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Use NordVPN to get cheaper tickets on KAYAK?

In a Youtube video by ADVChina, the speaker is recommending using a VPN in China for various reasons, and to sign up using his referral code.

He says there are various practical uses including "You could also go and get cheaper plane tickets by hopping around different countries." and shows a screenshot of a flight website called KAYAK, with the VPN software changing his country to Italy.

Is it possible to get cheaper plane tickets by using a VPN in this way? I've never heard of KAYAK, but if I use something like Skyscanner, is it common for tickets to be priced differently depending on which country the user's IP is from?

Is it because of different taxes in different countries? So could it be illegal to get discounts like this? Or is there some pricing strategy from airlines to charge different amounts depending on the country of purchase?

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Curious, as I run a flight deals site (Beat That Flight) for Australians, I thought I'd give it a try.

For sanity, I tried a simple American search, from SFO to LAX, always on the same day. All queries run within seconds of each other.

(you can try it too )

Without setting a proxy:

enter image description here

Cookies cleared:

enter image description here

Different browser:

enter image description here

I'm in Australia, so I ran a VPN via the UK and loaded it:

enter image description here

Then since it's a US flight, I tried loading via a US VPN:

enter image description here

Every time, same flights, same price.

Points to note: - I don't intentionally tweak prices based on peoples' searching. However, it's been noted before - Orbitz changes hotel orders, showing higher priced ones first, if you're on a Mac.

  • I've only shown one sample flight, so you have no reason to believe that I wouldn't just show you the most convenient flight that looks good. But you can try for other flights :)
  • It's likely not taxes, etc, and when I used to flight hunt for a company, I'd see people find deals on Brazilian sites and all sorts of weird and wacky ways. It's online. You're just visiting their website and buying a ticket. As long as they pay their taxes, they're agreeing to sell to you.

I've also read the countless stories about clearing cookies, trying private browsing and so on. And perhaps it might make a difference on some site. But certainly not every site. And certainly not on BeatThatFlight without my knowledge :)

  • Orbitz does not charge Mac users higher prices. Orbits shows Mac users more expensive hotels first, but charges them the same. – George Y. Jan 1 at 5:53
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    @GeorgeY. I didn't say charge, I said change, but I can see the confusion. I'll tweak the wording. – Mark Mayo Supports Monica Jan 1 at 8:13
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    Previously, I've heard of this on international flights, particularly when dealing with different currencies, etc. Could you rerun your tests with an international flight? I just ran into something similar--needed to buy extra bags for someone. On the US website, price was USD150. The originating flight was from J'burg so I ended up paying USD156 because of the exchange from ZAR. (This was on return leg from LAX to J'burg.) – mkennedy Jan 1 at 17:55
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    Mark, I wouldn't expect this to make any difference in domestic flight prices within one country. My expectation was that it would work sometimes for international flights. Perhaps related to how the price to fly from Japan to Australia might cost a lot less than the flight from Australia to Japan for the same dates on the same airline. Or perhaps for other international reasons... – hippietrail Jan 3 at 1:22
  • This doesn't seem like a good test. Domestic flights are likely to be the same cost anywhere, since there's only one tax regime involved and it doesn't change. Also, the fact that you're asking for prices in Australian dollars might be telling the site to give you "the Australian price" regardless of what your IP address suggests. – David Richerby Jan 15 at 16:03
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Search engines like Kayak do not store the airline prices locally, they query them from GDS. I'm not an expert here, but from my limited understanding how the airline GDS works I do not see how one can pass the originator's IP address into the GDS query. And while they can their own surcharge on top of airline tickets, it would be totally obvious for anyone who compares the prices with the airline website, so it makes little practical sense.

Where this could work is the airline's own website, which may decide to show the unpublished (lower) fares only to the website visitors. This was (maybe still is) the case with Vietnam Airlines, which used to publish to GDS only Y class (most expensive and flexible) fares for domestic flights, while keeping other cheaper (and more restrictive) classes only available on their website. However they did not impose any IP limits, anyone who went to their website and chose "Vietnam" as the country could see them.

This was also the case in India and Bhutan. However in those countries the lower fares also required you to be the SAARC citizen, and they warn that they check it. Again, this doesn't require a VPN.

I have not yet seen the case where VPN was needed for this. Most likely its just the advertising.

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    Ticketing has a concept of "sales city". Availability of seats on a flight is a function of sales city. For example, flight AA 100 from JFK to LHR on some date may have 7 seats in discount economy N class if you view from a sales office in Paris, but zero seats in N class if you view the same flight from a sales office in Sydney. Therefore you would have to buy a more expensive fare to buy a seat on that plane in Sydney compared to in Paris. When you buy a ticket online, some choice of sales city is made; it could be done theoretically by IP address (but I don't think anyone does). – Calchas Jan 1 at 16:28
  • Let me clarify my previous comment; I'm sure many travel agents and airlines use the customer's IP address to redirect her to a country-local site, and that will be evident from branding and the currency in which the prices are displayed. But I don't think anyone does it secretly and then recalculates the final price in the originally-requested currency. (The location of the sales city also determines the place where the contract is formed for consumer law, so it is bit more nuanced than just presenting the user with some prices.) – Calchas Jan 1 at 16:32
  • @Calchas I see how this makes sense for brick-and-mortar travel agencies, but I don't see how Kayak/Expedia can pass the "sales city", and what exactly they'd pass there. Especially considering the multiple layers of CDNs used. – George Y. Jan 1 at 22:56
  • @Calchas is the travel agency required to pass anything meaningless/correct as a "sales city", i.e. can Sydney office issue a ticket using Paris as "sales city"? – George Y. Jan 1 at 22:57
  • It doesn't matter if it makes sense, ticketing technology still assumes brick-and-mortal travel agents. ;) So typically an airline website will pick the origin city of the journey as the sales city. expedia uses the domain name as its sales city (so expedia.co.uk uses London; expedia.com.hk uses Hong Kong; et c.). It's certainly possible to arbitrage this if you know what you're doing. Most travel brick-and-mortal agents can impersonate a different sales office within a geographical region, or when selling to certain clients. It's up to their agency contract with the airline in question. – Calchas Jan 4 at 14:07
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Yes, there are differences, but not always, and most are small.
I see typically 1-3%; that are probably only exchange rate changes. Consider an airline offering a flight from Euro-Europe to the US - if you are in Europe, the price would show in Euro; if you are in the US, it shows in $. Small changes in the exchange ratio would result in small differences in the effective price you pay, as the airline doesn't redefine the prices for each currency every day.

There are rarer cases where the differences are much larger, especially for flights in 'poorer' countries. Try to search for example a flight from Lima to Cusco, or Delhi to Mumbai, on an american booking site, and compare with the local airlines website through VPN (you must use the local language version of each the website). You will see sometimes 20 to 50% differences (Note that there are special prices for locals too, which you are not allowed to fly; that's not what I mean).

Example:
DEL-BOM, if bought in Delhi, India (5154 INR are right now 73.63 USD, 18.3% less than 87.10 USD): DEL-BOM if bought in Delhi DEL-BOM, if bought in New York, NY, USA: DEL-BOM, bought in New York, NY, USA

  • I have seen those differences while being in India (so no VPN needed), and compared with access through US VPN. You can use ITA to find the prices for each 'sales city'; although you need that VPN (or a friend on that place) to buy the tickets. I'll try to add those two screenshots. – Aganju Jan 2 at 23:08
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I've not tried the VPN trick, but I always check European AND US sites as sometimes (although rarely) the price differences are significant. For example, I check the same flights on Expedia.com and Expedia.nl. When I have seen price differences, my feeling was that the flights were filling up and different fare classes were being seen by the different versions of the site. I'm not sure how different this phenomenon is from different sites sometimes finding a slightly better route that others don't find.

I have successfully booked and flown on the cheaper version of the flight. One example I recall was a flight from Europe booked via the US Expedia site being cheaper than any European site, including Expedia.nl. This has been some years ago at this point though.

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