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Example https://www.momondo.de/flight-search/BOS-MAD/2021-06-26/2021-07-02/business?sort=bestflight_a

Boston <-> Madrid, business, Jun 26 to Jul 2. On Momondo.de this yields a few budget OTAs (Online Travel Agency) for as low as $603. Price on TAP Portugal (the airline) is close to $2600. So the OTA price is less than a quarter of the airline price.

I'm aware that some OTAs can be shady or even outright scammers, but I found this fare to be bookable on some of the better ones, for example Priceline. I had good experience with Priceline before: In fact, they provided a much better Covid refund experience than, for example, Air France did.

What's also weird about this one is that it sometimes doesn't show up at all and I have to repeat the same search. Also the cast of OTAs seems to vary and also the price seems to fluctuate a bit from search to search.

These fares do not show up on ITA Matrix. On skyscanner it does show up but only with an outfit named gate1.nl which I have never heard of.

Specific questions:

  1. What can I do to determine whether this is a real deal or not?
  2. Why do price, OTAs and overall availability fluctuate from search to search ?
  3. How is it possible that on OTA can offer the same flight at a quarter of the price?

So if anyone has an idea what's going on here, I'd be interested to learn more.

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  • Theres an excellent post somewhere in Travel SE which goes into huge depth on how airline ticketing and pricing works - I feel that even if it doesnt outright answer your own question, you would do well to read it. Just have to find it now 😔 – Moo Jan 9 at 20:17
  • With airline pricing I thought the standard answer was "because they can", in this case meaning that TAP is able to get away with 4x what the OTAs are charging, and not that the OTAs are charging 25% of actual cost. – Peter M Jan 9 at 23:31
  • 2
    Does this answer your question? How do travel sites get cheaper air fares? – Michael Hampton Jan 10 at 0:49
  • I am seeing $600 on Matrix, so possibly just a temporary data flow issue? – waiwai933 Jan 10 at 12:10
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    Airlines sell fares through a number of channels. Some fares are sold only through certain travel agents, often corporate agents who get a rebate if they sell a certain volume. These are called corporate fares. This makes it reasonable in some circumstances to sell off unsold inventory at low prices to meet the threshold for a rebate. However the airline does not allow them to sell the inventory too publicly, since it will interfere in their own demand management. ITA only searches public fares. Availability information is cached because each look up is expensive. Caches go stale fast. – Calchas Jan 10 at 20:39
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It's showing as $1905 for me now.

I run an OTA (Beat That Flight) and play with dates/prices a lot. Sometimes you get error fares where an OTA or provider genuinely has the wrong price (They've often forgotten fuel costs or tax or conversions). There are whole sites dedicated to finding these as they tend to not last long.

In that case, it was either an error fare, or a timing issue. Often you have to click through to the actual sales page and it'll say 'oops, that price has expired, it's now X'.

Interestingly, Beat That Flight is showing me $2141 for that route (USD) with Lufthansa. Every route varies!

For your other parts, my data provider also takes a cut. Somewhere along the line, either someone is taking a loss, maybe to get themselves out there, or to promote a deal (Eg $1 seats, but only 2-3 of them on a flight). In Australia, for example, my site almost always has 1-5 dollars off Jetstar flights, and always used to show cheaper prices than TigerAir, finding them on other providers. It's an insanely complex industry, price wise. From this page:

"Each day an airline is constantly making changes to their fares and rules. There are millions of fare and rule changes made each day. Approximately 90% of worldwide commercial airfare is distributed through a clearinghouse in Washington, D.C. called ATPCO (Airline Tariff Publishing Company). ATPCO is owned by over 20 airlines and holds and distributes (to a select few subscribers) airfares for over 500 airlines worldwide. "Airlines participate in ATPCO to have a common format and distribution point for their airfares. Tickets are sold for a given airline through a variety of distribution channels including airline websites and call centers, travel agencies (leisure/business/online/offline), packaging and tour operators, airline partners, affinity group agencies (students, missionaries, alliances),and consolidators. Tickets for a given airline may be sold by thousands of different travel companies worldwide. Millions of fare and rule changes are made each day. Hundreds of thousands of fare price and rule changes flow continuously into ATPCO each day.In turn,fares are distributed at specified times later the same day to a handful of subscribers worldwide that then provide the data to reservation systems,including the airlines themselves. Once distributed, each vendor updates databases at different intervals:2-4 hours for domestic fares, and 4-8 hours for international fares.The domestic 8 PM airfare feed is not loaded until after midnight on reservation systems. This explains why fares may vary by website and are not always consistent across the board."

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