Price Discrimination in Airline Ticket Booking

Have you ever wondered why airline ticket prices often seemingly change for no reason at all? Something as simple as booking on a desktop vs. smartphone could result in a different price for a plane ticket. I’m sure everyone has heard of the incognito trick by now, but I have another one. Always check Google Flights or another search aggregator like Expedia or Priceline before booking directly on the airline operator’s website. You could end up saving thousands of dollars. Here’s a real life example:

I was searching for a flight from SFO to Bremen, a small town in Germany. If you look at the url in the first screenshot, I searched directly on United’s website. Both flights were on exactly the same date and time. Each said 1 ticket left at this price. However, the price difference was over $1000!

SFO to BRE direct on United

Now, what happens when I went to Google Flights and performed the same exact search? Well I find the same United flights and when I click on it through Google Flights (notice how the url at the top is different), the price drops by $1000! My guess is that if you are searching directly on United’s website, they know that they don’t have to compete on price to win your business. However, on a search aggregator like Google Flights, United does have to compete with other airlines and hence lowers its price. This might explain why Southwest refuses to show its fares in Google Flights. Southwest can force its loyal customers to get into a habit of going directly to its own website and forgo checking prices elsewhere. Other companies in other industries employ this same strategy, most notably Amazon.

SFO to BRE on United via Google Flights

So remember everyone, always perform a quick search on Google Flights if you want to save some money on airfare.

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