Google Flights pilots new program that provides refunds if the airfare price drops after you book
There’s an odd science in nabbing the “perfect fare.” Do you wait to see if the price will drop? Do you book on a Tuesday instead of a Friday? Or do you book whatever flight you want and hope you don’t see a lower fare once it’s too late?
Google Flights is trying to simplify that nerve-wracking process of finding the lowest fare with its new price guarantee program.
Starting April 3, Google said it would pilot a program to monitor fares even after customers book their flights. If it happens to find a lower price, customers can receive a refund for the difference.
Only flights departing from the U.S. are eligible for the program. When an eligible flight is displayed, a colorful price-guarantee badge will pop up. This badge means Google Flights is willing to put its money where its mouth is by guaranteeing that the fare won’t decrease (or your money back).
The program is still in its early testing stages, so it’s not easy to find a route on Google Flights with a price guarantee … to say the least.
We tested more than 100 different routes and dates on Google Flights, and not a single one displayed the price-guarantee badge. A Google spokesperson told TPG it’s “too early to tell” if the program will become a permanent fixture on Google Flights.
“We’re running the pilot program so we can better understand how people respond to this kind of feature,” the spokesperson said.
Assuming you find an eligible flight with the price-guarantee badge, there are also caveats. You must book directly on Google Flights (not click through to the airline’s site), and you won’t be eligible for a refund if the fare difference is $5 or less. You can also only receive up to $500 in refunds in one calendar year. If you cancel a trip, you won’t be eligible for a refund, either.
After you book your flights, Google will track prices to see if there are any changes. If the fare for your itinerary drops, Google will send you an email alerting you of the price change.
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Google Flights will deposit the refund via Google Pay, so customers must download the app 90 days before their flight departs to claim the difference. Customers can expect to receive the refund within 48 hours under the app’s “Explore” tab, which shows earned rewards.
Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines and Spirit Airlines are currently the main airlines with the “Book on Google” option, according to a Google spokesperson.
While the price guarantee goes into effect only after a customer books the flight, Google announced that it may not be able to offer the guarantee if an airline updates fares faster than they upload onto Google Flights.
The Google spokesperson said feedback from the initial testing had been positive.
“There’s really no downside for the traveler since it’s free to get the guarantee,” the spokesperson said. “Likewise, we’ve had productive conversations with airlines and they’re interested in how this program might evolve.”
Previously, Google piloted the price guarantees in 2019, but the initiative was swiftly put on pause due to the pandemic.
Google Flights is also not the first to roll out a price guarantee policy.
Other travel booking sites like Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz offer different versions of a price guarantee. However, they all still require you to find the lower price yourself and typically provide partial refunds. Expedia’s price guarantee solely applies to hotel rates, not airfare.
The Capital One travel portal that eligible Capital One customers can access also has some price guarantees for select flights. But it also has caveats and eligibility requirements.
Airlines also have different refund policies: The Department of Transportation requires all airlines to offer customers a full refund if they cancel their flight within 24 hours of booking. But these refunds typically apply to canceling flights instead of receiving a price guarantee that returns the difference.
However, in an era of more flexible change policies and fees, sometimes customers just keep track of pricing changes on their own. Or, they use price-change alerts from sites such as Google Flights and rebook themselves, picking up an airline credit to use on a future flight in the process.
But assuming that this test program rolls out more broadly, it has the potential to make it easier for travelers to commit to a flight, knowing they won’t be left holding the bag if the price drops down the road.