Seat kickers and armrest hogs are all nuisances, but there's no nightmare like getting your flight cancelled or massively delayed. Enter Freebird, a new travel startup that's designed to prevent headaches like waiting in long lines to speak with a gate agent, or being on hold for two hours. It's a rebooking service that steps in, without requiring additional paperwork or money, and gets you to your destination with as little friction as possible. Here's a closer look at how it works -- and how it compares to more conventional travel insurance.
How does Freebird work?
Once you've purchased a flight, you can visit the Freebird website to add the service. In celebration of its launch, the company is offering protection for one-way domestic flights for $19, and round-trip domestic flights for $34. Eventually, the pricing model will be dynamic. Flights that are more likely to be cancelled or severely disrupted will cost more than flights that typically take off on time. For example, rebooking services on flights out of cities like New York and Chicago will likely cost more in January than in June. The company says, however, that its protection services will "typically cost less than $30 for a one-way flight."
Freebird kicks in when it detects that your flight has been cancelled or has been delayed for more than four hours. If that happens, you'll get a notification on your phone. From there, you'll see a list of alternative flight options -- on any airline, not just the one on which you're already booked -- and with just a few taps, you'll be booked elsewhere at no extra cost. These rebooked flights are still eligible to earn frequent flier miles, so be sure to add your number at the check-in counter should you change airlines.
The feature we like best? The original ticket is still yours. This means that you can keep it as a back-up, or cancel it. If your flight was outright cancelled or very significantly delayed, you may be due a full refund. (Check with your carrier for specific rules.) If you're eligible to rebook through Freebird but choose not to for any reason, you can opt to receive a $100 gift card of your choice in lieu of rebooking.
Are there any catches?
There aren't many. For now, Freebird only works on flights wholly operated within the United States, so you can't purchase this service for international itineraries. Also, you do need to buy this service in advance -- up to two days prior to departure. You'll also need a smartphone to take advantage of your rebooking options. If you're rebooked midway through an itinerary and you switch to a different airline, it's on you to consult with both airlines to ensure that your checked bags are located, retagged, and placed on the right flight. Though rebooking is free through Freebird, the service does not cover fees that aren't included in the published fare, like baggage charges.
How does it compare to travel insurance?
By and large, general travel insurance, which can cost anywhere between $12 and $100 per flight depending on the itinerary, provides no protection or compensation for cancelled flights, delays, or any other hiccup caused by weather or a mechanical failure. There are select trip cancellation or interruption policies that may cover those situations, some that may even come with your credit card, but coverage varies widely from one situation to the next.
Many insurance policies issue refunds for trips that are cancelled or cut short. If you want to continue with the trip, you typically have to handle all of the rebooking on your own, keep your receipts, and pray that your reimbursement claims are accepted. On the other hand, Freebird works automatically and requires no extra payments, long waits, or paperwork on your part.