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I'm looking for tickets in despegar.com (a travel website for the American continent) and found out that a flight for just one person was about USD $350 incluiding all taxes, and I did the exact same search but instead of 1 person I chose 2 and the price for both tickets was USD $1200 (USD $600 each).

I thought this could be an error in the website, so I tried diferent dates and destinations getting the similar results.

Therefore I'm wondering if it is cheaper to buy airline tickets separately?

PS: The market price for the ticket I mentioned in the above example is about USD $600, so I'd love to take advantage of the USD $350 deal, but I'm afraid I might not find another ticket for my partner in the same flight.

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Please add more details about which airline, what date. That would help other people look up details. –  Ankur Banerjee Nov 16 '11 at 20:51
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Hmm more details could also risk it becoming too narrow and some SE staff have recently closed some questions for that reason. I think cch is asking more about ticket buying tactics generally than asking us to find a cheap ticket on their behalf. –  hippietrail Nov 16 '11 at 20:59
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Thanks for your comment. I gave the example in order to ilustrate my point, I don't need people looking for the same flight or best deals for me. It just happened and I have the curiosity of knowing if is more expensive to buy airline tickets together than separate? And if something similar happened to other people maybe gain more insight in how websites that guarantee best flight deals works, etc. –  cch Nov 16 '11 at 21:01

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

In general you shouldn't see what you're seeing here - especially for multiple dates, which makes me think that it's possibly either a website error, or a scam of some form.

Airlines do have multiple prices for each flight, and a limited number of seats available in each class. ie, one specific flight might have 5 seats available for $100, another 10 seats for $200, another 10 for $400, and the remaining seats for $600. The earlier you book, the better your chances of getting the lower fares. Over time they may change the number of seats in each class - such as if the flight has a lot of free seats and they aren't selling at the top prices they might move them back down to the lower levels.*

If it happens that there's exactly 1 seat left at a particular price, and you try and buy 2 seats, most travel websites will bump BOTH tickets up to the higher price. So based on what you're seeing it's possible that there's only 1 seat left at $350, and trying to get 2 bumps you up to the $600 price. However the odds of that being the case on multiple dates is low.

In general the cheapest place to buy airfares within the US is the airline itself. If you check there do you see the same low price you're seeing on despegar.com?

*This is an oversimplification of how things actually work, but it's close enough for you to get the idea. Google for airline inventory management for more details.

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I was just about to answer the same thing! See travel.stackexchange.com/questions/2952/… for more on fare classes. I suspect there is just one ticket left in a cheap class. It might even all be the same flight, for sale on multiple code shares. –  Kate Gregory Nov 17 '11 at 13:07
    
Awesome! I think that what you described in the 3rd paragraph is what's going on. I bought the $350 ticket and now I'm looking for another one in the same flight and the price is a little above $600 so at the end I will save about $200 which is nice! –  cch Nov 17 '11 at 13:32

Short answer: Sometimes.

Long answer: it depends on a LOT of factors - the airline, their policy, whether it's over international or continental borders, whether you're using an agency or website that has access to certain TYPES of tickets (even in economy class there are several categories that they sell). It's frustrating.

When I'm searching, I open up three windows on kayak and start searching as such:

  1. Return flights from A to B, using flexible search
  2. One way flights from A to B, using flexible search
  3. One way flights back from B to A, using flexible search

and then compare and contrast the results to see what benefits I get.

If it's long-haul, I'll sometimes expand to 6 or 9 windows, and use different intermediate points, eg from London to Auckland, I could try searching flights starting in London and ending in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Dubai or Singapore, and then flights from those to Auckland.

Messy, isn't it? ;) But I've saved sooo much using this strategy.

EDIT

As for your worry about whether your partner will get on the same flight, kayak shows you how many seats remain at that price, so that shouldn't be a problem...

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I beg to differ. I truly believe the servers at airlines, trains, even buses, have algorithms that follow your IP address and your search patterns. They also see if you are checking the same flight, so they increase the price on each search, to make you panic. (This should be illegal, but it is not). I militantly check flight prices and found when I see 2 tickets at a higher price do the following:

1) Shut Down and restart the machine. 2) Shut your modem for 2 minutes so a new IP is issued 3) In your browser: Clear all cookies, clear all scripts. Clear all cache. 4) Now search for 1 TICKET (The lower price) - BUY IT. Make sure you make no mistakes. 5) Then try to purchase a second ticket. 8 times out of ten their systems recognize you are trying now to buy a second ticket, so they try to jack you for the higher price. If the price is higher.....start with #1-#5 again.

If the price is still high. Wait a day and buy the second ticket. Its long enough to clear their systems, and you are seen to the computer as a new buyer. I've saved thousands of dollars this way.

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I can guarantee you that airlines do not do this - at least not deliberately (I can't comment on website bugs/etc). It's certainly possible that some third party bookings sites play games like this, but I've yet to see any proof of that. –  Doc Aug 19 '12 at 5:49
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This has been debunked at Skeptics Stack Exchange: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/9597/… –  Andrew Grimm Aug 19 '12 at 8:33
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Invisble Hand tested this claim by running 52 flight searches in Firefox and Chrome over 2 days, with cookies being consistently cleaned from Chrome but not from Firefox. The conclusion they reached was: “If the price manipulation allegations were true, we would have expected to see price discrepancies in the results between Firefox and Chrome on day two. What we actually saw were exactly the same prices on both browsers.” –  Mark Mayo Aug 19 '12 at 19:57
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Well if the sites are tracking IP addresses they don't also need cookies, they can do all the tracking on the server. Not saying they do, just that this test alone isn't sufficient to rule it out. –  hippietrail Aug 19 '12 at 20:09
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Why all the down votes? This kind of thing does happen... Orbitz was busted just recently for doing it with hotel bookings. It makes perfect sense for these companies to be practising price discriminations in anyway they can. (Well.. financially, maybe not ethically.) –  Molomby Sep 26 '12 at 8:35

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