Half the fun of booking a well-deserved break is knowing that after carefully shopping around and comparing prices, you’re confident that you’ve bagged the very best deal. But it looks like some online travel retailers are now one step ahead by using smart technology to inflate prices and quotes after you click out and back in again to their site.

price discrimination

Families with children already battle exorbitant holiday costs if they want to travel during school holidays so it seems particularly unfair that they may also be subject to clever travel retailers who manipulate buyer’s emotions by displaying different deals at different times in order to encourage them to make a fast decision to buy.

Such behaviour is called price discrimination and it is a prevalent tactic across the travel industry.

The concept of price discrimination (if not based on race, religion or national origin) is disappointingly 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 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.”

“Many online retailers use special algorithms to create an illusion of high demand and an increasing price.”

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.

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.

“Such information can reveal where you live, how new or expensive the 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.

Thankfully, there are ways to protect yourself from this manipulation. Naomi reveals that it is quite easy to check to see if you are being subjected to price discrimination. 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 traveller.

If you notice a higher flight ticket/car rental/hotel booking price than before, relax and follow these tips:

How to avoid price discrimination

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.

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
For example, change the site 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.


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