Does searching for travel in incognito mode prevent airlines (and other travel providers) from jacking up prices?

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Nov 5, 2019
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#1
I'd like to confirm whether it's true that airfares know when you've been researching flights online and then jack up prices shown?

Can you confirm:
1. Is it real that one's online airfare searches are tracked and that - knowing of your interest - airlines and/or travel sites jack up prices when they know of your interest? Is it the travel site or the airline or both that are manipulating prices to scare you into booking rather than risk further fare hikes?

2. Is searching using incognito mode or other private browser the best and/or only way to prevent airfares being manipulated to adjust higher upon show of interest?

3. Do other travel sites (e.g. hotel booking sites) also track your interest and increase rates if/when they know you've been researching options?

4. If one mistakenly forgets to research airfares on a site without being in incognito mode, is there a certain period of time after which the price reverts to the "regular" fare?

This all goes counter to thinking that airlines would want to reward travelers for considering their airline rather than make them unknowingly pay more.

Thank you.
 

Neil Maley

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Dec 27, 2014
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#2
No. Air pricing is dynamic- it changes constantly as people are purchasing tickets.

Pricing for air often goes higher when a weekend is coming up and then can drop on a Tuesday and hi back up Thursday night.

How many times have you looked at the price of a ticket and see “only 3 seats left at this price?” That’s because the seats are selling.

We haven’t found pricing change if we clear our browser history and then check pricing again. Same for hotels.

This article might help;

https://www.google.com/amp/s/time.com/4899508/flight-search-history-price/?amp=true
 

Barry Graham

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Jan 7, 2015
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#3
If the airlines were going to change prices because you were price shopping, they could use your IP address so being incognito wouldn't help. That being said, it would make no sense to increase prices on a product you know people are interested in buying. Let's use an analogy. You're in a store looking at goods. There is an employee whose job it is to walk round increasing prices on every item being looked at "Excuse me madam, are you thinking of buying this lovely $100 coat?". *Yes". "Fantastic. It's now $200. Can I carry it to the checkout for you?"
 
Dec 12, 2014
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#4
From a technical perspective, the cookies include what origins, destinations and travel dates you searched, so to make sure the site doesn't remember you. Searching incognito should delete the cookies once you close the browser.
 
Likes: FrankL183

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
20,745
20,324
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New York
www.promalvacations.com
#5
If the airlines were going to change prices because you were price shopping, they could use your IP address so being incognito wouldn't help. That being said, it would make no sense to increase prices on a product you know people are interested in buying. Let's use an analogy. You're in a store looking at goods. There is an employee whose job it is to walk round increasing prices on every item being looked at "Excuse me madam, are you thinking of buying this lovely $100 coat?". *Yes". "Fantastic. It's now $200. Can I carry it to the checkout for you?"
Well this actually can happen as seats book up on flights. It just has nothing to do with your browser- it has to do with others buying seats while you are making a decision.
 
Sep 27, 2018
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#7
We do it because we have seen enough coincidences in doing searches of not being able to find the same price even minutes apart. We have had situations where one of us searches for flights and does everything but hit the buy button and calls the other spouse who goes in a few minutes later who cannot find the same prices. My guess is that the computer has already taken those seats out of inventory thinking that they are about to be sold. Since I have used incognito and done the same, except now I snip the itinerary details then log out, my wife can go back in from her computer and find the same prices. She does most of the buying because she is better at watching out for details.
 
Likes: VoR61
May 30, 2019
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#8
We do it because we have seen enough coincidences in doing searches of not being able to find the same price even minutes apart. We have had situations where one of us searches for flights and does everything but hit the buy button and calls the other spouse who goes in a few minutes later who cannot find the same prices. My guess is that the computer has already taken those seats out of inventory thinking that they are about to be sold. Since I have used incognito and done the same, except now I snip the itinerary details then log out, my wife can go back in from her computer and find the same prices. She does most of the buying because she is better at watching out for details.
Yes. If you go through the sales process to purchase a flight ticket, i.e. select a seat, even though you have not yet purchased it, US airlines will hold it and reduce its inventory even though it is not yet sold. If you abort the sales process, it will take time for the airline to return that seat to inventory.

To the OP: US-based airlines and travel agencies will track your online activity and use that for advertising purposes but not increasing airfare. For example, you may see adds for travel to the city of your interest or get an email from the airline along the lines of 'Are you ready to book your trip to <city>?'
 

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
20,745
20,324
113
New York
www.promalvacations.com
#9
We do it because we have seen enough coincidences in doing searches of not being able to find the same price even minutes apart. We have had situations where one of us searches for flights and does everything but hit the buy button and calls the other spouse who goes in a few minutes later who cannot find the same prices. My guess is that the computer has already taken those seats out of inventory thinking that they are about to be sold. Since I have used incognito and done the same, except now I snip the itinerary details then log out, my wife can go back in from her computer and find the same prices. She does most of the buying because she is better at watching out for details.
That’s exactly what happens. Once those seats are held until the “res” times out, the seats appear to be booked.
 
May 30, 2019
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#11
The article & source study offered some evidence of coincidence but not causality involving use of 3rd party sites but not the airlines directly. It suggested that charges through Orbitz may be higher & google lower. Well, Orbitz can charge reservations fees that are sometimes hidden, google sometimes has slightly lower pricing info, Kayak is pulling data at a different speed compared to Expedia, etc. Some of these could have to do with nuances of timing of retrieval of data.

I believe this statement from to be apt:
“Cookies or no cookies, it is impossible for us to show different prices to different users,” a Kayak spokesman told us when we reported our findings. He suggested that a difference of even a few seconds on simultaneous searches may have affected our results.
Here's my simple trick: When booking your own flights, don't go through an OTA -- book directly with the airline. You'll get the best price available at that moment and have more accountability & communication if the flight changes. Use google flights for research of options, pick your flight, then on your own go to the airlines' website.
 
Jun 24, 2019
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#12
A few years back I was booking a round trip on Delta. As I got close, the system prompted me to choose my seat. I did so and then when I tried to pay, I got a note that the price was no longer available. Two more failures (same facts) and then a call to Delta. The agent suggested I buy the ticket first, and then go back and choose my seat later. Worked. Apparently, my reservation and seat selection affected the algorithm. That puts the "dynamic" into dynamic pricing.
 
Likes: FrankL183

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
20,745
20,324
113
New York
www.promalvacations.com
#13
The article & source study offered some evidence of coincidence but not causality involving use of 3rd party sites but not the airlines directly. It suggested that charges through Orbitz may be higher & google lower. Well, Orbitz can charge reservations fees that are sometimes hidden, google sometimes has slightly lower pricing info, Kayak is pulling data at a different speed compared to Expedia, etc. Some of these could have to do with nuances of timing of retrieval of data.

I believe this statement from to be apt:

Here's my simple trick: When booking your own flights, don't go through an OTA -- book directly with the airline. You'll get the best price available at that moment and have more accountability & communication if the flight changes. Use google flights for research of options, pick your flight, then on your own go to the airlines' website.
And often when using Google flights, I’ve found that when you actually go to book, the prices don’t exist. You advice is spot on about going directly to the airline.
 
Feb 11, 2018
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#14
The article & source study offered some evidence of coincidence but not causality involving use of 3rd party sites but not the airlines directly. It suggested that charges through Orbitz may be higher & google lower. Well, Orbitz can charge reservations fees that are sometimes hidden, google sometimes has slightly lower pricing info, Kayak is pulling data at a different speed compared to Expedia, etc. Some of these could have to do with nuances of timing of retrieval of data.

I believe this statement from to be apt:

Here's my simple trick: When booking your own flights, don't go through an OTA -- book directly with the airline. You'll get the best price available at that moment and have more accountability & communication if the flight changes. Use google flights for research of options, pick your flight, then on your own go to the airlines' website.
Excellent advice about booking directly. How many times have we seen the impenetrable web of non-accountability and finger-pointing when a traveler has booked through a third party and encounters a problem?