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I'm looking for a flight from Cape Town (CPT) to Atlanta (ATL), and I see some I like on both Matrix Airfare Search and Orbitz (thanks to answers on my other question:

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But when I try to book the flight on Orbitz, I'm told the flight is no longer available:

enter image description here

I would assume this means the last flight at that price was just recently booked, and I'm out of luck.

Immediately after selecting a flight, and being shown the yellow banner above, if I do another identical search, the missing flight is removed from the list.

If I come back an hour later (as confirmed just now, for the flight above), the phantom flight has returned. I have experienced this behavior consistently now over the last week or more.

It's not just a problem with a single airline, either. When I'm returned to the list of results at Orbitz, the top 4-6 cheapest flights do the same thing, from a variety of airlines. And it happens on all dates (I've tried Dec 2013, Jan 2014 and even as far out as March 2014).

What gives? Where are these phantom flights?

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Try a different booking website, such as Kayak.com –  JonathanReez Nov 21 '13 at 15:44
    
@JonathanReez: Oh, I have. I have only been able to find the particular flights on Matrix and Orbitz. I take this to mean the flight isn't really available; but I still want to know why Orbitz (and Matrix) continue to show this phantom data. –  Flimzy Nov 21 '13 at 15:45

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Here is why:

  1. Orbitz fetch and cache flights data, this data is from various major GDSs.
  2. You search and Orbitz show the low price ticket.
  3. When you try to book it, Orbitz tries to confirm the seat with the airline, but the airline refuses it because it is already booked but the cache in Orbitz is not updated.
  4. Orbitz delete this single flight from the cache, to avoid the sold out price from showing.
  5. Orbitz, at certain interval, updates their cache from the GDSs. But guess what! one of the GDSs itself is not updated yet. So the flight shows again in orbitz.
  6. Go to 1
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Adding on to HaLaBi's comments. I see that as the only possible reason. A parallel to this scenario would be booking movie tickets. Imagine only 5 tickets are available/left for a show and say 20 people are at that moment online trying to book a ticket each. Now the system has to be able to sell to at least 5 of those customers, the other 15 will be shown a sorry message. But which 5 of these 20 customers will be sold a ticket ? It all depends on which level the website decides to apply the lock on. Some websites will give you one minute to complete the transaction (mostly when you are selecting a seat as a part of the booking process), others may wait for ever and lock the transaction only when you are at the payment page. Some websites wont bother as they are just acting as an interface between the customer and the theater's website/API and it is the theaters website which will ensure a valid ticket is sold.

Travel websites inherently have to give you a longer window (time required to enter passenger details/use a profile) before you hit the 'pay money' button.I don't work with Orbitz, so I dont know at which level this lock is applied. As you can see there are only 5 tickets left from the flight you want to select. The only reason I see is multiple people trying to go for those seats. A few things I suggest : Try using the innuendo mode of your browser and see what happens. If not, how about making an itinerary at Qatar's website ? HTH.

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This simply does not explain my experience--for the same reasons I explained that HaLaBi's comments don't explain it. –  Flimzy Nov 21 '13 at 16:36
1  
'continue for 2 weeks, or for flights 3 months into the future ' How are you sure that whenever you are trying for those specific dates, other people aren't trying for the same ? –  happybuddha Nov 21 '13 at 16:37
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Because 100% of the flights wouldn't then show up again. For your answer to make sense, then every cheap flight from CPT to ATL would have to be booked and canceled repeatedly, all day long, for the last 2 weeks, and for multiple seats (notice the screen shot above says 5 seats are available). It's possible that's happening, but so unlikely as to be considered impossible. –  Flimzy Nov 21 '13 at 16:38
    
It doesnt have to be booked and canceled repeatedly. What I am saying in my answer is dependent upon what orbitz' system considers a lock on a seat. –  happybuddha Nov 21 '13 at 20:52
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Yes, I addressed that in one of my comments on the question (now deleted). Even if the ticket isn't fully booked, but simply "held" (or "locked"), that still is dependent upon activity which is practically impossible: Other customers selecting (or even looking at) the same flight, always within a sufficiently small time frame before me, and never at other times. –  Flimzy Nov 21 '13 at 21:37

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