DoNotPay bot launches a cheap airline ticket that automates the nearly impossible business of getting refunds when prices fall

The DoNotPay bot (previously) is a versatile consumer advocacy chatbot created by UK-born Stanford computer science undergrad Joshua Browder, with its origins in a bot to beat malformed and improper traffic tickets, helping its users step through the process of finding ways to invalidate the tickets and saving its users millions in the process.

Now, Browder has launched a service that tracks your plane-ticket purchases after you buy and, if there are sudden price-drops (as is often the case), automatically engages in the deliberately baroque and nearly impossible-to-invoke US consumer protection rules that enable you to get a refund for the difference.

In the US, legislators and regulators primarily serve corporations that have captured them through campaign contributions, lobbying and previous/future employment opportunities. When they make the one-sided rules that benefit their corporate paymasters at the expense of the people they are nominally serving, they often figleaf the rules by creating extremely narrow, very-hard-to-attain consumer protections, trumpeting these as the "balance" that offsets the one-sidedness of their rules.

In theory, you could spend the hundreds of hours necessary to master these rules and invoke them on your behalf, but it wouldn't be worth your time -- you'd be paying yourself pennies per hour. The DoNotPay travelbot changes the economics of these processes: only one person needs to master these rules, and then they embody them in code, and now anyone can use them.

This is the small, everyday miracle of code: it turns (some kinds of) expertise into a self-performing recipe that anyone can invoke by pressing "go." It points up the place that code has in the overall strategy of holding Big Tech (and other nasties) to account: imagine if privacy advocates could write a bot that logged into Facebook on your behalf and locked down your (deliberately obfuscated, hard-to-master) privacy settings, reasserting your preferences every time Facebook changed its dashboard -- such a tool would be a powerful adjunct to (and rationale for) rules about what kinds of privacy Facebook users are entitled to. Defaults matter, and with code, defaults can shift (see also: ad-blockers, which Doc Searls rightly calls "the largest consumer revolt in human history").

Browder's testers for the aviation bot say they saved an average of $450/year (without specifying how many tickets that represents). Browder has venture capital now, and this bot is part of his path to profitability, though it is free to use.

The chatbot uses American rebooking rules on a ticket to switch flights and obtain refunds. It uses rules like the “24 hour rule,” weather warnings, and airline compliance with laws against price gouging to find cheaper tickets. Every five seconds, the chatbot checks for a deal up until the time of your departure, when weather and cancellation loopholes appear more often, according to Browder. DoNotPay actually books and holds the seat for you with its own money until your old seat can be canceled, using the bot’s VC funding.

Because it isn’t versed in other countries’ rebooking rules, the chatbot only works on US airlines with flights that depart from inside the US, whether domestic or international. It doesn’t work for flights flying from international into the US. (The chatbot can also check for lower hotel prices from five hotel chains, including Hilton, Intercontinental, Hyatt, Marriott and Best Western, but it doesn’t cover every hotel yet.)

Get Paid When The Price Drops [Donotpay/Joshua Browder]

A chatbot can now offer you protection against volatile airline prices [Shannon Liao/The Verge]