As you search for the cheapest air ticket to your next travel destination, did you ever wonder what dark forces are at work behind your browser window?
Apparently, airlines sometimes use some shady tactics while delivering the price of a ticket to you, as indicated in a thread I came across recently on Reddit.
Basically what happens is that airlines will try collect as much data about you as possible, sometimes through the use of a cookie stored on your computer, and sometimes just from your IP address.
If using the IP address method, they can serve different prices depending on your location. The logic in this is of course that in general, a person accessing the site from the US is more likely to have a higher disposable income than another accessing the site from India. I’ve personally seen this happen when comparing ticket prices with friends overseas while we chatted on Skype. The prices given to us (in the same currency) were indeed different.
With the cookie method, a website can track how many times you’ve checked a particular trip, if they see that you are checking frequently for the same flight, they might start hiking up the price by a few dollars each time, instilling a sense of urgency in you, and thus being in a better position to make you buy the tickets. I guess most of us know that bad feeling when you see a cheap ticket and make up your mind to buy it, only to go back again in a few days ready to purchase, and find out it’s now double the price or more.
This isn’t something that is guaranteed to always happen, but it’s a good idea to take precautions against such manipulations by not allowing cookies when searching for tickets. The easiest way to do this is to open an incognito window in Firefox or in Chrome. These windows won’t store any cookies so the airlines can’t play their nasty tricks on you. Clearing your cookies before a browsing session won’t hurt either.
Have you encountered such practices yourself?
When to Buy
Everyone knows a last-minute plane ticket is probably expensive, but how far in advance do you need to purchase a ticket is a little less known.
According to a study by Cheapair.com, the best window of time to purchase a ticket in 2017 was 70 days in advance, a bit higher than the sweet spot in 2016 which was 54 days. However, that 70 was an average. The “best” time to buy actually depends on the season when you plan to travel.
In winter you want to try for 62 days in advance, spring 90 days in advance, summer 47 days in advance, and fall 69 days in advance, on average. And as for that theory that there’s a best day of the week to buy—CheapAir says that’s not really true. Airfare during the week traditionally doesn’t fluctuate more than $2 from day to day, so you’re fine buying a ticket any day you want.
When it comes to when you fly, there is a difference. The cheapest days to fly are Tuesday and Wednesday, while Sunday is the most expensive.