Yapta (short for "your amazing personal travel assistant") is a price tracker that allows you to follow cheap airfares and cheap hotel rates from the comfort of your home computer. Why is that important?
You've just reserved a flight, but you have that nagging feeling you paid too much. You reserved a hotel room, but retain a nagging doubt about whether your rate is really the lowest possible.
Sure enough, two days later, it turns out seats on your flight or the rate on your room go on sale. You spent too much.
There's plenty wrong with this scenario. First, you might not have the feeling you overpaid. Second, are you going to continue watching an airfare you've already purchased? Most of us would not do so.
Chances are good that if you overpay, you'll never know it.
At inception, a service called Yapta billed itself as the first to track airfares for a specific purchase. Later, hotel rates were added to the monitoring service.
How it Works
Yapta does not automatically get you a refund for overpaying, nor does it book flights or rooms for you.
Once those two things are understood, you can use the service to track travel prices. Yapta works alongside 11 sites and three search engines: Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity.
These tasks are accomplished with software called a "tagger" that is downloaded to your computer. Once it's in, you shop on the above Web sites and "tag" a product you bought or might want to purchase by clicking "Tag it with Yapta."
That's it. Yapta then tracks the prices (the Web site says this is done several times a day) and sends email alerts about any increases or decreases in the fare.
You may set a price point and receive an alert if that target is reached. Notifications come by automatic email.
Yapta also launches airfare alerts via Twitter.com
You can choose to monitor prior to purchase or even after the transaction is completed. Yapta notifies you automatically when prices drop.
What makes this interesting to the budget traveler is the ability to target a specific purchase of your choosing and then watch as you would the price of company stock.
Watching Airfares and Frequent Flier Miles
If prices drop prior to purchase, you save money. If they fall after purchase, you might be able to ask the airline for a "rollover," which is the difference in cost refunded in cash or a voucher for future travel. Be aware that on non-refundable tickets, a "change fee" sometimes applies that can cut into your savings, if not wipe it out.
"People do appreciate being alerted to price drops and whether they qualify for a travel voucher or rebate from their respective airline," says Jeff Pecor, director of communications for Yapta. "The busy business traveler who cannot accommodate a connecting flight into their schedule, or those traveling with small children, typically appreciate tagging the non-stop flights and tracking prices."
Many travelers don't know about these possibilities, and the airlines certainly don't publicize them.
In late 2008, Yapta added a feature that tracks the availability of minimum frequent flier mile redemptions.
Many airlines now make it very difficult to redeem miles at the minimum levels and require double miles to book the same trips.
Let's say you want to go to Europe and you have 50,000 miles (the minimum level required for a round trip). Many airlines now make that transaction very limited and difficult, but offer plenty of options if you spend 100,000 miles for the same trip.
This feature on Yapta could, in theory, make it easier to find the few minimum redemption opportunities on the route you wish to book.
Watching Hotel Rates
The concept with hotels works in a way similar to the airfare tracking. Thousands of hotels are in the data base.
You can track daily prices for a given hotel, or set up a comparison that tracks several hotels at the same time. If you start early enough, this could give you a picture of what is truly a "good rate" for a given property, price range and destination.
As with airfares, hotel rate alerts can be customized so you don't receive a blizzard of emails every time a price changes. Do you really want to know that a room is $4 cheaper than yesterday? The threshold lets you set the price at perhaps $15, which over several days could represent a significant savings.
Filters within Yapta allow you to track according to price, star rating, amenities and hotel brand. This can be especially handy for business travelers who must find a property with conference facilities or within a certain geographic area.
A few warnings are in order
The Yapta software launches on your computer whenever you do an airfare search at the aforementioned sites. If you find that intrusive, you probably won't like Yapta. The site says the Yapta tagger is not spyware, and your personal information will not be compromised.
Initially, it is only compatible with Internet Explorer, but the Web site says there are plans for a Firefox version "coming soon." As you can see, there are still bugs to be worked out. The Web site cautions that the first version is still a beta (test) version, and there is "ample room for improvement."
The next warning here involves refunds or vouchers. Not all airlines will routinely grant you a rollover, which is the difference between what you paid and a subsequent sale fare, or a voucher on non-refundable fares.
That brings us to the final warning.
If you're going to use this service, you must be willing to drop what you are doing and call the airline immediately. Sometimes, air sales are in effect for only a few minutes before the original price (or an even higher one) resumes. You must make your request while the lower fare is in force.