How to Hold an Airline Fare Without Booking

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We've all been there before. Not quite certain you want to book that flight, you return the next day to see the fare has gone up considerably. After an unhealthy dose of self-flagellation, you pay the increase. What else is there to do? Two new companies, Chicago-based Options Away and San Francisco-based Level Skies, now offer a way to hedge your bet with airline fare increases.

Rob and Heidi Brown, founders of OptionsAway, utilized their background as foreign currency traders and their ability to analyze the futures markets to create algorithms they think will work with airline routes. Considering variables such as the season of the year and usual fare fluctuations, they create a fee you pay up-front, that will hold your ticket price at the current rate, even if the fare jumps. So far, the company only serves domestic and Canadian cities, but with a new round of funding, they hope to offer international destinations by the fall.

Simply enter a route and date and you'll get the flight price with an added fee to hold that fare for one to 21 days. Depending on the amount of time, typical fees are $4 to $45 for a round-trip ticket. Be sure to check that the base rate for the flight is the same one found on other airfare pricing sites. Otherwise, you're not only paying a fee but a non-competitive fare.

Level Skies already serves some foreign destinations, yet it's a bit more complex. After entering a route and date, Level Skies returns a price $20 to $40 above the cheapest fare. The cost varies depending on the amount of time you tend to hold, from one to four weeks, and the flexibility you have on departure and return dates. The one major problem for loyal airline customers is that you have no way of choosing an airline or approximate flight time.

Both companies hope to funnel travelers to their sites who want to travel to a destination but don't know the exact dates yet. Or perhaps are choosing between two destinations based on airfare. Fliers can now book numerous tickets to numerous destinations. The ultimate goal for OptionsAway and Level Skies is to eventually partner with an OTA like Orbitz or Kayak, who they hope are not developing the same set of algorithms in-house and thus could crush these start-ups like gnats.