Are airlines tracking you?

We all want the most affordable flights. But are airlines that promise us the cheapest rates using our data to inflate ticket prices? The answer, according to a number of news sites and flight booking platforms is, no … although sometimes, yes.

A confusing conclusion no doubt, especially as the internet seems to be filled with formal denials from companies such as Skyscanner and tips to avoid data-related price inflation from travel sites.

Let’s start at the beginning, by explaining what the alleged use of cookies means. A cookie is a file on your computer that stores information about the searches you make and the sites you use. They can be used for useful purposes too, such as helping you to quickly enter your personal information when the data is already stored.

However, many people claim that cookies are used to monitor your searches when looking online for flights. Allowing airlines to know you are planning on purchasing said flight and hiking up the prices. I admit I have used a friend’s computer to book flights after doing the research on my own. And, yes, some flights were listed cheaper on my friend’s computer than my own.

Skyscanner Australia claims that there is no evidence to support rumours that airlines increase prices upon repeated searches. They claim that each Skyscanner search is done anonymously, meaning there is no way the site could connect multiple searches to the same person.

They claim that the increasing cost of flights upon multiple searches is due to other factors, such as websites updating their prices 4-6 times a day. Should you reload a site after a price update, you’ll find that some airfares may have risen or even dropped.

Quora explains that these rises and falls in pricing are due to ‘fare classes’, meaning that a certain number of seats will be allocated a particular price. Upon filling these seats, the airline will then move to the next, more expensive, fare class. These usually move in an ascending order, so the closer you get to the day of the flight and the fewer seats there are available, the more your ticket will cost.

However, if you’re unsure about the apparent lack of cookie usage by airlines, there is no harm in being cautious. Before you search or purchase flights delete your search history. You can do this from your home screen when you open your search browser. You can also search on an incognito or private window. Right click on your browser when you go to open it and select to open an incognito window, this will make your searches private.

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Written by Liv Gardiner

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