There’re dirty secrets in the world of online bookings - some companies use obscure techniques to make a profit. Once you know what’s going on, you’ll be able to spot it happening and put the shoe on the other foot. Here you have 5 easy tricks that you can learn to save money on flights, hotels, cars and other online bookings.
1. They know which customers are willing to pay more
Whenever you place a booking online, whether that’s to scoop up that cozy Airbnb, finalise your holiday flights or rent a car for the weekend, chances are that you’re paying more than you need to. You might assume that anyone who searches for the same thing - say, a double room at a certain hotel on a certain night - would see the same price. In fact, advertisers use a plethora of hidden clues that let them guess which customers are willing to pay more - and pressure them into committing to a purchase as soon as possible.
2. Your device matters
That brings us into trick number two: your device matters. Some advertisers have admitted, for example, that they will show higher prices to Apple users, because their data shows that potential customers who use an iPhone or Mac are more affluent than their peers who use Windows or Android devices. That means that booking sites can sell the same room at a higher price to an iPhone user, inflating their profits in the process. Therefore, it can often be worthwhile to try making a booking on a non-Apple device and/or without using the default Safari browser; the older and weirder the device, the more likely you will get the default rates. You can also obfuscate or alter your web browser’s self-reported name so that sites will get the wrong idea, although this can be more of a hassle to set up than simply borrowing a different device when you need to make a big booking online. Of course, it’s almost impossible to fake your device when you’re using a booking website’s official app, so remember to use websites wherever possible instead of apps - you may end up saving a pretty penny.
3. Your location matters
Of course, the device you’re using is only one piece of information that booking sites use to charge higher prices for their services. Your location also matters; people in more affluent countries or regions may well be charged more than those in poorer regions, a practice called price discrimination. Again, it’s the same logic - if a website’s data suggests that German visitors, for example, are more likely to ascribe a higher value to a particular rental car than French visitors, then for advertisers it would be leaving money on the table to not show a higher price to German customers. Generally, your location data is embedded in your IP address, which is necessarily shown to each website that you visit on the internet. From this, before you have even started loading the page, advertisers can know exactly where in the world your device is connected to the internet, even down to the city, street or institution in some cases.
4. Change your IP address
Therefore, to avoid this kind of effect, your device’s IP address must be changed - this is our second trick. VPN and proxy services, of which there are a multitude of both free and paid options, will accomplish this task; better services will often let you change your perceived location at the drop of a hat to one of several countries across the world. Even with your payment method ultimately being the same, you can still save money this way. For flights and other bookings, we recommend setting your location to the country that you’re visiting, rather than the country that you’re from, to get the lowest fares. For example, if you’re taking a return flight from the UK to California, why not pretend you’re already there? Even for the exact same flight, you could well see a different price listed.
5. Clear your computer cookies
Some internet veterans might well have spotted the flaw in this plan at this point - if you keep visiting the same site from the same browser to check to see if different IP addresses give better prices, won’t the site know that you’re returning and keep showing you a consistent price? Often this is indeed the case, as websites are able to leave cookies - small files that mark you as a unique visitor - on your computer between visits. That means in order to check for different prices, it’s often advisable to clear your computer of cookies between visits. (Using your browser’s private browsing or incognito mode can also help with this.)
Of course, there’s no guarantee that booking sites will keep showing you the same price once they’ve positively identified you through a cookie - they may well drive up their prices on subsequent visits, making it appear that seats on a flight or rooms in a hotel are disappearing at a rapid pace, pushing you to buy as quickly as possible, even at that heightened price, for fear of losing out. Scary text and graphics, such as rapidly ticking countdown timers or purportedly live visitor data (‘ten people are currently viewing this page’) often accompany this tactic to really boost its effectiveness.
Therefore, it’s well worth checking whether prices are different after you’ve cleared your cookies and restarted your browser - or, following the tricks above, after you’ve changed your device or turned on a VPN. Even if you don’t do this, try to rest easy - apart from very rare occasions, these scare tactics are usually baseless, and the same tickets will often be available for weeks without major changes in price. Don’t give in to their trickery; stay calm, and only book once you’re sure that you’ve found the best option.
So with that third trick - and a little bit of bonus advice - our article comes to an end. Remember: use a different device, use a VPN to change your location and clear your cookies before visiting a booking site again. With these simple tricks, you’ll have the opportunity to save some money - and now that you know about how these sites can work, you’ll find it easier to spot similar tactics in the future. Good luck out there, and be sure to let me know if these tips worked for you - I’m on Twitter @wsjudd. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time!