The airlines are playing a game.
An unfair one.
And it all comes down to cookies.
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.
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.
- 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.
- Use a fresh computer: This accomplishes the same as the first option. Just start fresh without any traceable search history.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.