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From The Mailbag: Airfarewatchdog Answers Your Questions About Flying

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Have a question about air travel or airfares? We answer as many as we can either by email to questions@airfarewatchdog.com or in this column.

Fare Drops, But No Cash Back

Q: My wife purchased a roundtrip airfare a month ago on Frontier Airlines. Today I received an alert from airfarewatchdog.com that the same itinerary is now $100 lower. She bought a "classic" fare (which is a discounted non-refundable fare), and they refuse to let her cancel and rebook at the lower fare. She can cancel the classic fare, but the $100 fare difference if she rebooks becomes a credit for future use. (There is no fee for cancelling the fare, but only the "classic plus" fare type is refundable.) I know there is a lot of variability in this area these days and some airlines will refund if a lower fare is booked. Which airlines will give a full refund if a fare goes down between the time you buy it and the time you depart?

A: Frontier Airlines has three types of fares: "economy," "classic," and "classic plus." The classic plus fares are fully refundable as you mentioned and cost more than the other fares. No airline will actually give you money back when a fare goes down in price. But three US-based airlines (Alaska, JetBlue and Southwest) will give you a credit, in the form of a voucher good for future travel, in the entire amount of the fare drop in such a circumstance. The other airlines deduct $100 to $150 on a domestic fare as a "service fee" or ticket change fee, so often any savings are wiped out. It looks like Frontier is offering the full refund on its classic and classic plus fares (but they charge a $50 rebooking fee for their "economy" fares). This may seem "unfare" but most retailers don't offer price protection when a product goes down in price (prior purchases not included, reads the fine print), or if they do, it's only for a short period. The airlines have been pretty good at offering fare drop credits, if not refunds, over the years, albeit, increasingly, with annoying service fees.

Stranded In Worcester, No Recourse?

Q: Today I got an email that panicked me, rightfully as it turned out. Direct Air claimed they had tried to call me (false) and informed me that my February flight from Worcester, Mass. to San Juan was cancelled, as in, they're not flying the route any longer. Just like that. I paid a few months ago for these non-refundable tickets. I had booked a cruise and hotels (non-refundable this close to the departure) predicated solely on getting to Puerto Rico at this low fare. Can they really do this with no compensation at all? I searched and could not find a thing about this on the web, including at Dot.gov.

A: Yes, unfortunately the airlines are not regulated in such a scenario. They can cancel route, not just flights, at will, leaving passengers stranded and owing cancelation fees and other costs. As I've said before in this column, it's not really fair at all. Unfortunately, even travel insurance probably wouldn't have covered you in this situation, unless you had bought a more expensive "cancel for any reason" policy. This is definitely an area where I'd like to see new consumer protections. Your only recourse is the collect your full refund from Direct Air and hope for a sale from Boston to San Juan on your dates of travel.