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  • Airlines Prices Go Up The More You Check

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All internet browsers and most sites make use of cookies, small scripts that track how you use sites when you browse online. Usually this is to make user experiences are as convenient as possible, but a number of airlines are in fact using this to cheat their passengers out of a fair deal by charging you more on your ticket.

What does this mean? Airlines will charge more the more you look at flight plans. The more times you visit the page, the higher chance these prices can arbitrarily jump upwards. This isn’t even the same as waiting too long to book a flight and paying a premium for it: you can actually keep refreshing your flight page, and your fare will go up! If you have a history of flying, your prices will be adjusted accordingly.

As an experiment, our team used the browsing history of a particularly troublesome flyer. This flyer, who shall remain nameless, has a history of booking flights two or three weeks before departure, and often picked the first deal that looked good. To contrast, we have a control group (Google Chrome run in incognito mode), as well as a third browser with no cookies that simply refreshed multiple times. Here is what we learned:

For a One Way flight from Toronto’s Pearson Airport to New York’s LaGuardia, August 1st.

With our Troubled Flyer’s Browser:

  • Airline 1: $246
  • Airline 2: $231

With Google Chrome in Incognito Mode (No Cookies):

  • Airline 1: $223
  • Airline 2: $209

With No Cookies and Approximately 20 Refreshes:

  • Airline 1: $235
  • Airline 2: $222

Is this entirely fair to consumers, to charge more based on who is using the page, how they’re using the page, and their experiences with the airline in the past?

It’s Designed Entirely to Provoke Sales Pressure

When most people see prices rise, they feel a gut instinct that they’re about to lose out on an opportunity. “Buy now and save later!” is a behavior so ingrained into us as consumers that airlines know that, by raising the price of fare, they can pressure you into buying. It’s a crass sales tactic that works, mostly because it’s difficult to understand exactly how airline pricing even works.

Instead of Paying Up, Play Smart

Until this practice is discontinued, the best way to protect yourself against unfair pricing is simply to give the airlines neither inches no miles in regards to your browsing history. If you want to get the real price as it should be, there’s a few things you can do:

  • Delete all your internet cookies before and after searching for fares. This can be time consuming, even for the internet savvy.
  • Disable cookies on airline sites. Some browsers let you disable cookies for particular sites, while some allow you to disable cookies entirely.
  • Browse in Incognito Mode in Google Chrome. Also known as Private Browsing in Firefox. Sadly, Internet Explorer is trapped in the 1990s and offers no such option.

While this may not be a traditional scam, we feel that the interests of consumers is not to be cheated or lied to. This type of practice unfairly charges consumers for using or overusing a service, and thus we deem it something to be concerned about. Your browsing history should not affect what you pay, so don’t let the airlines charge you for it.

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