When airlines announce new fees, we almost immediately start scheming ways to skip the costs. So imagine our cautiously happy surprise this week when Continental announced its new FareLock program, a tool that lets flyers reserve flight prices for up to seven days and one charge we might willingly pay.
The program is simple: Passengers booking Continental flights may pay a small fee to lock in fares for as long as a week, without any obligation to purchase the ticket. A non-refundable, three-day reservation would cost as little as $5, and week-long holds start at $9 (though we found a January flight from New York to Los Angeles that charges $9 for a 72-hour lock and $19 for the seven-day option).
On the surface, this looks like a swell way to simplify the maddeningly volatile flight-booking process, particularly during peak travel seasons when fares seem to change by the second. The fine print, as always, is less cheery.
Naysayers are wisely noting that Continental already allows its customers to cancel reserved flights without penalty within 24 hours of booking, which makes this new program look like yet another way to charge for a service that once upon a time the airline provided for free. Moreover, FareLock is only available on Continental.com or via its reservations line, so if you spot a bargain-basement ticket on Kayak or Expedia, youre still better off booking immediately.
Add to that existing third-party sites that automatically track flight price differences Orbitzs Price Assurance Guarantee will refund flyers up to $250 if the trip dips in cost; Yapta will monitor tickets for fare changes before and after you purchase an itinerary and Continentals new choice could certainly seem like a thinly veiled nickel-and-diming strategy.
Even so, FareLock does offer added flexibility, particularly for travelers who are committed to flying on Continental or know that it runs the most direct route to their destination. Plus, we always support airline fees that actually increase functionality for travelers, instead of charging us for what used to be on the house.