Yapta: JetBlue, Alaska Airlines flights most frequently eligible for refunds
Yapta tracks airfare-price drops for its users and it found that, over the last year, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines ranked #1 and #2, respectively, in the frequency in which their flights were eligible for passenger refunds because the fare dropped before departure.
However, Southwest Airlines was not part of Yapta’s refund tracking so its potential ranking couldn’t be determined. Yapta doesn’t monitor Southwest’s pricing because the airline doesn’t make its fare data available to most third-party travel websites.
Using pricing data about its users’ booked flights since April 2009, Yapta found that 33.9% of JetBlue’s domestic flights and 44.4% of its international flights were eligible for refunds.
The average refund on a JetBlue domestic flight was $45 and the average refund on a JetBlue international flight was $71.
Here are the stats for #2 Alaska Air: 26.5% of its domestic flights and 39.7% of the airline’s international flights were refund-eligible.
Alaska’s average domestic refund was $58 while its average refund on international flights was $62.
“Travelers that book a flight on Alaska Airlines or JetBlue are six times more likely to get a refund on their airfare than compared to any other airline,” Yapta states.
Of the airlines Yapta tracked in the survey, American Airlines was the least likely to refund a fare because of a fare-drop, with 2.2% of domestic flights and 3.5% of its international flights eligible for refunds.
However, when American does issue refunds, they are relatively large.
American’s refunds averaged $159 for domestic flights and $722 on international flights.
Here’s a sneak peak at the numbers Yapta will release May 5:
JetBlue’s and Alaska’s top-of the heap positions on Yapta’s refund list don’t necessarily mean that their fares drop more frequently than those of other airlines. Instead, part of the reason for their ascendancy is that they have stronger fare guarantees than some other U.S. airlines.
“For instance, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines will (at any time) refund you the full difference in price should your booked flight become available for less,” Yapta states. “However, other airlines will charge a re-booking fee of $75-$150 before issuing a refund.”
Yapta adds: ”This means that the price of your flight would have to drop more than $75 or $150 before you’re able to net a refund.”
It should be noted that Southwest Airlines, like JetBlue and Alaska, grants passengers the full price difference if the fare drops.
However, Yapta doesn’t track Southwest flights because the airline doesn’t make its fare data available to most third-parties travel websites.
In its airfare tracking over the last year, Yapta also found that Yapta users who booked their flights at least 60 days in advance, were eligible to receive refunds 11% of the time — and they were four times more likely to receive a refund than someone who booked one week before departure.
So, does this data mean consumers should wait to book their travel because they are likely to get a lower fare along the way?
“Actually, the interpretation that we’re suggesting is the exact opposite,” says Yapta spokesman Jeff Pecor. “You should go ahead and book your flight on JetBlue and Alaska as early as possible and not worry about getting the best price. After all, you will always be credited by those airlines if the price drops.”
“As for other airlines, the data show that the chances of getting a refund decreases as the advance purchase window closes,” Pecor says. “While prices do fluctuate quite drastically over the early stretches of time during which the load-factor builds (revealing perishable opportunities to get a refund if you bought on the high side), the overall pricing tend moves upwards the longer you wait. Essentially, the pricing floor rises and the volatility starts to flatten out as you get closer to departure.”
Yapta CEO Tom Romary points out that many consumers don’t even realize that most U.S. airlines have airfare refund policies in cases where the fare drops before the passenger flies.
“Travelers need to understand that the purchase process doesn’t end until the cabin door closes and that they’re potentially leaving money on the table by not continuing to follow the price of their booked flight,” Romary says.
It makes you wonder why — if JetBlue’s and Alaska’s fare-drop refund policies are so much more consumer-friendly than other airlines’ policies –then why don’t the two carriers market their policies more forcefully?
Wouldn’t this boost brand loyalty for Alaska and JetBlue?
On the other hand, the policies probably don’t help the airlines’ yield managers when it’s time for end-of-year bonuses.
Update: Here’s a Yapta blog post on Best Practices for Capturing Airline Refunds.
Dennis Schaal was North American editor for Tnooz.