Have you ever asked yourself, “What are the chances that I’ll actually get a refund from my airline?” Or, “How does this whole airfare refund process work anyway?” Well, today we’ve published some data and best practices that will help answer these questions.

The following data looks at the airfare refunds Yapta has captured on both domestic and international flights from over the last year. The numbers are very interesting.  They reveal that travelers that book more than 60 days in advance of their flight become eligible for an airline refund approximately 11 percent of the time.  Also, travelers that book a flight on Alaska Airlines or JetBlue are six times more likely to get a refund on their airfare than compared to any other airline.

Domestic Flight Refunds Identified Since April 2009

% Flights Eligible for Refund Total Refunds Identified Average Refund
JetBlue 33.9% $160,573 $45
Alaska Airlines 26.5% $91,709 $58
Hawaiian 14.3% $14,927 $124
Virgin America 6.3% $12,690 $189
AirTran 5.9% $15,669 $70
Spirit Airlines 5.3% $790 $87
United 4.7% $71,893 $159
US Airways 4% $29,556 $128
Continental 3.9% $51,499 $233
Delta 3.4% $48,721 $159
Midwest 3.2% $906 $56
Northwest 2.6% $7,761 $136
American 2.2% $33,783 $159

International Flight Refunds Identified Since April 2009

% Flights Eligible for Refund Total Refunds Identified Average Refund
JetBlue 44.4% $25,144 $71
Alaska Airlines 39.7% $16,846 $62
AirTran 26% $1,390 $115
Delta 10.5% $230,405 $631
United 10% $167,173 $564
US Airways 7% $45,771 $279
Continental 6.8% $102,761 $489
American 3.5% $124,996 $722

Best Practices for Travelers Looking to Use Yapta for Airline Refunds:

1. Fly JetBlue or Alaska Airlines:  They have the best “guaranteed airfare” policies

If you take the time to read the fine print within the “contract of carriage”, you’ll see that some airlines have stronger “guaranteed airfare” policies than others. For instance, JetBlue and Alaska Airlines will (at any time) refund you the full difference in price should your booked flight become available for less. However, other airlines will charge a re-booking fee of $75-$150 before issuing a refund. (From the airline’s perspective, you’re “re-booking” your flight at the lower available price.) This means that the price of your flight would have to drop more than $75 or $150 before you’re able to net a refund.

NOTE: Southwest Airlines will also refund you the full difference in price should your booked flight become available for less.  However, Yapta does not track Southwest airfares.

2. Book directly with the airline

In order to take advantage of an airline’s “guaranteed airfare” policy, you must first book your flight directly with the airline. If you book through a travel agency – including sites like Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity – the airline will likely not honor the policy and you will not be refunded if your flight becomes available for less.

3. Track all booked flights with Yapta – preferably 90 days in advance of flying

Once you book a flight directly with the airline, you need to take one more step to ensure that you’re protected on price. Simply enter your flight information and the purchase price on Yapta.com. It’s free, and if the price drops below what you paid, Yapta will alert you when you’re eligible for a refund. (Yapta accounts for the re-booking fee that an airline may charge before alerting you to net savings.) By tracking your purchased flight 90 days or more in advance, you’re almost 100% more likely to receive a refund than if you started tracking the flight inside of 30 days.

4. Sign up for Yapta’s Twitter Alerts in addition to email alerts

If you’re on Twitter as much as email, you should sign up for Yapta’s Twitter Alerts. In addition to sending you an email alert, Yapta will also “tweet” you when you’re eligible for a refund. Current Yapta users can opt-in to the Twitter feed by simply entering their Twitter username on the “Yapta Settings” page. From that point forward, any flight Yapta tracks on your behalf will generate a tweet if you become eligible for an airline refund.

5. When a Yapta savings alert is issued, act immediately

Airfare prices are extremely volatile, making savings opportunities highly perishable. If you receive a refund alert from Yapta, follow the alert instructions immediately – before the flight jumps up in price.

If you have comments, concerns or questions, please do post them below.  We’d love to hear from you!