While booking fares for an upcoming Africa trip, a strange thing happened that could have cost me hundreds of dollars. In order to find the cheapest fare, I opened up 10 browser windows to [[ BookingBuddy | search 10 different online travel seller sites at once ]], including Expedia, Airfare.com, Travelocity, CheapTickets, and the like. At first, the cheapest price appeared to be a $1,500 ticket on Airfare.com. The other sites all showed low prices around $1,800. Nevertheless, I clicked through on all the sites to see the exact routing and flight times available. To my surprise, the price on CheapTickets suddenly dropped to $1,300. After doing a little more research to ensure that was indeed the lowest price, I booked.
Since this happened, I tried to replicate this experience and have on several occasions found lower prices by clicking through after conducting an initial search—not just on CheapTickets—but also on Orbitz, Hotwire, and a number of other sites. I found the biggest price discrepancies occurred when searching for complicated multi-leg international journeys.
So what’s going on? I emailed reps for the major airfare booking sites to find out. Only Clem Bason, vice president of merchandising at [[ Hotwire | Hotwire]], responded, but I think his explanation probably applies to other sites as well: “When a user conducts an airfare search, Hotwire searches for the 100 cheapest fares across our airline partners. Then, as a user continues through the checkout process, we perform a second, more detailed confirmation to ensure seats are available at that price. During the search process, we use predictive technology to let us know if the fares in the original search will be in doubt, and if so, we will check only those fares during the first pass … We don’t believe our users should have to do extra work to find our lowest price, and have some efforts underway to eliminate these price changes entirely.”
Whatever the case, in order to not miss out on big savings, especially on expensive international itineraries, I recommend always clicking through to start the booking process on the airfare search engines you visit.
(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com and Hotwire)
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