Happy traveller

Ever booked a summer vacation, then felt that sinking feeling as you watched your ticket prices plummet before you fly?

Now a website will track your airfare and hotel prices to see if you can swing a better deal.

Yapta is a free website that tracks airfare and hotel prices, then notifies you if prices drop.

Let’s say you buy a roundtrip ticket from Vancouver to Honolulu. If the cost of your seat drops one billion dollars between when you buy and when you fly, Yapta sends you an email alert. It tells you how much the airfare dropped, so you can call the airline and swap your ticket for the cheaper rate.

And if you’re really, really, really excited about getting rock bottom priced plane tickets, Yapta will send you real-time alerts to your iPhone.

Their home page looks like this…

Yapta

Yapta describes themselves as “your amazing personal travel assistant.” They say their aim is to help travellers “get a better handle on pricing by providing easy-to-use tools and information that assures they get the best value from their travel spending.”

According to Yapta, getting your airline refund is a simple 3-step process:

1) Add your flight details

2) Receive refund alerts

3) Claim your airline refund

Most airlines, like Air Canada, treat the fare adjustment like a ticket change. So you’ll be slapped with a change fee that typically ranges from $50-150.

However Yapta says at least three American airlines offer no-fee refunds on any price drop: Alaska, JetBlue, and AirTran Airways, while Virgin America offers refunds for price drops of $75 or more, Hawaiian Airlines offers refunds for price drops of $100 or more, and American Airlines, Delta, United, and US Airways offer refunds for price drops of $150 or more.

But you can avoid refunds entirely, simply signing up for Yapta price alerts before you buy your ticket.

Yapta officially released their service as a Beta last year and targeted it at everyday travellers like you and me. Since May ’07, they say they’ve identified a total of $250,621,489 in savings for Yapta members. That works out to an annual average savings of $334.16 per member.

Now this week Yapta unveiled FareIQ for corporate travel managers, which they describe as “the corporate travel industry’s only independent airfare price tracking solution.”

It’s a solid idea for a travel service, provided ticket prices drop well below the cost of swapping your ticket — and the mental cost of dealing with airline customer service agents.

Also: you could do this yourself, of course. It’s not that hard to scan Travelocity every day if you loathe your job and your boss isn’t looking. But isn’t life better when a robot does your mindless Internet surfing for you?

What do you think? Would you like Yapta to be your personal travel assistant / robot butler?

— Ken Hegan

BING: secrets to cheap airfare?

Read all of Ken’s MSN travel posts here and follow Ken to victory on Twitter

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