The travel problem: You see airline tickets for a great price, but you haven’t really nailed down your trip plans yet. Will those dates work for everyone? Does the hotel you want even have rooms available? Most important, will the fare go up if you wait till tomorrow? By law, U.S. airlines have to give you a full refund within 24 hours of booking if you change your mind, but 24 hours isn’t always enough time to figure it all out.
The tool that solves it: Options Away, a website and app that lets you lock in an airfare and reserve it for up to three weeks. Launched by Robert and Heidi Brown—who both have backgrounds in the finance industry—Options Away operates the way stock options do: You give a little bit of money up front for the right to purchase the airfare you want later.
Search the site for flights just as you would anywhere else; when you find the one you like, you’ll see a few different hold “options” you can purchase—3 days, 7 days, 14 days, or 21 days. (There’s also a $4 24-hour option, but since the Department of Transportation requires U.S. airlines to allow customers to cancel or change their tickets within 24 hours for a full refund, you don’t need Options Away for that.) The fee for the option is separate from the cost of the airfare and usually ranges from $9 for three days to about $45 for three weeks, though it can be as high as $80 depending on route, price of the flight, and length of time before departure. Purchase the option you want for the flight you like, and then come back before your time limit expires to buy the flight at that same cost. If you decide you don’t want the flight, just let your option expire; you’ll lose the option fee, but that may be less painful than losing the whole fare or paying a flight-change fee.
Some airlines offer similar services—United has FareLock, for instance—but at Options Away you can search and compare fares and schedules from multiple airlines at a time. You can even search for flights for other people—no traveler information is required at the time of purchase and options are transferrable. What’s more, during your option period, whether it’s one week or three, Options Away will continue to look for lower fares and will alert you to any new possibilities when you sign back into your account. (If you prefer the new fare and want to book it right away, there is no change fee; however, if you want to lock in the newly suggested fare, you must purchase a new option and let the old one expire.)
For now you can purchase options on domestic flights only, but cofounder Heidi Brown says that international flights are planned soon (and rental car options are available now too). “We have the ability to add airport pairs whenever we feel we are staffed to do so,” Brown said via email, but adds, “We insist on ‘Zappos-like’ customer service and feel that we must only grow at a pace that allows us to offer this.”