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dynamic pricing -- do airlines charge more if they think you will pay it?

Interesting article in today's Washington Post:

First, learn to use your browser’s “incognito” mode. It creates a private browser session that can foil the dynamic-pricing technology (just make sure you don’t log in to your frequent-flier account). “The information stored in your browser helps the airline determine your demographic, geographical location, income and spending habits, to name a few,” says Philip Weiss, a digital nomad who specializes in technology. “So with this data, they can target customers with higher fares by assuming they are wealthy — or vice versa.” Also, consider using a VPN (virtual private network), a more private way to connect to the Internet. That privacy can give you an edge when you’re shopping for airfares.

I use incognito mode when checking airline prices, and make sure I exit the browser completely before going back when I've made a decision on where to purchase tickets (exiting the browser clears cookies in incognito mode)

Posted by
3444 posts

This has been an ongoing conspiracy theory for many years now -- the big greedy airlines are out to get you!

It is mostly untrue. The prices can be seen going up mostly because it is people actually buying the lower priced tickets leaving only the higher priced ones. If the price was already at the limit you felt comfortable spending, wouldn't higher prices definitely make you move on to a different airline instead of causing you to buy now? The information stored in your browser provides none of what Phillip Weiss states. All of that would be stored in the individual web sites accounts you may have, and you provided to them when signing up, and it is not shared with unrelated sites. And I really see no way a VPN would help in this, you are still connecting to the same airline web page and they will check your IP address. I doubt seriously that every request from you through a VPN to the exact same web site uses a unique IP address.

There have been talks by airlines of providing their frequent flyers "unique pricing to improve their shopping experience". Now none of them will say if the uniqueness is better prices for you or better prices for the airlines. But how this is supposed to work is if you have a frequent flyer account, when you log in the airlines know your travel preferences and when you search for a flight give you those closer meeting your usual options than just the lowest price or the one they want to fill first. No airline has admitted to actually implementing this practice yet, of course doesn't mean they haven't.

And i you are really worried, you should use a different computer to search than the one you purchase from.

Posted by
2900 posts

The information stored in your browser provides none of what Phillip Weiss states.

I was a little puzzled by that statement, but then I thought: Well, he's a digital nomad who specializes in technology; and what do I know?

Posted by
2164 posts

If you have ANY concern that a website might follow you then you should clear your history and cookies after every session (or sooner). This is a lot further than whether an airline seat price has increased because they saw you - why would you want every website you go to to be able to see where else you have been. Clearing this information can be set as an automatic in Fierefox but must be selected manually in Safari and Chrome. If clearing cookies will remove your stored user name/password from a site, this is not an issue, as any browser, or password program if you don't trust the browser, should be able to manage them.

Meanwhile, if you do your basic search from Google flights or Google ITA Matrix, those two locations get their fares from the airlines, they are search engines. You are completely hidden from the airlines and there should never be an issue following through to the airline site they have cited for the price they have cited.

Posted by
24849 posts

is a digital nomad different than a regular nomad?

In this part of the world a digital nomad sounds like an non-person AI bot.

Posted by
85 posts

Have you ever noticed that if you do a Google search and later open the Amazon app, products related to your Google search are suggested?

The journalist and the digital nomad got it right.

Note the original claim: "The information stored in your browser helps the airline determine your demographic, geographical location, income and spending habits, to name a few".

Web browser "cookies" don't contain demographic information. Rather, they contain identifiers that can be matched among each other, matched with records of your activities on multiple Web sites and apps, and matched with identifying data from the accounts you create on Web sites and in apps. It's the matching of myriad small pieces of data, and the storage and sale of the profiles synthesized from them, that makes comprehensive tracking possible.

I'm not claiming that any particular airline definitely makes decisions based on purchased profile data, but as you can see, this degree of tracking and differentiation is completely feasible.

Though clearing cookies and using a VPN can reduce tracking, these measures cannot eliminate it. If you access two or more Web sites or apps from the same IP address, around the same time (note: no other household shares that IP address at that moment), and you have logged in to one of those Web sites or apps, your activities can be matched without interruption.

The vast majority of Web sites and apps rely on a third-party "analytics" service. The analytics service tracks every page you visit and every button you click within a particular site or app, the date and time, your current IP address, and an identifier (whose scope varies). A single analytics service handles many different sites and apps, and can freely match data between them. An individual site or app may sell your account information to the analytics service (or to its partner), contributing identifying information to round out the activity records that the analytics service has accumulated over time.

Another strategy involves sending you an e-mail with a tiny, hidden image. This allows matching your e-mail address (and thus, your identity) with the IP address from which the image is retrieved, around the time you read the message.

In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation requires consent for tracking and the exchange of profile data. In the US, there are few legal constraints on tracking, the sale of profile data, etc.

Hasbrouck, mentioned in the article, is right to remind us that airline tariffs forbid price differentiation on the basis of profile data — but that there's no enforcement.

Posted by
3444 posts

Yes, if you search using Google, or any other web search tool, that search tool will remember what you looked for and then suggest related item seemingly for eternity. But this is not derived from information your web browser keeps -- it is all within Google. The only thing your web browser keeps is an identifying token that Google will see and then use to drown you in ads because Google talks to the advertising companies out there and tells them what you looked at.

A browser actually maintaining actual "demographic, geographical location, income and spending habits" and then sharing that info would violate so many privacy laws it's not even funny.

Believe what you want. I was there when the internet was created, I know how it works. :-)

Posted by
1666 posts

Yeah, that's why my airfares have gone DOWN because the airlines are tracking me LOL

Seriously I track a lot of airfares they go up and down

I have never bothered to do worry about this "myth" because if it was true prices would not go down (Just this weekend an airfare I had been watching dropped almost 50%. So would the edge from privacy have cost me more????)

Posted by
12124 posts

I dont really see the issue. A commodity is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

Posted by
1666 posts

So I checked the same airfare three times in the last hour. And guess what? The airline has not changeD the price just because I checked it. I

And of course they know it’s me, I am logged into my account

The airline obviously has not read the article that the original poster believes they’re using to guide decisions