Tricky Flight Aggregators
July 23, 2010 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Do sites like Orbitz, Priceline, and Expedia raise prices on flights based on interest alone?

Every time I'm thinking about flying somewhere, I always check flights at these sites, and I'm sure my wife does as well. And almost without fail, the very first time I do the search is always the cheapest tickets that I ever find, and of course it's not the price I pay, because I stupidly waited a day (or sometimes even just hours!) to buy the tickets. Do they have some sort of "interest algorithm" such that when a certain number of searches are performed for specific flights, the prices start to go up to match the increased "demand"?
posted by Grither to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have anecdotal evidence that Expedia does this. My co-worker was planning a trip with her friends. She couldn't buy all the rooms in bulk on her card so she sent the info to everyone and told them what to get. By the time the third member of her group went to reserve (approximately 10 minutes later), the price of the hotel room had risen by about 10%.
posted by Kimberly at 10:54 AM on July 23, 2010

Response by poster: Sorry, I meant in the absence of actual ticket purchases. Obviously it makes sense for flight prices to go up when people are actually buying tickets, but this has happened to me in a matter of hours, on a flight that is 5 or 6 months away, and I have a sneaking suspicion it's because the sites are getting a bunch of "hits" (from me and my wife), and no actual purchases.
posted by Grither at 10:57 AM on July 23, 2010

Best answer: Prices reflect the current supply of different fare classes for different routes at specific times on specific airplanes. So it's possible that some people have placed reservations, which have reduced the supply of certain fare classes (ie, the cheaper ones). But it's (currently) not possible or legal for the airlines to specifically charge different prices to specific people (ie, individually restrict the visibility of cheaper fares), especially without "real" reservations blocking out fares.

All these front-end consumer-facing websites use ITA's backend to present fare options to potential buyers. Currently, the airlines (and hence ITA) are forbidden by common carrier status to personalise the fares on offer to consumers. Given Google's Halliburton-like status within the Obama Administration, Google's proposed purchase of ITA may lead to a change in the legality of personalised (ie, more expensive) pricing.
posted by meehawl at 11:06 AM on July 23, 2010

Anecdotally, I searched for variations on the same flight/hotel package about 20+ times in the past week and saw minor price shifts both up and down. I think what you're seeing is more likely a coincidental effect of the pricing software that the airlines are using. Even if they only book one more seat, the price on other subsequent tickets might go up (also prices can rise the close the flight comes, only crashing down lower again if there is surplus space pretty close to the flight). What I've heard is that if a flight is full, they'll pretty much always except and sell a highly priced ticket, knowing they can bump someone and still profit from the deal.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:29 AM on July 23, 2010

All it takes is a couple or family to buy actual tickets, and that uses up the two cheap seats you were looking at, and now you are forced to buy more expensive ones.
posted by smackfu at 11:30 AM on July 23, 2010

I've had similar experiences - I can't remember which website I was using but when the search would time out, I would do it again and the prices would be higher. I think it was based on my IP address so I just waited until I got home and did it on my personal computer.
posted by kat518 at 11:37 AM on July 23, 2010

Coming from the technical side of this, I'd be very surprised if the pricing/allocation algorithms used on these sites took pageviews from nonpurchasing people into account. For one, the algorithms are pretty complicated. Not that this would obviate the data's inclusion, but it would make it much more difficult, because: secondly, the seats are provided to the websites by the airlines. As you've noted, there is more than one website selling this inventory, so the airline would need to get (live!) web access data from all of the reseller websites, correlate that into individual flight interest levels, and change the prices/availability of seats accordingly. Furthermore, the scheduling systems used by the airlines may still have VERY OLD computers running them, making all of this much more complicated to the degree that they factor into the actual pricing mechanism.
posted by rhizome at 11:48 AM on July 23, 2010

Also, if it used page views, this system would be very easy to game by their competitors, Expedia vs Orbitz, Airline vs Airline, Everyone vs /b/, etc.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 12:05 PM on July 23, 2010

« Older 3GB MacBook memory processor overload   |   Am I cut out for Americorps? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.