Online services help airline passengers get a refund

By Arpad Szakal

The Internet has been the major force behind the emergence of the so-called ‘Amateur-Expert Traveller’: knowledgeable travellers, who – empowered by the likes of TripAdvisor, Zoover, SeatGuru, Bing Travel and TripWolf – often know more what to expect about their flight, accommodation and destination than most travel, airline or hotel agents. There is no shortage of online help for frequent flyers either. Websites such as Flyertalk, FrequentFlier.com, InsideFlyer and ExpertFlyer.com aim to help travellers make the most of frequent flyer programs, often by letting community members help each other.

Online services such as EUclaim, ChangeYourFlight and Yapta, meanwhile, aim to help airline passengers obtain compensation for delays, cancellation, re-routing and denied boarding, avoid change fees, or get a refund if their ticket price drops.

EUclaim
Considering the airlines’ sometimes non-cooperative attitude towards passengers who are claiming compensation or want to refund their ticket, online services such as Refund.me and EUclaim provide air passengers with advice and assistance on claiming their right according to EU Regulation 261/2004.

For example, EUclaim has developed a database which tracks every commercial airliner in order to check whether the excuse passengers are given by the airlines for not being offered compensation is correct and legitimate. The company does not offer legal advice but rather a straightforward online solution for compensation recovery. After passengers have completed the official EU Complaint form, the EUclaim website takes them through the regulation via some easy to follow questions and then gives advice about the chances of filing a successful claim.

EUclaim provides this advice free of charge, and based on the advice they are given, custumers decide if they wish to purchase one of EUclaim`s tailor made complaint packages. The company operates on a “no cure, no pay” basis, which essentially means that passengers who do not receive compensation do not have to pay any fees. However, passengers who do succeed in getting compensation get charged 27 percent of their compensation award. According to EUclaim’s website, so far the company has helped passengers submit nearly 55,000 claims to airlines.

ChangeYourFlight
An online service that has come up with an innovative way to let air travellers recover part of their money spent on flight tickets which they are not able to make use of is ChangeYourFlight.

The Barcelona-based start-up aims to help both passengers and airlines at the same time by helping airlines resell tickets that passengers no longer need, while offering a partial refund to the customer. For airlines, the benefit of the service is that they are provided with information on ‘no shows’, while passengers remain ‘locked in’ as they are refunded in travel vouchers.

How it works: In case of an unexpected event or change of plans, passengers can access www.changeyourflight.com, enter their booking details, choose the leg of the journey that will not be used and set the desired refund amount, which is based on a automatically generated suggestion. Based on airline inputs, the ChangeYourFlight platform then automatically accepts or denies voucher refunds, which depends on how much each request/cancellation is worth to the airline. When a request is accepted and approved, the passenger receives a refund while the airline gets an extra available seat to sell.

ChangeYourFlight launched in December 2010 with Alitalia’s low-cost subsidiary AirOne, which means its current end-users are limited to AirOne passengers. The service is free of charge for passengers and airlines pay ChangeYourFlight a revenue share for each refund. Refunds range between 0 percent (some requests  are not accepted) and 80 percent, with an average refund level above 50 percent. ChangeYourFlights say it is currently in talks with several European airlines and hopes to announce some more partnerships soon.

APEX reports that ChangeYourFlight for now is targeting European carriers given geographic proximity and their more conservative stance towards over-booking. Also on the radar are low-cost carriers for a host of reason. “They have the attitude. They are more into innovation and trying new things. Operationally it’s easier: all the seats are the same and most of the passengers are online,” says co-founder Iñaki Uriz.

Yapta
In the U.S, travellers are elegible to a refund if the price of their ticket drops from the moment they book their ticket to the time of their actual flight. Some airlines, such as Alaska Airlines, JetBlue and Air Tran Airways offer refunds for any price drop, while others only offer refunds for price drops of a certain amount. For example American Airlines, Delta, United and US Airways only offer refunds for price drops of USD150 or more.

With the help of Yapta, passengers can register their flight information online for free, and receive email or Twitter alerts when fares fall after they book. Once a passenger gets the alert, they can contact the airline and claim a refund. Yapta takes the change fees into account and sends alerts only when a price drop exceeds the amount of the change fee.

Price Assure
Yapta has also teamed up with MasterCard to form ‘Price Assure’. MasterCard holders who enrol their card in the program and use that card to purchase tickets from one of nine eligible airlines, will have the price of their flight itinerary monitored for a lower price before their travel date. Price Assure then sends an email notification to those customers whose qualifying flight itinerary becomes eligible for airline credit savings. Air travellers are given the option to either contact the airline directly to claim their airline credit, or, for a fee of USD19,95 per flight itinerary MasterCard Price Assure will liaise with the airline on their behalf to rebook the ticket at a lower price and help secure the airline credit. Passengers can then apply airline credits towards the ticket price of future travel with that airline to help save on their next trip.

FareIQ
Yapta has also developed a corporate version of its Price Assure service, called FareIQ, in order to help companies reduce travel expenses by continually monitoring booked airfares and flagging lower rates when they become available. Corporate travel managers can choose their savings parameters and instruct their travel management company to share itineraries with FareIQ. The program then begins to track fares to find price drops on identical itineraries with the same carrier and alerts the customer and its travel management company about saving opportunities.

According to Yapta’s website, the total saving identified for Yapta members in the five years since starting operations in 2007 are more than USD250 million, which translates to an average annual saving of USD 334 per Yapta member. Elements of Yapta’s services have also been introduced by online travel agencies such as CheapAir (‘Price Drop Payback’), Orbitz (‘Price Assurance’), and Expedia, while a similar lowest price refund service has also been introduced in the hotel industry by Tingo, which is part of TripAdvisor.

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