Published on July 31st, 2015 | by Tom Wake0
How to avoid the sneaky ‘cookie’ trick airlines use to inflate ticket prices
If you’ve booked a flight online before, this might be a familiar story…
You go on to the travel operator or airline’s website, search for flights and jot down all the different prices. After you’ve spoken to your friends/partner/pet sloth and confirmed the date and time, you go back and search for the flight again…
The problem is when you try again later (sometimes even minutes later) the price has increased.
Sometimes by a few pounds, sometimes by significantly more.
You panic and think “Oh no the seats are all being snapped up! If I don’t book it right this second they’ll increase even more!”
You then feel pressured into making the payment, even though it’s more expensive than the price you saw initially.
It’s a psychological trick to make the customer think they’ve already lost money once by delaying… and that they risk losing even more if they delay further.
Not all airlines and holiday brokers use this trick. What’s more, the ones that do (I won’t mention names) strenuously deny that they use this kind of ‘dynamic pricing’. They argue that these price discrepancies occur because seats have been snapped up inbetween searches… or in some cases because they’re testing different seat prices against one another.
Whatever the truth, this ‘glitch’ or price test seems to occur almost every time I search for flights.
While writing this I conducted an experiment on two different computers. I was searching for a flight to Dublin flying out on the Friday and returning on the Sunday on a specific date. When the price of a flight from London to Dublin increased on one site, I quickly tested it on a different computer and the hey presto, the old, cheaper price came up.
Now it could of course all be coincidence… but almost everyone I’ve spoken to who’s booked flights online has come across a similar problem at one time or another.
The good news is there’s a very simple workaround.
This dynamic pricing trick appears to work via cookies (not your chocolate chip variety). These Internet browser cookies store tiny bits of information each time you visit a website.
Now 9 times out of 10 cookies are helpful. They can save you time because they effectively teach websites your habits.
But sometimes, like in this case, they can work against you.
Don’t worry, this workaround doesn’t involve deleting your cookies every 4 seconds or having to fiddle with your security settings.
All you need to do if you’re booking a flight is switch your browser into ‘privacy mode’. This temporarily blocks cookies from being saved or stored so in effect every time you visit a site it’s like it’s for the very first time.
In simple terms that means when you visit a flight booking site it doesn’t know that you might have been searching for flight tickets earlier, which means it should give you the *real* price.
If you want to be really savvy, make sure you take advantage of these tips as well:
How to put your browser into ‘Privacy Mode’ and avoid paying inflated prices when you book online
Putting your browser into ‘Privacy Mode’ is simple.
On most browsers you click on ‘File’ at the top and choose ‘Open New Private Window’ (or something to that effect).
Here’s how it looks on Firefox:
In Chrome this setting is called ‘Incognito Mode’.
In Microsoft Internet Explorer it’s under ‘tools’ and is called ‘InPrivate Browsing’
In Safari it’s called ‘New Private Window’.
If you’ve having trouble finding it your browser there’s a Wiki How page which show you step by step screenshots for the above browsers, as well as others.
You can see it here:
And if you’re feeling particularly paranoid you could go even further and get a friend to double check on their computer when you need to book a flight. As they’ll have a completely different IP address to you, you can be 100% sure you’re getting a ‘fresh’ search. Most of the time the ‘Privacy Mode’ workaround should do the trick!
I hope this helps.
Has this happened to you? If you’ve had a similar experience booking flights online… if you’ve got any tips you’d like to share… or if you simply found this article useful, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.