It's the dilemma that paralyzes countless travelers: “Should I book my flight now? But what if prices go down afterward?” Whether you're waiting to pull the trigger or you've already got flights locked in, there's a little-known (but easy-to-use) travel hack that makes this question irrelevant.
During the worst of the pandemic, major U.S. airlines did away with change fees on almost all their flights. That flexibility remains in place today, and it opens an avenue for travelers to change (or cancel and rebook) their existing reservations when fares drop … and pocket the difference!
You won't get cash back, but you can at least get some extra money in the form of a voucher or travel credit to put toward another trip. The key here is to keep monitoring your flights even after you've booked them because trust us, even though flights may seem expensive right now, lower prices on your flights may be on the horizon. And, there's an ultra-easy way to do so.
Here's a quick, five-step process to follow in order to take advantage.
Go back to basics: Read our entire guide to earning and using airline credits and vouchers!
Step 1: Say No to Basic Economy
It all starts with which kind of fare you book from the get-go, and there's one to avoid.
Almost every major airline now sells basic economy fares – the lowest, no-frills fares you'll see when searching for flights that come with fewer perks or benefits than other economy fares. No free seat selection can be reason enough to avoid these stingy fares. Some like United basic economy and JetBlue basic economy take it even further by not even allowing a carry-on bag onboard. But there's one even more important reason to avoid these cheaper fares.
With few exceptions, basic economy fares cannot be changed or canceled. That means there's no way to recoup some of your money if prices drop after you've booked your ticket.
Only Delta basic economy and JetBlue basic economy allow you to cancel for a voucher after booking – and you'll pay for it:
- Delta basic economy fares get hit with a $99 fee when canceling a domestic flight or trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. Long-haul international basic economy fares can be canceled but you'd forfeit $199.
- Canceling a JetBlue Blue Basic fare, you'd forfeit $100 on almost any route – or $200 on flights to/from South America as well as over to Europe
That means with a $199 Delta basic economy fare from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Denver (DEN), you'd only get a $100 voucher if you decide to cancel later on. Those fees eat into precious travel money. With basic economy on many other airlines, you simply can't cancel or change flights, period. You're out of luck.
Southwest, meanwhile, doesn't sell basic economy tickets. More importantly, Southwest beat every other airline by years by allowing free change and cancellation for a voucher on every ticket, even on the cheapest Wanna Get Away fares.
No matter how you slice it or what airline you're flying, it pays to book at least a standard main cabin economy fare or higher. That's the key to coming out ahead if prices eventually drop.
One thing to watch for: Airlines may try to upsell you to a refundable main cabin economy fare for even more. That's not necessary unless you really want to get your money back – not just a voucher when you rebook.
Step 2. Set a Price Alert (Or Sign Up for Flight Deals)
With the ability to cancel and get a voucher now on the table, it means you might want to continue monitoring flight prices even after you've booked. Luckily, there are some tools that make that easy.
Google Flights is our go-to search engine to find the best deals on flights because it's packed with powerful features to help you find a bargain. And, one of them is tailor-made for this moment: Google Flights Price Alerts.
Whether you're just starting your search or you've already bought your flight, enter your route and travel dates and bring up the current prices. You can filter down by departure times, airlines, connections, and more to zero in on one particular flight.
Then, just select the option to track prices, and voilà – you'll get notified whenever there's a significant price change on the flights you're watching. For example, I've continued tracking an upcoming flight to Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) just in case the cost comes down.
Just make sure you have a Gmail account and you'll get an email from Google Flights if prices go down – or up. Plus, you can monitor any flights you're tracking through the Google Flights menu itself and see how they've changed since you started watching.
If you want a heads up on the best deals – and the biggest price drops – you could turn to our Thrifty Traveler Premium flight deal alert service. We send thousands of travelers the cheapest domestic and international flight deals with savings of $250 (or much more) off normal prices.
Let's say you're heading for London this fall and booked a $900-ish roundtrip, nonstop fare from New York City (JFK) to London-Gatwick (LGW). Late last month, we sent members the heads up for nonstop Delta fares on that exact same route for just $518 total!
Get flight deal alerts like this one with Thrifty Traveler Premium!
Alerts for amazing deals like this could be your tip to save even more on something you've already got booked – or plan your next getaway. In this example, it means you'd pocket a Delta eCredit of $382!
Step 3. Cancel Your Existing Flight
When you see that prices for your flights have dropped, it's time to spring into action. And the easiest way to take advantage of these price drops is also the scariest part of the process: You need to cancel the flight you've already got booked.
So long as you followed step 1 and booked at least a main cabin economy fare, you can simply cancel your existing flight, get a voucher for the value of the ticket, and then use that voucher to rebook the same flight. Depending on how much prices dropped, it's easily worth your trouble.
Let's use the flights to London we talked about earlier. After booking for $900, seeing flights drop all the way down to $517 is substantial. Do it right, and you could rebook the same flight and pocket a Delta credit for the price difference of almost $400. That's a lot of extra money you could put toward a future trip – or trips!
Just log into your airline account, find your flight, and locate the option to cancel the trip. I'm not going to London (sad, I know), so here's my previous flight from New York back to Minneapolis booked through American Airlines, for example.
Just be sure that the airline confirms that you'll get a travel credit for your cancellation.
In our experience, these travel credits should hit your account almost instantly – or within a few minutes at most. In a few rare cases, it may take a day or so. You should get an email with your travel credit information, but be sure to check the “wallet” in your frequent flyer account, too.
Or Try to Modify Your Existing Flight Instead!
Depending on which airline you're flying, you might be able to skip canceling your ticket and simply modify your existing fare.
Here's how that works:
- Log into your airline account.
- Manage your upcoming trips and pick the flights that just got cheaper.
- Select the option to change your flights.
- Enter the same route, same dates as your current flight and try to rebook it.
- Get a voucher for the price difference!
Some airlines allow you to change and rebook the same flight on the same day online and others may require a phone call … or a message on social media. United, for instance, may charge a $50 “reissue fee” if you try to change to the same, cheaper flight on the same day – and it won't let you do it online at all.
In our experience, Delta makes it the easiest to modify and rebook your existing flight in just a few clicks after prices decrease whether you go to Delta.com and modify your reservation, fire up your smartphone app and start the change, or send Delta a text message. But in some cases, Delta will block you from reselecting your existing flight, which means you need to skip back up to step 3.
Read our full walkthrough on how to rebook Delta flights for a voucher when prices drop!
Step 4. Rebook the Cheaper Flight
This is the fun part. You've got the voucher from your airline, and now it's time to put some of it to use.
Just search your airline or use Google Flights to find the flight you just canceled. Exact same flights, exact same day, exact same times. Of course, you can shift plans a bit if you want. But if fares for different flights have increased, you'll be on the hook for the price difference.
You could, in theory, book a cheaper basic economy flight this time around. Just keep in mind that will make you ineligible to cancel and rebook again if prices drop a second time – plus all those other pesky restrictions with seat assignments and baggage.
Most major airlines have made it fairly seamless to apply a trip credit during the normal checkout process so long as you're logged into your frequent flyer account, as American Airlines does here.
As Does Delta…
Along with Southwest…
And even United…
Finish the payment process and you're onto the best and final step!
Step 5. Pocket Your New Voucher & Use It!
From the moment you hit purchase on rebooking your cheaper flights, your airline should automatically cut you a brand new voucher or credit. If you canceled and rebooked a flight that originally cost $750 for just $500 after prices dropped, there's a $250 travel credit on its way to your account to put toward another trip.
Head to your wallet in your airline account and confirm it's there. For example, here's a Delta eCredit I've got sitting around after rebooking a flight home from Washington, D.C.-Dulles (IAD) to Minneapolis when prices dropped earlier this year. It may not be much, but that $90 Delta eCredit is mine to use however I'd like.
Almost every member of the Thrifty Traveler team has used this method countless times over the last two-plus years. So have many of our Thrifty Traveler Premium and Thrifty Traveler Premium+ members like Corey S., who parlayed a credit from a price drop on his flights to the U.K. into yet another trip across the pond – all the way to Iceland.
But pay close attention to that expiration date! These vouchers are a “use-them-or-lose-them” perk, and airlines can be very strict. Some are more generous, but many carriers' travel credits and vouchers expire just 12 months from the date you purchased your first ticket. And in most cases, you'll need to actually take a new trip and put that credit to use before it expires – not just book before that date.
Southwest is a major exception, as the airline recently made all flight credits good for life. After the latest extension, all Delta eCredits (new and old) will last until at least the end of 2023 – and you can use them for a trip into late 2024!
If you've got a handful of credits, don't worry: Most airlines easily allow you to apply up to four or more toward one transaction. Just keep in mind you can generally only use these travel credits for yourself – not someone else.
This can be a huge win for travelers.
When flight prices drop, it gives travelers a chance to come out even further ahead. This ability to change (or cancel and rebook) flights and pocket the difference as a travel credit or voucher is worth taking advantage of if you can!
Since no one who needs tickets at the lowest possible prices buys anything but basic economy, this article is essentially useless.