fares ridiculously low in some cases then make up the rest in “taxes and fees” which in many cases are much more than the taxes and fees should be. Example….LAX to London….base fare $184 r/t plus $400 and something in taxes and fees. Thats a direct flight. Right next to it will be one on another airline with a stop or two that has a more normal base fare and the taxes and fees end up being much less so the two fares are the same. This sounds illegal to me. I found another one to greece from albuquerque for $386 plus $412 taxes and fees. That’s stupid…..they know that nobody will beat the base fare so they don’t have to give anyone any refunds.

  12. CF says:

    Michael – I can’t imagine that Orbitz is the one doing this. There are very high tax rates that apply differently depending upon where you’re flying and what routing you’re using. This should be no different on Orbitz than it is on the airline site. If you’re seeing discrepancies with Orbitz, please send an exact example and I’ll take a look.

  13. Ziko says:

    OK guys this is my story……so I bought 2 r/t fares through Orbitz for 708 from SFO to Geneva on Apr/30 and two weeks later the same fare, same departure, same arrival, same everything is now 677…..i emailed Orbitz requesting the credit for the difference (for 2 tickets is about $60) and their response was

    ———————————————————————————————————–
    Dear Orbitz Customer,

    Thank you for contacting Orbitz.

    I understand you would like to claim price guarantee for you flight reservation.

    Airfares change throughout the day, based on demand for the flight and the airlines’ right to change them at any time.

    We monitor these changes closely and make every effort to keep our fare displays as current as possible. At the time of your fare search and when you bought your ticket, our display showed the lowest fare available for purchase for the time and dates you requested.

    If you should find a lower fare after purchasing a non-refundable ticket, we will not be able to issue a credit for the difference in price. If you wish to take advantage of a lower price you see on the website, you may cancel the ticket and re-book. You will be subject to the refundability policy associated with your current ticket and may be charged any fees listed in that policy.

    Sincerely,

    Peter Emanuel
    OrbitzTLC Team
    ———————————————————————————————————–

    So basically, they lie, mislead and do not stand behind their promise just so they can make a sale. BEWARE!!!!!!

  14. Hi Ziko,

    I saw your post above and I would like to clarify how Orbitz Price Assurance works. You book a flight on Orbitz, another Orbitz customer subsequently books the same itinerary at a lower published fare, Orbitz automatically sends you a check for the difference, from $5 up to a maximum of $250 per traveler. Price Assurance is a permanent offering and it’s completely automatic.

    Sincerely,

    Kendra with Orbitz

  15. Thomas Parody says:

    Ziko, I think Kendra aptly describes the Price Assurance program offered by Orbitz. I don’t think that they “lie” or “do not stand behind their promise”. But, you may be correct when you say they “mislead” because they give no hint to the consumer that the odds of ever seeing any money because of a reduction in airfares is much lower than 1%.

  16. Scott Rosen says:

    I purchased 3 tickets, 2 on Delta and 1 on Frontier, using this so-called ‘price assurance’ and have seen the fares go way down from what I paid months earlier. I then received a similiar response that Ziko received.
    Unfortunately, I believed Orbitz’s deal to be genuine and was hood-winked. Hopefully a class-action lawsuit will arise when it is confirmed that Orbitz is misleading the public. I will be waiting for that day.

  17. Sri says:

    I bought tickets to “Houston texas to Niagara BUffolo” airport for 128$ per ticket.
    My friend bought same for 118$ but through cheaptickets . And still I see the same rates 118$ in orbitz now but when I contacted them they say my 128$ is the lowest quote ticket purchased by there customer.

    My travel date is SEP 8th 2009 – morning 7.00AM. If any one else have booked for lesser quote then we can get the price assurance by showing the proof of our tickets record locater.

    Let me know if any one have purchased for less than 128$

  18. Claudia Holt says:

    I too purchased 2 tickets just before the 4th of July thinking that the fares would go up. They didn’t in fact they have been lower by over $130. I cannot believe the Attorney General is not contacting Orbitz for misleading the public!

    I thought I read all the fine print but missed that the flights had to be the SAME TIMES as the flights I booked! What are the chances of that ever happening?

    In my job if I mislead the public in my advertising it opens me up for a Treble Damages Suit.

    Maybe we should all write to the AG?!

    Thanks for listening to my rant.

  19. Scott Rosen says:

    @ Claudia Holt:

    Going to the AG won’t do anything. We must start a class action lawsuit against Orbitz then advertise and get other people added to the suit.

  20. Otsie says:

    The Price Assurance commercial is misleading. We recently discovered we could have booked our hotel cheaper on our own and were refused a refund for the difference because the policy does not include packages. What do I need Ortbiz for if I can book cheaper myself?

  21. Zeke says:

    I bought tickets from DFW to RAP (texas to south dakota). I saw teh tickets for $292 one day then it went up to $340. I waited 3 more days and they went up to $360. I checked back today and its back down to $292!!! thats $68 i could have saved!
    Im thinking about booking another flight and then cancelling within 24 hours :-p.
    a customer “technically booked for cheaper” who said they had to keep the tickets? huh? Orbitz get real or get out of this gimmic! Im a college student and know more about advertising than your company does (and I havent even taken my advertising classes yet!)
    I will be giving Orbitz a call and letting it out on them real soon!

  22. Troy says:

    Here’s a question for everyone. Say you see a flight for $100 cheaper. Then you receive a notice from Orbitz saying the flight time has been changed (if only by a couple minutes). Can you legally cancel the flight because of the time change…and then rebook it?

    • CF says:

      It’s a good question, and I think it’s something of a gray area. If a flight changes by a couple minutes, then there’s really no reason that it should need to be canceled because of the change. That being said, there’s nothing in most airline contracts of carriage that says there’s a certain amount of time change required before it can be refunded. So it might come down to the person you end up dealing with.

  23. gYgYbYs says:

    I’d like to clear up a couple of misconceptions that keep popping up in the above comments.

    Number one, none of the airfares offered on the Orbitz site are set (or changed) by Orbitz. All fares are provided by the airlines, and are only changed when the pricing algorithm parameters SET BY THE AIRLINES indicate that they should change. So Orbitz is not ‘baiting and switching’ because they have no control over the prices.

    Number two, if Orbitz offered a refund EVERY TIME the price of a flight dropped after the customer’s booking, Orbitz would no longer exist due to bankruptcy. The airlines calculate fares depending on a number of factors, including availability. It is not uncommon for fares to go down as there are fewer seats left on a flight, as the airline tries to fill that flight the rest of the way in the interest of efficiency.

    Most complaints I’ve seen about this seem to ignore two points –

    I work as a customer service rep for an Orbitz competitor, who does not offer ANYTHING similar to this program. As unlikely as it may be to actually receive a refund from price assurance, at least Orbitz offers SOME possibility for compensation when the price of a ticket drops, which they are not obligated to do. People constantly ask ME why the site I work for does not offer something similar to price assurance; I imagine that CSRs at Orbitz are constantly accused of running a ‘scam’ because price assurance doesn’t work the way customers assume it should – BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T READ THE FINE PRINT. This is a constant source of aggravation for anyone who has worked in customer service. For some reason people are willing to throw down hundreds or thousands of dollars on the purchase of airfare without reading the airline policies about changes, cancellations, etc. Then they fly into a rage and scream ‘ripoff’ when they try to refund their non-refundable ticket. They then invariably blame me, and my employer, for policies that are set by the airlines which we are contractually REQUIRED to follow. I have looked at the Orbitz website, and just like on the site I work for, the terms and conditions for every product offered are readily available for perusal. People feel cheated because they don’t take the time to actually learn about what they’re buying before they buy it.

  24. DM says:

    Is there a way we could set a forum for other people to track and help them out so that Orbitz cannot cheat them. A forum where one can request others to put their post to see if someone booked the same ticket with lower price for the same itinary. Orbitz says that they will send an email if one does but who knows…..they could be cheating us.
    Please pass on ur comments as i am in that situation now.
    flying from SFO to DFW on 07/04/11 and ticket prices have dropped by $50 each and Orbitz says someone else has to book the same itinary for less price thru ORBITZ ONLY.

  25. Matt says:

    I had 185$ refunded on flight to cancun. They are a little slow sending you an email and even slower the refund (6-8 weeks!) but it came.

  26. Amy says:

    Orbitz is a scam do not use them

  27. Luis says:

    I booked a trip from Montreal to Colombia, the exact same ticket price dropped by 300$. and everytime I go to chek the price assurance, why do I get? Good news: You currently have our lowest price… so how do you know that they are transparent? 2. what are the chances that someone travels the same destinations as the ones I chose? less likely that if I had just chosen big cities like Toronto-Bogota. Toronto-Quito… ETC… it is not worth it, TRAVELOCITY seems to be stronger because they price assurance goes somewhat like this:

    if you find a cheaper price anywhere they reimburse you the difference + 50$.
    it can be on any website

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