Predicting changes in airfares with any degree of certainty seems to be an impossible task. But as prices go up and down, the possibility of monitoring and locking in tickets at the lowest fares could be attractive to any travel buyer. Technology is now making that a realistic option, although perspectives vary on just how far automation has progressed.
Air tickets have been automatically rebooked and ticketed for years, according to Steve Reynolds, CEO of Tripbam. But savings were more difficult to come by compared to rebooking hotel rates because of change fees charged by the airlines. Now however, with airlines scrambling to rebuild demand, these fees have gone away, creating additional opportunities for savings. In addition, a required void window (48 hours in the US or same day in Europe) allows a change at no cost. With all change fees gone, a ticket can be rebooked without incurring additional costs from the airline unless the original booking was a non-refundable, non-changeable fare.
“Hotel rates and air fares are basically the same today,” Reynolds says. “We expect airlines to avoid charging change fees for the foreseeable future to keep demand high and corporate clients happy.”
Zach Ornelas, VP global network sales for UATP, agrees that the lack of change fees has made for greater flexibility and price control for the traveler. “The carrier is obviously missing out on the line item ‘change fee,’ but it is also presumed that the fare offered is profitable for the carrier.”
Tripbam first offered shopping support in 2013 with the focus on the hotel industry. Last year, the company ventured into the air category. Tripbam’s automated rebooking solution searches for savings and then rebooks to capture lower fares. Along with the cost savings, the technology offers actionable analytics including performance over time.
Conversely, Tel Aviv-based Fairfly has only recently ventured into the hotel sector after dealing exclusively with air shopping since its launch in 2017. With Fairfly, once a flight has been booked, its algorithms scan the GDS and other sources for price drops and it rebooks the cheaper fare.
While airline change fees have historically been the biggest barrier to air travel reshopping, other factors should also be considered, according to John Pittman, managing director of customer success at ARC. “There are tools that have existed for quite some time that provide agencies and their customers with notifications when prices decrease for air travel,” he says. “That said, with air travel there are reasons why customers and buyers may prefer to provide consent to determine the opportunity cost of the change, rather than automatically accepting it.”
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