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I stumbled across a discussion yesterday where industry insiders share tips relating to their respective fields. Someone who works in e-commerce stated :

"When purchasing items on the internet (especially airline tickets), use incognito mode on your browser. We use your own cookies against you: raising the price on tickets the more times you check, as you shop around for better deals. That way you'll think the price is going up or that seats are being actively sold - thus increasing your urgency to buy, and punishing you for trying to get a good deal."

and

"The point is that it's not enough to just shop around to different websites on your own computer anymore. You have to shop around with a clean browser, different browsers, different computers, change of IP, maybe try from work then RDP to your home computer or somebody on the other side of the country, etc. Also, always call the airline directly and check on the price - sometimes it's much cheaper."

Do these tactics indeed work when purchasing tickets online?

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Related Skeptics Stack Exchange question: Do Ryanair use cookies to raise the price of their tickets after you have visited the site before? (Answer: no, they don't do that) –  Andrew Grimm Apr 17 '13 at 3:25
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As far as I know that has been tried but apparently, generally, companies gave up on that (these things are cyclic, I would not be surprised to hear that is happening again). Currently the problems out weight the advantages. For instance: depending on the business it's not clear that if a person visits a website twice he/she is willing to pay more. A visitor can just be looking for a bargain and give up on the buy or choose a concurrent product. –  nsn Apr 17 '13 at 7:17
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You can try it easily. Just open a flight website twice (with a few hours of interval), and ask a friend that never did that to do the same at his place, at the same hour the second time. You can also simulate "a friend" testing with a different browser but you will have the same IP address. Be carefull not to open the website too many times. A new effect can happen. If a flight has a lot of interest, specially if you take the reservation process a few steps further, prices can also raise for that (it's the law of the market, the fewer sits, more valuable they are). –  nsn Apr 17 '13 at 7:26
    
I haven't done any testing myself yet, however a lot of people in the thread I linked to claim to have seen price differences after using the techniques above. This is recent testing too, over the past few days. –  Marcus Gorillius Apr 17 '13 at 10:04
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@HamletWong Did you try doing the same search in Incognito mode and did it return the previous, lower price? Just because the price went up coincidentally when you were about to book doesn't mean something nefarious is happening; seats on a flight are a limited resource and they do sell out. Also, the price may appear to fluctuate if someone is part way through booking a seat (placing a hold on it and making it unavailable) and then cancels. –  Sam Jan 9 at 20:22
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2 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Yes, these tactics do work. I have experienced, for example, the rising price effect when refreshing a browser window with an itinerary already listed. After the refresh, the price has increased. I opened another browser (Chrome), did the same search and the price was the initial lower price. I refreshed, and the price went up to match that of the original browser (Safari).

If I searched a site or airline site located in a specific country from another country, the price was higher. If I used my VPN to appear as though I am in the country, the price was lower.

This has occurred on Airline specific sites, like AA.com, aircanada.com, flychinaeastern.com, airasia.com, etc., as well as search engines like vayama.com, hipmunk.com. If the price itself hasn't gone up, what happens is that the seat I was looking at supposedly sold out, so I had to look for a different seat, or date. But as I said, doing the same search with a different browser would always return that initial lower price.

That said, this is a lot of rigamarole to go through, and most prices increases were only a couple hundred dollars. If you consider that you might spend several days doing this, you will experience a genuine price increase of more than a couple hundred dollars related to how close you are to the departure date.

I fly several times a year and this always occurs. Of course, my itinerary doesn't change much so I recognize a good deal when it pops up, and just buy it rather than do all the above.

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The skeptics.se answer to a similar question points out that it did occur but by accident. The answer is pretty specific. Your answer however is a bit broad covering multiple sites, travels and companies. Could you maybe provide a proof of named price increases? A screenshot for example? I think this would greatly improve your answer and credibility. –  Bart Arondson May 23 '13 at 22:57
    
@BartArondson, I see your point. Unfortunately I did not take screenshots as I was trying to buy tickets! The answer you refer to specifically targeted Ryan Air by a site which states they run these tests, which raises the question of what info was visible for Ryan Air to not raise prices? I noted the variety of sites, travels and companies I encountered to highlight that this wasn't a glitch on one company's site, nor confined to a short period. I should have added that this price increase didn't always occur. I am not due for a trip for some time so further proof will be delayed. Thanks. –  Shane May 25 '13 at 11:36
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The French administration in charge of enforcing trade and advertisement regulations (DGCCRF) and the observatory of data privacy (CNIL) held an investigation on IP tracking on an unspecified set of vendors of train and flight tickets operating in France. Their conclusion was that they could not find any evidence that prices would rise when you check the same site multiple times.

They did however find evidence that prices would sometimes depend on what other sites you had visited before. In particular, if you visited a price comparison site, you are more likely to be offered a cheaper advertised price but with higher fees added when ordering the ticket.

Additionally the price of a ticket depends, sometimes openly (if you dive into the small print), on the time at which you buy the ticket — it seems that booking at 4am is cheaper than booking at 11pm.

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4am / 11pm Paris time? –  hippietrail Feb 5 at 4:45
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@hippietrail I didn't find whether it was server time or browser time, but presumably it was Paris time when using the site in French. –  Gilles Feb 5 at 9:41
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