Whether we enjoy shopping or not, we all do it. The nice thing about most shopping experiences is that you can return something you don't like and receive a full refund, exchange or credit. If only return policies extended enough years to take those f**king mini disc players back. For years I've had casual conversations with a wide variety of executives about their travel and I'm constantly taken aback by the prices they pay for refundable tickets. What idiots! Only, they're not, the market has shifted and I just had a great refundable ticket experience without breaking the bank. Here are the basics, pro's and cons....
Money is precious, time is precious and in the words of Forrest Gump, "it" happens. Refundable tickets are more expensive because they are... flexible. Airlines love nailing you when your life changes and this is the premium they charge for less stress. With refundable or "flexible" tickets you can generally change dates, flights, or cancel at no expense allowing for changing travel plans, unforeseen events and whatever else the world may throw at you. Is it for me? These are the questions to ask yourself....
What Is the Cost Difference?
A refundable ticket can be a few bucks more or a few thousand more. I'm going to assume you can figure out which is better. In buying economy tickets with set travel plans it's generally never worth more than a couple hundred bucks to go flexible. With that said, eep in mind that if your plans do change and you opted to save money and go non refundable over purchasing the flexible refundable ticket, most airlines levy a minimum $100 change fee, with some as high as $250, ouch! If change is a regular occurrence in your life it's certainly a thought worth pondering. Surprisingly, most business class fares offer the same inflexibility as economy with the same annoying change fees. Fortunately there are increasing instances where the refundable business price is virtually identical to the promotional, non changeable or refundable business fare. There was recently an amazing business class sale from the US to Buenos Aires on a Dreamliner and the difference between the sale price and the refundable sale price was only $50 and I find small differentials such as this to be more and more common. This was a no brainer, $50 for peace of mind, flexibility and the ability to completely change your mind and receive a full refund is well worth the minimal expense.
What more Am I Getting?
This is the curve (spin) ball in the equation. On some airlines, especially on shorter routes, business class is just double the standard cost to economy. When these tickets costing double offer little in amenities and remain non refundable ticket it's almost always NOT worth it. For refundable business class however it can be a different proposition entirely. I mention this because in booking connecting flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town I found that non refundable economy tickets were going for $275 per person and glancing over to the business column, I found that refundable business tickets were going for $504. Sure I paid double but I snagged flat beds, a better airport experience and when I needed to change to a later date yesterday, managed to avoid a change fee on each ticket which would have equalled the cost of business in the first place! So yes, if my plans were not changing I would've paid double for little. In this particular instance my plans changed and had I not booked business in the first place I would've paid for it without getting to fly it. Talk about a painful lesson! It's worth a glance...
Can I Upgrade From The Refundable Fare?
Continuing on a similar note, regardless of cabin when a refundable ticket is competitively priced and in your price range it can lead to a fantastic experience and your best chance for an upgrade, complimentary or not. Across the board it is far easier to upgrade from refundable "full" fares to the next cabin class than on discounted fares. On many airlines you require less miles and have more access to premium and business availability in advance. If you happen to hold elite status, you would also be first in line for a complimentary upgrade as fare class is often the deciding factor between two people when upgrades are offered up. If you have miles to burn and refundable tickets are competitively priced it's a good proposition. Of course if you are maximizing your chances, you should always look at upgrade availability before purchase. A simple phone call or award ticket search on the airline website should let you know if there is upgrade space available. Then again, you're on a flexible ticket, you can change to whichever flight has the upgrade available and lock it in. Bingo!
No two situations are ever the same. Intelligence however is your key to getting the most out of whatever situation is thrown at you. Knowing what to look for is half the battle and weighing these thoughts can lead to savings, upgrades and peace of mind. If your work life is stressful enough, don't spend your free time and vacation paying fees and grinding it out on the phone. See you on the beach.
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