Why repeated web searches increase the cost of flights

And how you can stop it happening.

Sometimes, travel companies are just plain evil. They argue that all they are doing is good business, but I argue they should get a life and a concience to boot.

How this ‘dynamic pricing’ scam works

If you search  for a particular route (lets pretend its “London to Boston”) you will see a set of prices from travel agents and airlines.

Later that day you do the same search and broadly speaking see the same results.

The next day you search once more for London to Boston flights and guess what.  This time you probably notice the price of a particular flight has gone  up. Now each time you search it goes up… and up.

You are not going mad. This is really happening. There are numerous flight companies who drop cookies in your browser and if they see you coming back again and again for information about a possible flight are quite happy to serve you with a higher price.

As of February this year the following major airlines have introduced dynamic pricing software: (according to Hugh Morris in the Daily Telegraph)

  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • ANA
  • Air Canada
  • British Airways
  • Iberia
  • KLM
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Swiss
  • United
  • Delta

It is shabby behaviour. No two ways about it.

Thankfully there is a way around this. Since flight prices do increase when a particular route is repeatedly searched you need to stop telling the websites ‘hi, its me again’.

For the lowest prices I always search for flights in  private browsing mode (known as ‘incognito mode’ on Google Chrome Browsers).

In fact, over the years I have refined my system. I  have a specific browser set up on my PC that searches anonymously and via proxies so the sites I visit cannot see my location. My browser also ditches all cookies at the end of every browser session.  I do all my searches from that browser and once I have chosen my flight I open a new, completely different browser and do a final search on my ‘booking’ browser and thereby hopefully don’t get tripped up by this particular trap. I definitely urge you to do the same.


Flash Sales: What are they and how to use them to bag ultra cheap flights

Booking a flight from London to New York might cost you £600 today, but tomorrow the very same ticket on the same flight with the same carrier could be literally half the price. Welcome to the world of Airline Flash Sales.

Airlines know, or think they know when tickets will be sold. For example, tickets for a December flight are released the previous February. The airline expects that 35% of the tickets will have sold by May. Their ‘cashflow’ depends on getting these predictions right, because they have wages to pay, jet fuel to be bought and they need enough money in the bank to cover their liabilities.

But sometimes the tickets haven’t sold as well as expected, so to get extra cash into the bank rapidly, the airline will announce a flash sale and sell those tickets at silly prices for a few days till they are back on target. Sure they might make a little less profit as a result, but the peace of mind of the accountants department is well worth it.

They don’t tell the public in advance about flash sales, so you have to keep your eyes open. Thankfully tools such as Skyscanner and Google Flights allow us to automatically track fares to our chosen destinations and get alerted when a deal appears. 30%, 40% 50%, 60% off. All these flight discounts can be enjoyed if you can wait for them.

Then you just have to snap up a bargain before the airline fills its quota and the price jumps back up again.

Happy hunting.

Why flights take longer than they used to

Here is a pretty shocking fact. Back in the 1960s a flight from New York to Los Angeles was scheduled to take almost 45 minutes less than it does today.

Yes, over 50 years we have actually got worse at flying people to their destinations in a timely fashion. About 15% worse. But how can this be.

Well, although the time spent in the air had improved a little, with faster jets, the time spent getting passengers into the air and then out of the airport has got significantly worse. As a passenger, this should anger you.

Huge airports like JFK, Frankfurt, Heathrow and so on now require aircraft to taxi up to a mile or more to reach a gate. The gates themselves can be 20 minutes walk from the terminal. It all adds up.

Heathrows plans to add another runway will only make things worse for air travelers in and out of London.

This is why smaller airlines using smaller airports can often provide not only a more relaxed service, but a faster one too.

LHR Airports are not an airline and so have no vested interest in moving aircraft quickly. In fact, their best interests may be served by making the experience uncomfortable. As journalist Philip Stephens wrote in the FT 2014, ” a half-decent level of passenger service would be counter-productive because it would undercut the case for that third runway”.

As a passenger, this should anger you. With flight delays being nowadays the norm you get to spend more of your time hanging around in departures; doing what exactly? Oh, yes shopping. Cappuccinos, novels and wet wipes sell in incredible volumes and the sales data gives the airport owners the data that allows them to invite retailers to pay top dollar, pound euro or yen for the privilege of selling to you, just to alleviate your discomfort and boredom of being stuck in terminal two for another three hours.

And we wonder why LHR spend so many millions convincing the government that their outdated hub model in the only option for international flights when the airlines and plane manufacturers disagree. As a passenger, this should anger you.

Monarch prepare to lose license.

Monarchs decision late last night to triple or even quadruple the cost of flights appears to many commentators to be a tacit admission that the British company is about to lose its ATOL licence.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) did not renew its Air Travel Organiser’s Licence (ATOL), which technically expired yesterday although the airline have been extended a 24 hour grace period.

We do hope that things can be sorted out and that up to 100,000 holidaymakers don’t end up stranded.


Ryanair … again

What annoys me most about the coverage of the debacle is the media constantly talking about Ryanair’s share price.

What matters is the umpteen thousand people who have been left in the worst situation possible. These are people who are most likely to be on low incomes and chose Ryanair in order to save money.

Now they are being treated like mushrooms by the airline (kept in the dark and fed on sh*t) and totally ignored by the media.

Will this latest episode actually change anything?  Don’t hold your breath.