Is your search history affecting your flight prices?

If a flight only becomes more expensive the more you search for it, your persistence may be part of the problem.

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Have you ever gotten the feeling that your online searches were being tracked by an outside server that affects how prices are presented to you? Specifically, when looking for flights, does it always seem like the price you’re offered upon the first search is the base rate on which prices are always presented to you, and they go higher, but never really go lower? Is this a real thing?

Photo: AdobeStock

Truth is, there is some validity to this, but it isn’t a personal attack against you. It’s not your personal searches and results that put reasonable prices in a chokehold when looking for cheaper flights. It’s more about supply and demand.

If you need a refresher, the law of supply and demand explains the interaction between the sellers of a resource and the buyers of that resource; the relationship between the number of commodities producers wish to sell at various prices and the quantity consumers wish to buy. Supply and demand is the main model of price determination used in economic theory and it’s also what’s going on when you search for a flight more than once. 

Basically, the more you search for a particular flight, the more it appears there is a demand for said flight. With high demand comes high prices. The less a flight is checked for, the lower the demand is for the flight, regardless of how many available seats they have. Prices are likely to drop when demand is low and likely to rise when demand is high. 

Airline companies also use something called “dynamic pricing”, aka real-time pricing, a highly flexible approach to setting the cost for a product or service. The goal of dynamic pricing is to allow a company that sells goods or services over the internet to adjust prices on the fly in response to market demands. So again, the more a flight is searched for, even if by the same user, the demand for that flight is logged and therefore likely to go higher in price right before your eyes. 

How do you stop it? The trick may be to look into your internet cookies. 

Cookies are information saved by your web browser, remembering your last visit and keeping track of your searches over time. Airline sites are known to use cookies for location-based and currency details, but they are also used for supply and demand purposes. 

So, what can you do to actually get cheaper flights? There is no set answer. You can search on well-known low-cost airline sites like Skyscanner and Cheapflights. But besides that, your best bet is to clear your search history and cookies. This allows you to start fresh in your search rather than be tracked by previous searches, and it may present you with a cheaper price—or not. But it’s a worthwhile strategy to test out.

Noel Cymone Walker

Noel Cymone Walker is an NYC-based writer specializing in beauty, fashion, music, travel, and cultural anthropology. She has written and produced visuals for several notable publications such as The Recording Academy/The Grammys, The Fader, Billboard, OkayPlayer, Marie Claire, Glamour, Allure, Essence, Ebony, and more.

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