Do travel websites penalize comparison shopping?

It’s time to plan my annual holiday travel from Seattle to my family’s various stomping grounds in the eastern third of the US. This year’s destination is Ohio.

As usual when planning travel, I am using one of the popular travel websites. Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia, etc.

I do many searches, getting data on fares for a range of dates and a range of airports near my destination. What usually happens is:

  1. I find a pretty good deal.
  2. I go searching for a better deal.
  3. I fail to find a better deal.
  4. I go back to the pretty good deal, but it’s gone, and the ticket price is $50-100 higher than it was a few minutes ago.

Now I would expect Step 4 to vary a little bit…that is, from time to time I would think the deal would get better or at least stay the same, not get worse. But it gets worse every time. (Sorry, anecdotal evidence only.)

So I put the question: is my experience a random outcome, an instance of confirmation bias (or whatever bias makes me only notice the bad outcomes), or a known feature of travel websites? If comparison shopping is somehow causing me to lose good deals, what is another method I could use?

I don’t think it’s confirmation bias. I think that what happens is that it is a pretty good deal. It’s a good enough deal that the comparison shoppers who started before you and shopped around ended up settled on that price as the best one, buying the limited number of low priced tickets.

That, and the website may register the amount of interest in the flight by the number of quotes it issues, regardless of whether the ticket is actually sold, raising the price.

I’m sure you know this if you fly to Ohio regularly, but if you’re flying into the southwest corner, Dayton usually offers substantial discounts over Cincinnati. Columbus is usually pretty reasonable as well, comparatively speaking.

Perhaps you could try adding the first deal to your shopping cart, and then open up a new window/tab and comparison shop. If you don’t find a better deal and try to check out with the original price, it should tell you that the price is no longer available.

This only helps out in keeping the original price, it doesn’t really answer the question as to why you couldn’t find the deal again.

To do the same thing a little more efficiently, try kayak.com. It runs all the searches for you and shows you the results.

I used to work at one of the large travel sites and your experience is mostly coincidence. I say “mostly” because airlines will occasionally raise prices on routes that are close to being sold out.

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I’m still watching prices creep up but I also know that’s a general phenomenon these days, and not just me. kayak.com is a helpful tool.

Columbus is closest to my destination. Dayton was cheaper a few days ago, but I haven’t seen that price since. :frowning: