Don't buy your plane ticket just yet...

A British Airways boarding pass

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: If you've booked any flights this summer, you know how expensive flying is right now. Several new websites try to predict when is the best time to buy your ticket. One site in particular, is putting its money where its mouth is. More now from Amy Scott.


Amy Scott: Let's do a search for flights to Vegas from New York.

Farecast.com not only lists the lowest fare out there — $379 for my dates — it also predicts whether that fare will go up or down. It's telling me to wait. Oh, prices could drop by $39 in the next week.

But what happens if prices go up instead of down? For $9.95, Farecast will guarantee my $379 fare, with a kind of insurance policy. If I end up paying more for my ticket, Farecast will pay me the difference.

Hugh Crean is the company's CEO.

Hugh Crean: Certainly we are not clairvoyant. So yeah, there are certain situations where we are wrong, and we stand behind the prediction and we write that check. But what we find is, you know, as the stats prove out, we're very good at predicting airfare.

Those stats show Farecast is right almost 75 percent of the time, according to the company. But traveler beware. Farecast only predicts changes in the lowest available airfare, not the specific flight or time you want.

If Farecast has its limitations, Henry Harteveldt says it does help lift the veil on a supremely mysterious business. Harteveldt is a former airline executive. He now follows the travel industry for Forrester Research.

Henry Harteveldt: I remember TWA was the first airline I worked at and I talked to somebody and asked him what our lowest price was, and he said "Only God knows the answer to that and he ain't talkina€™." What Farecast does is it shines some light down this very, very complex windy tunnel known as buying airline tickets.

But there is such a thing as too much information. Airfare expert Terry Trippler says you could drive yourself crazy hunting for the absolute, rock bottom, lowest price. He suggests settling for a price you can live with.

Trippler: When you feel that you have found a fair price, I recommend you take it, relax and enjoy life.

But for those of us still intent on getting the lowest price, Farecast's insurance isn't the only option.

A few days ago, a new Web site launched that alerts you when prices drop. It's called Yapta.com, and it blows the lid off one of the best-kept secrets in travel. If a fare drops after you've bought your ticket, many airlines will send you a voucher to make up the difference.

In New York, I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.

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