Hotel room price protection from familiar watchdog group

Travelers booking hotel rooms often use a variety of sources while trying to get the best price. Once satisfied that they have found the best price, they book it and forget it. What they don’t realize is that between booking and staying, the price may very well go down. A price drop might happen for a number of reasons and might be a limited-time offer too. Now, a new service tracks hotel pricing and automatically refunds the difference between what a traveler paid and the lower, sale price.

Tingo is the first hotel booking site that automatically rebooks hotel rooms at a lower price if the rate drops, and then automatically refunds the difference to travelers’ credit cards.

“Travelers could have saved millions last year had there been a simple system in place that automatically rebooked their rooms,” said Smarter Travel Media General Manager David Krauter in a release. “And that’s what Tingo does, by taking the gamble out of booking and refunding travelers’ money when rates drop.”

The deal is simple: Book a “Money Back” room and Tingo watches that room’s rate to see if it changes. If the price drops, Tingo rebooks that same room at the lower rate and refunds the difference to the booking credit card.

The process adds up to big numbers too. Using comScore Media Metrix for TripAdvisor, Inc. and its subsidiaries, Worldwide, January 2012, Tingo estimates that in 2011 alone, Americans could have saved nearly $314 million if they had had access to a site like this.

“It’s a no-brainer,” adds Krauter. “And just to put it in perspective, $314 million would book the $2,000 per night Penthouse at The London NYC, straight through for the next 350 years.”

If this all sounds a bit familiar, it is. Tingo is a sister site of Gadling favorite AirfareWatchdog, a site best known for tracking airline fares and notifying members when point-to-point fares become available that match what the member is willing to pay.

Flickr photo by Bob B. Brown

Farewell Browser, Airfarewatchdog watchdog

In the short years in which I’ve worked in the travel industry, I’ve been privy to a lot of introductions. Famous travelers, pundits and celebrities have all passed my desk, many with a forced, tight smile and the faint din of one handshake too many.

Few cases have brought true affection and genuine appreciation for one’s presence – and most of them were in the company of Browser, the mascot, pet and office mate of the folks over at Airfarewatchdog. High above the tower skyline of Manhattan we used to meet at the AFWD offices, productive music pumping and fares passing across keyboards of the talented, bargain searching staff.

The air in the office may have been focused and intense, but Browser had a way of mashing into a room, digging into your lap and making it known that you were noticed and loved. It was calming in a way, a release mechanism to step back from the computer, forget a few tweets and spend some real time with an altruistic, friendly creature.

Browser passed last week at a ripe age of 14 years – old for a dog perhaps, but far too young for an animal of such joy and love. You’ll be missed in the travel community, my friend.

A modest proposal: Let’s ban large carry-ons altogether

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate last week would ban airlines from charging for carry-on luggage, according to Reuters. Two senators rightly point out that carry-ons often contain items that are “important for the safety and health” of travelers, including medication and eyewear.

But can we please keep in mind that Spirit Airlines’ now infamous decision to charge for carry-on luggage only applies to items too large to fit in the seat in front of the passenger? You can still carry on personal items for free, and that would include a large purse, brief case, or backpack into which you can stuff whatever essentials or valuables you desire. Coats, strollers, cameras, and certain other items are also carried in-cabin for free.

Let’s get real here. To avoid looking disingenuous, Spirit should simply ban carry on bags altogether rather than making them a profit center. And the US Congress should let airlines conduct business as they see fit, and if it really cares about airline passengers, instead legislate a solution to the real safety risks of carry-on luggage.

Spirit’s CEO, Ben Baldanza, with some justification, claims that the overhead bin fee will discourage carry-on overcrowding and lead to safer air travel, both for flight attendants and passengers, who are sometimes injured when lifting heavy bags into the bins and by bags falling out of the bins, despite the airlines’ constant “bags do tend to shift in flight” PA announcements.

But most likely, safety isn’t the real issue here, at least not for an airline CEO. Baldanza also suggests that the airline will be able to board and deplane their aircraft faster, which implies that Spirit will profit by faster airport turnarounds, and thus be able to complete more flights per day and earn more revenue per plane (or fly more passengers with fewer multi-million dollar jets).

Is safety the real issue here?But if safety is really the issue, then the airline should ban large carry-ons altogether, rather than charging for them. Is a carry-on that is charged $45 any safer than one riding for free? Of course not. Indeed, in the infancy of commercial aviation, there were no overhead bins at all, just hat racks into which it was forbidden to place even the smallest flight bag or other hard object. Everything else went under the seat. (OK, OK, the seats were spaced farther apart, granted.)

In any case, the US Congress should back off. If Spirit or any other airline decides to ban larger-sized carry-ons for safety reasons or to charge for them for revenue-enhanhcement reasons or to discourage passengers from using the overhead bins altogether, then that’s their business. If the government were really consumer focused, they should recognize the health hazards of large carry-on luggage and encourage airlines to ban the practice altogether, following Spirit’s model of only permitting smaller carry-ons that fit under the seat.

And there are about a thousand other things Congress should focus on when it comes to air travel, such as fixing the air traffic control system.

Then we could go back to the old model of free checked baggage, or not. But that should be the airlines’ decision. Or maybe passengers will finally “get it” that the airlines don’t want to be carrying their luggage in the first place, and they’d learn the pleasures of 5-day FedEx Ground delivery service, at least on domestic flights.

Airlines could save millions, and offer free checked baggage once again.

Although putting an end to large carry-on bags, whether free or paid, would require the airlines to hire more baggage handlers and check in staff, who are paid relatively modest wages, most likely the carriers would come out ahead by boarding and deplaning planes far faster than currently possible. It doesn’t take an airline CEO with an MBA to figure out that if every one of the thousands of flights flown in the US each day could shave 30 or 45 minutes off of their schedules by turning around quicker at the airport, then the airlines would save millions in equipment, fuel and the more expensive salaries paid to pilots, who often sit around doing nothing while passengers attempt to stuff bags in the overhead bins, blocking other passengers from reaching their seats.

With the money they save, airlines could once again offer free checked bags, just like in the good old days, when flying was fun.


George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog™, the most inclusive source of airfare deals that have been researched and verified by experts. Airfarewatchdog compares fares from all airlines and includes the increasing number of airline-site-only and promo code fares.

Once a free perk, many airlines now charge for advanced seat selection

A recent Airfarewatchdog poll revealed that after checked bag fees, the most hated airline fee is the one extracted for advanced seat selection. This used to be entirely free, but no more.

Say you log on to JetBlue’s Web site to book a flight. You choose one, you select a seat you like – paying $10 or more per leg for more room up front or in an exit row. Bang. You’re done.

Now try doing the same on – what, you want an exit row? You want to sit up front? Better have your SkyMiles number handy.

Got none? Back of the bus, sir.

Let’s say you’re on the Web once more, surfing the site of Denver-based low-fare flyer Frontier. Here, you book the lowest fare available – clever you! – there will be no getting anywhere near a seating plan, let alone any selecting of favorite aisle seats up front. Not until 24 hours before takeoff, you won’t – and then, let’s hope that all that’s left isn’t the dreaded middle seat.
Still, things could be worse – there’s Allegiant Air, which charges between $4.99 and $24.99 to anyone – anyone – who wants to get near a seat map before the day of flight. Leaving you, of course, to wonder if that Orlando flight you paid $39.99 for is going to be the worst of your life, sandwiched between two terrifyingly loud, sugar-charged children who’ve never been to Disney World (and are also recovering from nasty colds, cough cough.) Unless, of course, you cough up.

These days, flyers who don’t like surprises ought to take heed when booking a flight. Rare is the airline with an advance seat selection process that mirrors any other; what seems so sensible for one (open up the whole thing, charge an arm and a leg for the really good stuff and bring in a nice chunk of change per flight) seems so difficult for others to grasp (Southwest, which clings to its no-seat-assignments-ever rule, which its loyal customers continue to pretend to not mind.)

Policies all over the place

While it can seem as if there’s no rhyme or reason to the way each airline handles the divvying up of seats on its planes, there actually is. If you take a look at this chart, which goes over the current seat selection rules for 16 airlines, a pattern emerges – legacy carriers such as Delta and American continue to try and please their frequent flyers first, holding back the best seats (among them, exit rows) for their most loyal customers. Those that are new, new-ish or focused on low fares (and less on loyalty) tend to be a bit of a free-for-all.

Some of the legacy carriers like United, want to have it all. They want to please their long-time customers, but they also find the lure of making a buck off of premium seating too much to ignore.

Thus, on United, you have Economy Plus, featuring five more inches of legroom in the upfront rows on all domestic and international flights. Elite frequent fliers are generally given these seats automatically. However, anyone can buy in, based on availability – rates start at $9 and go up to $109 for long-haul flights. United even sells a $425 annual Economy Plus pass, ensuring you’ll always have more legroom.

Other airlines that have resisted making such bold changes are now giving in; Continental, for example, recently announced a similar program, where premium seats (including exit rows) will be made available for a fee for those who want to log on within 24 hours of departure and select them; the airline has said these seats will not be available for purchase at the airport. When last we tried, attempting to select an exit row seat within 24 hours of departure on a Continental flight yields nothing more than a rollover message instructing you to “request at check-in.” But unless they’ve changed their minds, this is probably fixed by now.

Earliest available


Can you pre book an exit row?

Premium Services


During booking, before purchase


$20, book anytime

Upgrades to business class available at set prices


During booking, before purchase



Some seats at front of economy section and aisle seats for premium customers


During booking, before purchase

$4.99 to $24.99

Yes, for a fee



During booking, before purchase


Reserved for premium customers

Some seats at front of economy section and aisle seats for premium customers

British Airways

Free at check in or from 24 hours before departure

Depends on class of service; For international economy and domestic UK, £10/$15 to chose seats from time of booking up to check-in, 24 hours before departure up to £60/$90 for other classes of service (First Class free)

£50/$75 for economy/World Traveller Plus



During booking, before purchase


Request at check in

Some premium seats available for a fee (including exit rows), book within 24 hours of departure online only


During booking, before purchase


Reserved for premium customers

Some seats at front of economy section and aisle seats for premium customers


Lowest economy fares limited to 24 hours before flight, more expensive fares anytime


Request at check in

First few rows with extra legroom free to some frequent flyer members; $15-$25 for others


During booking, before purchase


Request at check in

No, but upgrades available for sale


During booking, before purchase


Yes, from $10, depending on flight length

“Even more room” includes exit row and more spacious seats at front, from $10


During booking, before purchase


Request at check in

Some roomier front seats sold for a set fee which depends on flight length


At boarding



$10 for preferred boarding (“Group A”)


During booking, before purchase

$5 and up depending on route

Yes, for a fee

Upgrades to “Big Front Seat” from $25 per flight


During booking, before purchase


Request at check in

Economy Plus offers more leg room from $9 per flight

US Air

During on line check in


Request at check in

Some aisle and front of plane seats $5-$20, buy online from 24 hours in advance

Virgin America

During booking, before purchase


Sold as “Main Cabin Select” seats for hefty fees

Exit rows and bulkheads sold as “Main Cabin Select” for variable fees, includes free premium TV and meals

George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog™, the most inclusive source of airfare deals that have been researched and verified by experts. Airfarewatchdog compares fares from all airlines and includes the increasing number of airline-site-only and promo code fares.

Everything you need to know about buying airfares as cheaply as possible, in 500 words or less.

If I could tell you just one thing, it would be this: sign up for free fare alerts. Time and again, I see articles whose main point is to crown one search engine-Kayak, or Travelocity, or Momondo or whatever-as the best bet to find a low fare. But usually, the price differences in these “bake off” comparisons are small potatoes, if they exist at all, because all airfare sites pretty much use the same fare data provided by the airlines. That said, meta search engines such as Kayak and Tripadvisor will do a better job at finding the relatively few fares that the airlines sell only on their own sites.

There is no one “magic bullet” airfare search site! The only sites that perform better on international fares are those selling “consolidator” fares, but these often come with caveats and extra restrictions, such as “miss your flight and you have to buy a whole new ticket” (you get what you pay for).

The big savings come from realizing that airfares can have wild and sudden swings, like stocks on the S&P 500. You may not have time to check them hour-by-hour or day-by-day, but airfare-tracking sites do, and will alert you when a fare goes down, sometimes by hundreds of dollars, either to a level you specify or by a percentage amount.

So sign up, it’s free! Some alert systems require that you first search for a fare before they’ll offer free email alerts; others let you sign up before searching. Here are some sites that offer

Don’t just sign up for one, because they all work a bit differently. Be aware that most don’t include Southwest Airlines fares or promo code fares ( does, although it tracks far fewer routes than the others listed above).

And do sign up for the airlines’ frequent flyer programs and email alerts. They’ll often send out promo code and airline-site-only fare deals.

Also, if you’re searching on your own, do not forsake online travel agencies! Way too often I hear people exclaim, “I only buy directly from the airline sites.” But what if you can save $100 by flying out on Delta and back on United? Who’s going to tell you this? Delta? United? Not a chance. Travelocity, Orbitz, Cheap Tickets, Expedia and other online travel agencies are going to tell you this.

You already know that being flexible in your travel dates saves money. Problem is, most people are not flexible in their travel dates. Even so, Travelocity, Cheaptickets, and Orbitz have the best flexible date search functions (check out this helpful chart).

Is there a magic day to buy? A lot of sales pop up on Monday night and Tuesday, but the fare you’re looking for could go down at any moment, so if you just search once a week on Tuesday, you’re missing out.

Traveling at the last minute? You usually have two options: pay through the nose, or use or Priceline’s name your own price feature is a super way to snag a good last minute fare.

Oops, that was more than 500 words, but just by a bit. One more tip: keep your seatbelt fastened whenever you’re in your seat and you’ll enjoy your fare savings even more.

George Hobica is the founder of Airfarewatchdog™, the most inclusive source of airfare deals that have been researched and verified by experts. Airfarewatchdog compares fares from all airlines and includes the increasing number of airline-site-only and promo code fares.

Want more travel news? Be sure to check out Episode 2 of Gadling’s Travel Talk TV!