There has been suggestions mounting that travel agencies and airline websites have been using internet cookies to control the price of airfares. This may sound innocent as many web sites use internet cookies to monitor and control prices. What if the pricing was being controlled in an “unfair” manner? What if they were increasing the prices at the point where they felt the customer was about to commit to a purchase ??
Internet Cookies and Dynamic Pricing
This perhaps far fetched concept is what many in the industry have been suggesting is actually taking place now. This would move away from simply using cookies as a tool to assist the shopper and place them into the bracket of price discrimination and unfair trading. The companies involved would prefer to use a simpler term such as “Dynamic Pricing”. What they are doing is using history they have captured through internet cookies to predict the highest price they can charge you and still get a sale.
Interesting Cookie Article
The writer Bill McGee has been discussing this in his interesting article “Do travel deals change based on your browsing history?”
How to avoid Internet Cookies and price fixing
One approach to avoid this sort of unfair treatment could simply disable internet cookies on your device. The issue is that the majority of internet cookies are actually of a benefit and in some circumstances compulsory for some web sites. This approach could be better implemented with new browser tools. Many plugins are available that allow you to selectively decide which cookies to allow and which to block. Again the challenge is knowing which cookies are doing what. Many website privacy policies are hidden and even when you do find them they are not clear.
Alternatively, perhaps selectively use the private browsing options most up to date browsers offer when looking to make such purchases. These do not provide any guarantee, but will help in most circumstances.
Even if you feel this dynamic pricing is not wide spread, it is being considered and trialed by large operators.
Some examples of Internet Cookie Misuse
Orbitz was recently in trouble for changing their default display of the quoting results for users of Apple products. Their approach was that people who could afford these more expensive devices could also afford to pay higher prices. There approach was to simply reorder items promoting the higher prices. This dynamic form of pricing is a step too far.
Another example was Delta Air Lines who carried out tests with two different pricing engines. They performed experiments for both frequent flyers who were logged-in and less-frequent fliers who were not logged-in. The two engines returned some very different results. The discrepancy became a large story requiring Delta’s VP to provide an explanation.
Currently many world’s biggest airlines are in the midst of seeking government approval. They want to update the current airline pricing technology into something where internet cookies can result in higher prices for some customers. This is presented as prices tailored to specific shoppers. What may be called a “New Distribution Capability”. Many are concerned our privacy is being subverted. These higher fares are seen as another step in the wrong direction.