Have you ever noticed when shopping for flights or hotels on some of the major carriers like Expedia, Orbitz, and Priceline that the prices seem to creep up over time while you looking.
Maybe you pulled up that weekend getaway for you and your loved one in Cabo, wrote down the price and sat down to review with your significant other. Only later, and not much later, you find the pricing has gone up.
Have you ever been at checkout with a carrier like Expedia, your decision made and your bags mentally packed, to see a message that states:
“We’re sorry but it appears that the price of your trip has increased by $89.23. If you would like to continue purchasing please enter your payment information”
Has this happened to you? It has to us… MANY times!
Is this just dumb luck, or are the digital wizards within these massive organizations raising your prices based off your browser history?
Is the price going up because I’ve searched this trip on my browser so many times that one could assume I’m REALLY interested in it?
Being in the travel industry as well as owning a Digital Marketing Agency I’ll aim to answer this question in two ways, then show you how to avoid it! First, is it possible. Second, show me the proof.
Is It Possible?
Yes, absolutely it is. Being in the web development space it is actually quite easy to adjust and render pricing based off someone’s personal browsing habits. This is actually more common then you think and is likely happening to you more than you’d care to know.
So now that we know it’s possible, can we prove it’s being done?
Back in the 2014 a team of researchers at Northwest University conducted a study of online hotels and how they presented price. The research looked at six online booking engines:
The looked specifically at two categories: manipulation of the order and price categories of hotels displayed to customers and displays of different pricing to different searchers. The test looked at 10 popular travel destinations all over the world. During the study they performed anonymous searches via:
Computers that allow cookie storage
IOS device searches
Travelers who have “memberships” and search when logged in
The results of the test were as follows:
CheapTickets and Orbitz—actually the same company—present slightly different ordered hotel lists to travelers who are logged in to an account than to those who are not logged in or do not have any stored cookies. And these “known” users receive different prices on about 5 percent of the hotels, with an average price that is $12 lower than the price to the unknown users.
Hotels.com and Expedia (also common ownership) return hotel lists in differing order, and they steer some apparently random user groups toward higher-priced hotels. Everyone sees the same prices, however, so the researchers conclude there is no price differentiation.
Priceline apparently bases its presentation somewhat on users’ histories, but it does not show any price differentiation.
Travelocity alters results for travelers who search from iOS devices, but the results do not seem to steer users toward higher or lower prices. However, it does offer lower prices, by an average of $15 per night, to iOS searchers.
In conclusion the fact that it is possible and the given the data suggests it’s happening … leads me to believe we fall victim to this much more than we may realize. I found no press releases from any of the major carriers admitting to these tactics… however we’ve seen it first hand in our booking experience.
So how do you avoid it? It’s actually very easy! Browse for your airlines in “private” tabs on Safari or in “incognito mode” whilst in Google chrome. When you browse in these private modes your browser does not store any history, cookies or data whatsoever. Therefore, the price predatory cookies enabled cost hikes of the past will haunt you no longer!
Happy flight shopping!