People are starting to plan their summer vacation, and for many, the planning process itself is the beginning of a well-deserved rest. However, it does cause frustration when after a couple of price checks on the Internet, one starts to notice how flight ticket and apartment booking quotes take an upward trend. Such behavior is called price discrimination and is a prevalent tactic across the travel industry, but there are ways to protect yourself from it.
Intuitively unfair, the concept of price discrimination (if not based on race, religion or national origin) is legal and can take many forms. Its general principle is that potential customers get to see different prices of the same product or service based on their willingness to pay as perceived by the seller.
“Many online retailers who use special algorithms to create an illusion of high demand and an increasing price. Let’s say, the quotes for all the hotel rooms you checked yesterday have increased only to encourage you to make a fast decision to book,” explains Naomi Hodges, Cybersecurity Advisor at Surfshark. “The same goes for flight tickets and car rentals so that excellent offer you found an hour ago might have deteriorated to ‘it’s still ok, but I have to hurry’ at your second check.”
Various online businesses are using personalized pricing techniques to manipulate people’s emotions. The leaders in this field, for example, Uber, hire behavioral economists who help to craft the logic of algorithms of differential pricing.
The core ingredient to make the algorithms work is your online data which is acquired when websites insert cookies into your browser and get to know your IP address.
“Such information can reveal where you live, how new or expensive device you use, which websites you visit, what are you interested in, whether you are an easy spender or not, and much more,” says Naomi Hodges.
When your data is being used for personalized pricing, the car rental might become expensive if you already booked a flight to some destination. The same goes for hotel and domestic flight booking.
The price manipulation can go even further by knowing that you are a user of a brand-new iPhone model which indicates higher purchasing power and in turn – your willingness to pay more than other customers.
How to avoid price discrimination?
Naomi Hodges reveals that it is rather easy to check if you are being differentiated from other potential travelers. Taking a few steps can help you save a sum worth a couple of nights at a great hotel or even a return flight ticket if you are an occasional traveler.
If you notice a higher flight ticket/car rental/hotel booking price than before, relax and follow these tips:
- Clear your recent digital footprint. You can do that by clearing your browser cache, history, and cookies in the browser settings.
- Turn on a virtual private network (VPN) app. This trick can help you change your location by giving you a different IP address. In many cases prices are based on the device’s location, so you can avoid higher prices simply by pretending that you are in another country. Check different countries to see how people there
- Turn on Incognito Mode (Chrome), Private Mode (Safari) or Private Window (Firefox) in your browser. This step will allow you to browse cookie-less.
- Check the prices using a different device. Differentiating between desktop and mobile users is a common practice.
- Change the top-level domain (.com, co.uk, .fr, .net) to a different one. For example, flights4u.com might display different prices than flights4u.de.
Best results can be achieved if all these tips are used simultaneously.