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Beat the Airlines: Get Cheaper Flights with this Trick

Posted in: Expat Hacks

airlines-cheaper-flightsThe airlines are playing a game.

An unfair one.

And it all comes down to cookies.

How The Airlines Use Cookies To Charge You More

All online businesses have tools in place to offer you a better experience.

They use a small file (called a “cookie”) to manage the items in your shopping cart, personalize your experience by offering relevant content, and track the pages visited over a period of time. What is a cookie? A cookie is a small file that is downloaded from a site when you visit it and is stored in your browser while on that specific site. They are also known as an HTTP cookie, browser cookie, or web cookie.

Generally speaking, this isn’t a big deal. The cookies actually improve your experience on the site. Prices on most sites are static – they won’t change regardless of how often you check them.

But airfare is different.

How Airlines Abuse Your Search History

When you search a specific route, the cookie stores the details. It also remembers the dates and number of passengers. What this means is that their server can see if a specific route is in high demand (by you). When something is in demand, the price will increase.

We’ve run tests on tickets that we eventually purchased and it remained true almost each time:

Ticket Warning: The more you search a route, the more the price increases.

Don’t let ticket prices keep you from traveling.

Airline Abuse Case Study

The last time we flew from Cuenca to Miami we casually checked flights over a period of a few days. They started out at around USD$590 each. When we were ready to book, the prices had increased to over USD$740 each. We had been checking them on the same computer. So we turned on another computer, cleared the internet history (including cookies) and searched the same route. With all the same details it came out $150 less at $590/ticket. I was happy – and shocked. The difference was $450+ for all three tickets. And the only difference was that we searched on a different computer – preventing the travel site from knowing our search history.

What if I’m not logged in? If you have an account with any of the airlines or travel sites, they also track your details. In fact, you will probably get emails for weeks suggesting dates and routes to the destination you recently searched. Almost everything is tracked online. Even if you are not logged in, the cookie stored on your computer will tell the site the routes, dates and frequency that you have been searching.

How To Pay Less For Every Ticket

It is always worth checking rates on a new device (with cookies cleared, and not logged into your travel site account) to see what happens with the rates.

We’ve found that often the price is less on a fresh computer. It seem that they incrementally increase the price on routes frequently checked on the same computer.

How to get rid of cookies: each browser has the ability to remove some or all internet history. Check this great post on PCWorld about deleting cookies.

airlines-cheaper-flights

3 Ways to Beat The Airlines (Get Cheaper Flights)

There are 3 ways to kill the cookies so you can get a normal flight price.

  1. Clear internet history: From what we’ve seen, this only has to be done on a specific browser – not for your whole system. All you need to do is delete the cookies downloaded from a specific site inside of a certain browser.
  2. Use a fresh computer: This accomplishes the same as the first option. Just start fresh without any traceable search history.
  3. Use an “incognito window” in Chrome: I haven’t used this before, but I read that it does the same thing. Google describes this as a way to prevent Chrome “from recording or downloading what you visit”.

What’s the point of all of this? The goal is to make the airline think that you are just starting your search. And that they need to give you their best rate.

Our 4 Favorite Sites For Cheap Flights

These are the sites that we have used for many years for all our travels. While prices seldom differ between Orbitz and Expedia they will sometimes differ in their flight schedules.

  1. Orbitz: This is my go-to travel site. I love the flexible dates option that shows a price grid for three days before and after your target dates. I also like the discounts offered for flight/hotel packages.
  2. Kayak: They have a great search feature – their Android app is the best that I’ve used. They have a great resource for baggage fees and airport info – all inside of their app.
  3. Expedia: This used to be my favorite but Orbitz just works better. To compare, I always check schedules on Expedia to see if there is a better route available.
  4. Google flights: This one is pretty new to me – but it seems very good for finding the best schedule for travel. And it’s addictive!

Update: A number of readers have recommended CheapOair. While we haven’t bought from them, we have used their search feature in the past. It’s a good idea to check routes and schedules on a few different sites.

Your Turn

What do you do to get the lowest airfare? Have you played the cookie game with the airlines? Please share your tips and comments below.

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is editor of GringosAbroad - one of the largest English language sites about Ecuador. Work with GringosAbroad. He is a travel blogger, photographer and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands).

35 comments… add one
  • Laura Nov 28, 2016, 7:11 pm

    I looked last night and fares were 576.00. Looked 14 hrs later and they had increased by $112! I was on a different computer and not logged in on any sites. Does interest alone in routes cause the price to increase? This practice should be illegal!

  • Sandi Jun 24, 2016, 8:57 am

    After being in the travel business for so many years, there always seems to be another look at booking your air. It seems that early morning, especially on Tuesday is a good day to search for flights. I use your suggested sites to research the airfares, but would suggest booking any flights directly on th airline site you are flying with. That is where you will find the best rate and have full control over your own booking.
    If you need assistance, use the services of a travel agent that will give you the personal service and be able to assist you when you need it most. Stay away from airlines you have never heard of!

  • Leonard Robertson Jan 20, 2016, 11:03 pm

    What my dad used to do was buy during low season whenever possible for overseas travel and book rockbottom prices from his Taiwanese travel agent in the US.

  • Mark S Sep 26, 2015, 12:21 pm

    I have long been a person who every day I use my computer I clear my browser history, being someone in travel I have noticed what you said in the article for some time and like you never log into any of the travel sites I have accounts with. It does seem like certain travel days are still a little cheaper to fly but I sure wish flights were fair. I have often seen flights from Philadelphia to LA being a good bit cheaper then from Philadelphia to Miama, Dallas and Denver and considering they are all a good bit closer then LA it never seems to make sense why I can fly farther for less money. Sure many say supply and demand but if that were really true then wouldn’t the flights to LA me more if so many people want to go there.

  • Celeste M Durazo-Valadez Sep 19, 2015, 9:25 pm

    I have searched for flights on various popular websites for ecuador. So far the best air fare prices have been on latinofare.com. Worth tryinjg on a fresh computer of course

  • Tom Jul 30, 2015, 3:55 am

    Rather than the airlines I believe it’s the actual OTAs that modify the rates upward – proof being that sometimes it pays off to go back straight to the chosen airline’s site and voila, the originally cheapest rate sits right there. And said agencies obviously live off their commissions to begin with.
    Whatever the case, searching for rates is one of THE best reasons for a coffee or beer at a public wifi spot, and after concluded investigation its back to home to book!
    And one final tip: it often pays off – and this relates NOT only to travel- to “supplant” your IP by one of another country altogether, making the visited site believe you are where they and their product need to be highly competitive at the given time, rather than in your actual home market. Where legal, this allows e.g. for streaming of TV contents possibly blocked in the country you are, access to online services which are not available in your locale and, yes, cheaper travel. “How-tos” on any search engine!

  • Maggie Jan 8, 2015, 6:07 pm

    Priceline is amazing! They don’t use cookies and they give you the best prices. Although the only setback is that you sometimes need to take multiple stops with layover, but you still get great flight rates wherever you go!

    • Bryan Haines Jan 12, 2015, 4:19 pm

      How do you know that Priceline doesn’t use cookies? I haven’t heard of an online business that doesn’t.

  • Gerry Dec 31, 2014, 9:48 pm

    I usually use trip advisor and when I find a flight that I like (price, time and airline) I go directly to the airline site to see if it is cheaper and if there are better flight times. Last year the airline (Japan airlines to Bankok) was more expensive. This year (Delta airlines to Quito) was cheaper. $754 Vancouver to Quito when I bought the tickets. I will definitely try the cookie removal info. Thanks.

  • Christina Oct 16, 2014, 9:19 pm

    I had a feeling that this was going on. Thanks for doing the “experiment” with the second computer to prove it.

    So much for obsessively checking multiple flight options (routes, days, airlines, etc.). That’s actually one of my favorite part of planning a trip! I will definitely use the two computer searching/booking method from now on. Thanks!

  • Carrie Sep 4, 2014, 8:07 am

    We just moved to Switzerland and when booking airfare here, I noted (not for the first time) that the more I checked ticket prices, the more they increased. I just assumed it was because the longer we waited to book, the more the the price kept rising as fewer seats were left and we had less time before our anticipated departure. We don’t currently have any travel plans that require travel, but I’m going to search this week anyway. Thanks for the tip!!

    • Bryan Haines Sep 4, 2014, 3:59 pm

      Glad to hear it. Because of the higher ticket price, international fares seem to be more affected by this little trick.

  • Rebekah Voss Aug 30, 2014, 5:29 am

    Holy crap! I had no IDEA this was even possible – what a dirty trick. I’m going to be clearing my search history much more often now!

    • Bryan Haines Aug 30, 2014, 8:43 am

      Pretty underhanded isn’t it? I only wonder what other factors affect the price – that we don’t know about…

  • Bobby Aug 27, 2014, 8:08 am

    That was great information.
    Thanks

  • Gary Pollice Aug 23, 2014, 11:11 am

    This is interesting, but I’m not sure if there is anything more than anecdotal evidence here. I’ve tried the experiment on different computers and different browsers and I don’t find much difference when looking at the same sites, for the same dates, with the same search parameters, at the same approximate time for the search. In order to make a claim that the airline or travel sites are actually trying to charge you more for frequently searched flights, you need to do a well-designed, controlled study (which I’m thinking might be a good project for a couple of my students). There are a lot of free variables that you need to control in order to determine if there really is a plot to charge you more on the flights that you frequently search for.

    I have found, anecdotally, that cheapoair.com usually beats all of the other travel sites by about $100 or so and has a wider selection of flights.

    • Bryan Haines Aug 23, 2014, 1:26 pm

      I think you’ve misunderstood the premise. You can’t do the experiment in one day. You must search the route – over a few days. Then go back to book the flight on your original computer. In many cases the flights will have increased in cost. Then using a fresh computer you need to check the exact route / dates. It is almost always the same as the original flight price.

      I’ve proven this many times. If you do a controlled study – let me know and we can publish the results.

      • Gary Pollice Aug 23, 2014, 2:33 pm

        No, I understood it. I’ve done this over several days on one computer and not on the other. I will keep tweaking it to try different things with the cookies, different JavaScript settings, and will also try to decipher some of the embedded code in the different Web pages, but I doubt that that would be very helpful.

        The algorithms used by the various sites depend upon massive data analyses and have almost instantaneous reaction to demand. But it would be worth trying to characterize it. If the project gets done and has any significant findings, we’ll be publishing it in one of the journals.

  • Sher Kariz Aug 23, 2014, 10:44 am

    I also use Cheap Tickets and booked a roundtrip flight for next week from Toronto-Quito for $629 taxes included. It was $200. Cheaper than anywhere else and it was pretty short notice.

  • Jamie Aug 21, 2014, 5:36 pm

    Hi, our family is moving to Ecuador by the end of this year, as there is a great need there in the volunteer work we do. We have 2 daughters, one going into 5th & the other in 6th grade, and were wondering about schooling options for them. Public vs. private? Cyber? Any info you can provide about this would be great.
    Thanks,
    Jamie

    • Bryan Haines Aug 30, 2014, 10:49 am

      Hey Jaime – sorry for my slow response. There are both public and private school options. We don’t have a lot of experience with either because we home school our daughter. Here are a couple of posts about schooling. Schooling Your Expat Kids and What About Schooling?.

      Many expat families enroll their kids in online schools back in their home country – there are lots of options.

      All the best!

  • Gypsytoes Aug 21, 2014, 3:58 pm

    I use a Mac, and my husband uses a PC.
    1. In Firefox there is a place under ‘File’ that says ‘New Private Window’. I always use a private window when searching for airline tickets and hotels. A private window doesn’t have previous cookies saved.
    2. Searching for hotels on a Mac and a PC will give you different prices as well. Statistics prove that Mac users tend to have a higher income, therefore, prices will be higher for hotels using a Mac. Tricky devils!
    3. Watch your IP address carefully when booking tickets. Depending on where your computer address is from, it may change the price of the ticket, too. I have a VPN which gives me a Miami address. When I booked with American Airlines from Managua, Nicaragua to Fresno, CA, I never received a confirmation. After calling our credit card company to see if they had a record of payment ( which they did…for $0), I called AA. Apparently my VPN crashed their system because I was booking with a Miami IP from Nicaragua. They had to change everything manually, and were finally able to confirm my ticket. Strange.

  • Bill Collins Aug 21, 2014, 12:49 pm

    You also might consider creating a new user id and password each time you search for rates.
    1) create a new email account
    2) create a new password
    3) use this user id and password to book your flights
    4) after you complete flight delete that email account

  • Niki Widmayer Aug 21, 2014, 12:35 pm

    We have noticed this going on over the last several years. Seems worse around holidays and other vacation times. My husband is an IT guy and he turns off our cookies when we start an airfare search.

  • Neal Aug 21, 2014, 12:31 pm

    Thanks for confirming something that I thought was the case. We travel a lot and it always seems that the more I search the higher the prices and the more limited the flights. More recently, we have searched on one computer and purchased on the other.

  • Devi Aug 21, 2014, 12:18 pm

    Use CCleaner to rid your computer of cookies, history and other stuff you don’t need. Good for most browsers.

    I am not affiliated just a grateful user for many years

    https://www.piriform.com/CCLEANER

  • Ken Aug 21, 2014, 11:58 am

    This is Extremely Interesting. And could save anybody Thousands of $$$ over time!.
    I can’t wait to ‘test the system’!

  • Louise Aug 21, 2014, 11:14 am

    We booked a couple of weeks ago using CheapTickets. Got a pretty good deal considering we’re in Austin and although it is the capital of TX and has an international airport, it is not a hub so we pay more. We booked through Houston. Probably could have done a little better if we had been willing to fly American but we have had multiple nightmares with them and choose not to support them with our $$. Arriving 9/18 and looking forward to it.

    • Bryan Haines Aug 21, 2014, 11:16 am

      I understand. Sometimes it’s worth a little extra to avoid the headaches.

      Hope your trip goes smoothly.

  • Cliff Hall Aug 21, 2014, 10:51 am

    You can also use avoid cookies and so on with an InPrivate session in Internet Explorer. This is available under Safety on the toolbar or you can press Ctrl+Shift+P

    InPrivate Browsing helps prevent Internet Explorer from storing data about your browsing session. This includes cookies, temporary Internet files, history, and other data. Toolbars and extensions are disabled by default. See Help for more information.

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