There’s a long-lasting rumour that flight prices will increase if you look at the same deals more than once. A lot of people prefer to book flights in Chrome ‘incognito mode’ or they clear cookies first before booking.
The theory is that flight search websites know you’ve looked at a particular flight before based on your browsing history. They will then increase the price on your second or third look to create a sense of urgency.
But do browser cookies actually increase flight prices? We investigate to find out if there is any truth in the myth.
Aside from being a delicious sweet treat, cookies have another meaning in the digital world. More formally known as ‘HTTP cookies’, they are small data files which are created by a website and then stored by the user’s web browser. They are created when you visit a website and are generally intended to make your browsing experience smoother.
For example, they keep track of your movements on a particular site so that you can resume where you left off at a later time. They might remember your login details and, in the case of e-commerce sites, any items you had saved in your basket.
Cookies contain very small pieces of information so they typically can’t be used to reveal personal information, other than your browsing history on that site. There are two types of cookies: session cookies and persistent cookies. Session cookies are temporary and are deleted once you’ve left the website. Persistent cookies remain in your browser’s subfolder and are activated again when you revisit the website.
Source: Expert Vagabond
Anecdotes are common and many people are still absolutely convinced that they’ve witnessed flight prices rocket after a second visit. In the past, people have suggested that revisiting the same flights multiple times shows the provider increased demand, which is why prices may increase. Search engine algorithms are becoming more complex and it’s definitely not out of the realms of possibility.
A study carried out in 2016 performed simultaneous searches at various different times to investigate any differences. Some searches were completed on a ‘normal’ browser and some on a ‘scrubbed’ browser (which had cookies and cache cleared).
Among the 372 searches, they found 42 pairs of differently priced tickets for the same flights searched at the same time. This could be evidence that browser history affects pricing.
However, an industry spokesperson suggested that even a difference of a few seconds could have affected the results. Indeed, many in the industry think it’s unlikely that cookies actually increase flight prices.
While prices do fluctuate, this will depend on a number of different factors. For example, like with train tickets, there will be different price brackets for a particular flight and when one sells out, the price will jump to the next one. It will also depend on last-minute cancellations, other people booking places and deals specific to certain days of the week.
The process for clearing cookies will vary slightly depending on which browser you use, but let’s take Chrome as a primary example. Here are the steps to clear your cookies and cache:
1. Open the browser
2. Click the three dots in the top right corner
3. Click ‘More tools’ and then ‘Clear browsing data’
4. At the top, choose a time range (to delete everything, select All Time)
5. Check the boxes next to ‘Cookies and other site data’ and ‘cached images and files’
6. Click ‘Clear data’
This will clear cookies from all websites over a particular time period. To delete cookies from a specific site you need to use the advanced settings. This might be useful if you want to keep login details for certain websites and not others.
For a speedier and easier browsing experience, cache and cookies will actually help you out. If your browser remembers your history, it makes it much easier for you to find the websites you’ve been browsing and be automatically logged in without having to remember your details.
However, if you have concerns about your data privacy, you may still want to clear your browser every so often.
It’s all about what you feel comfortable with but, if your only motivation for clearing your cookies just now is for flight prices, it might not be worth it!
Opt for mid-week flights
Weekend flights, particularly Fridays and Sundays, tend to be far more popular because that’s when everyone wants to travel. If you can, try to take advantage of the cheaper flights that are generally available during the week.
Book on Tuesday mornings
This is a myth that seems to have a bit more truth to it! Flight deals tend to go live on Monday nights to encourage people to buy so Tuesday mornings are a great time to book.
Compare different airlines
There are plenty of flight comparison sites out there so try looking at deals by different airlines to find the best price for you.
Try to book in advance where possible
One of the reasons flight prices increase when you look back is just because they get more expensive nearer the time. Last-minute deals sometimes come around but, if you know you need a flight in advance, it’s better to book sooner rather than later.
Don’t buy straight away
Although we can’t be 100% sure of whether browser cookies increase flight prices, there’s no harm in shopping around or looking on different devices. It seems that prices are constantly changing, whatever the cause, so the first deal you see may not be the best one.
Hopefully, this guide has given you a few tips when it comes to buying flights online. Keep shopping around and happy holidays!