Do Airlines raise fares while you search?

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This topic contains 14 replies, has 12 voices, and was last updated by  Senator 28 Feb 2014
at 13:43

Viewing 15 posts - 1 through 15 (of 15 total)

  • Anonymous


    Various BT posters have noticed this phenomenon – suggested remedy has been to delete cookies.

    The DT appears to have picked up the problem too and are asking for examples

    Is it an increasing problem? What is your solution?


    Hi BigDog,

    Yes this is something my colleagues and I have noticed over the last 12 months. We find that while checking availability we will get a certain price (say £100) but not book at the time. Just moments later we will check the cost again through the same point of sale and notice the price has increase slightly (say £120). We have checked through our GDS that the availability has not changed in the slightest.

    Deleting cookies does seem to solve the problem most of the time. I don’t know what system airline websites have in place where it can detect what routes you are searching for and use this to manipulate the fare when searching said route at a later time.

    Something that needs to be looked at further me thinks…


    A trick I’ve found is to alter the amount of people travelling.

    A recent example is FR from EDI –DUB

    Book one at a time and its £37 return.
    Book 3 people and it became £43 return

    Also, if you were in the middle of booking flights ex Scotland on Sunday morning between 11.20 & 12.00 you would have noticed the fares spiking if you were booking flights to a destination (or nearby airports) that Scotland will be playing in the forthcoming Euro’s .


    This may sound daft but if it happens try deleting your cookies and it sometimes reverts back to the original price!!!


    Or try using more than one browser – Internet Explorer / Google Chrome / Firefox etc etc


    I’ve noticed this as well, mainly on KAYAK at the moment.

    Why do they do this? On most other retailer sites, the opposite seems to happen.


    Not a new phenomenon at all.
    When I worked in retail travel almost a decade ago it would happen on both flight only & package holidays. Quite simply the supplier sees a spike of interest so raises prices thinking they can rake a few extra quid in.


    This usually happens to me as well, but this morning booking JNB FRA JFK with Lufthansa I was interrupted by a phone call. I’d got to the credit card part but was timed out so I resumed the booking. Amazingly, same dates, flights, conditions etc, the fare was € 600 cheaper!


    I’m surprised people are complaining about this.

    You’d all be the first to complain if prices you saw at the enquiry stage were consistently unavailable when you came to pay. There has to be an element of withdrawing fares from search visibility while people complete their booking.

    That’s why when booking for two, it’s sometimes better to book each flight individually to avoid both fares pricing into a higher fare bucket.


    If you search for more than one passenger, the systems will search for the first fare that has enough availability for your party. They are not sophisticated enough to offer one passenger the last fare in one price bucket and the second passenger the first fare in the next one.

    That means the last fare in one fare bucket will not be offered if you require two seats.

    Also, there are millions of availability searches taking place every second. Travel agents hold seats, release them, hold them again. People make test bookings on websites, and real ones too.
    If you are checking availability and hold a seat (but are not yet at payment screen) that fare will not always be visible to another booker if it’s the last seat in that fare category.

    There’s also supply and demand (and forecasting of course) where if a particular flight is getting busy, an airline can close off fares even if they haven’t sold out.

    There’s no conspiracy.


    Indeed, NIRScot is quite right. No conspiracy.

    What interests me is if the airline’s tools are sophisticated enough to ramp up prices almost instantly when special events – say some football match or other – are announced?

    Or does it just seem like this happens as the cheaper fare buckets sell out quickly (or are blocked from view as people make speculative searches) and all that’s left are the pricier seats?


    It depends what you mean by a conspiracy. Airlines and railway companies use very complex algorithms to adjust prices so that they maximise their income, whether by selling a few expensive tickets or a lot of cheap tickets, actually a combination of the two. It is their duty to their shareholders to maximise income.

    If you take an easy-to-find definition of conspiracy “a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful” it is certainly not unlawful but it is arguably harmful to us, the travellers, not to have clarity and consistency in the fares we are offered. It is also arguably beneficial to us, the travellers, by being a system to ensure the viability of the airline or train company.

    To prove that the algorithm-based pricing systems are actually beneficial to the airline company would be very difficult: the experiment to do this would be very complicated to design.


    Hi SM

    As someone who regularly travelled abroad to watch Scotland play, I’m quite convinced that the airlines have someone ready to change their sophisticated logarithms as soon as fixtures are announced.

    My supporters club became very adept at trying to beat the airlines before they realized the significance of the dates either side of the fixture.

    One tactic involved being on different sites simultaneously with fingers hovering over the confirm flights button, as soon as the fixtures were announced.

    And I would have readily accepted the logical thinking of cheaper seats selling out quickly if it wasn’t for the fact that the prices far exceed what would be the highest normal fare.
    And inevitably being canny scots people refuse to get ripped off, so they ultimately lower the price back to the most expensive standard fare if the football game wasn’t being played.

    So I would suggest that possibly the removal of the sophisticated algorithms, to be replaced with a single high price point.

    The exception to the rule being the Celtic supporters who were generally ripped off as they didn’t risk not seeing their team play in Seville.

    So I’ll agree David. It’s not a conspiracy, exploitation in the circumstance I’m talking about it most definitely is!


    Actually, having now started to look into some of the business behind for example meta-search and Online Travel Agencies (OTA) there seem to be some cleverness in cookies adopted by many players in this ecosystem. So there is some logic to be cautious.

    It is important to remember however, that the underlying systems are pinged/queried extensively, and what was the availability 60 seconds ago could be gone.

    I tend to use ITA Matrix first to look for pricing. Two airlines have issues from this: Turkish and Swiss. Both use “married segments” extensively which makes for occasional incorrect searches away from their own engines.

    So a mix of the dynamics of pricing and clever use of cookies could create abnormalities in a short timespan.

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