Orbitz to reimburse travelers should fares decrease, but read the fine print

More than ever before, people are getting nickled and dimed by the travel industry, with airlines leading the way. So it would seem that Orbitz’s new offer, reported recently in the Wall Street Journal, to reimburse travelers should they see the price of their airfare decrease could represent a real breath of fresh air.

In summary: Orbitz’s Price Assurance program promises to reimburse customers between $5 and $250 should another traveler manage to book the trip through Orbitz at a lower price. The company says it will use sophisticated software to track customer purchases; so every time an airfare drops in price and someone else manages to snag it, Orbitz will give you the difference. The company says it will track flights right up until the day you travel, and issue checks about 30 days after your trip is completed.

But a look at the fine print (and a little common sense) reveals this offer probably isn’t as generous or revolutionary as it appears. For example:

  1. You’re entitled to reimbursement only if another passenger manages to book the exact same flight — same dates, times, itinerary, fare class, etc — on Orbitz
  2. If the fare drops on other Web sites, you’re out of luck
  3. If the airline itself reduces the fare on its own Web site (in an effort to get last minute bookings), you’re out of luck
  4. If the airline goes out of business, Orbitz owes you nothing

And besides, who has ever heard of airfares on sites like Orbitz actually dropping the closer one gets to the departure date? Most often it is the reverse, so it seems relatively unlikely that Orbitz will be sending out many checks.

Now that this program is officially underway, keep Gadling updated on your experiences with it. Has anyone out there gotten a check from Orbitz? Let us know.