This week, The Wall Street Journal reported that travel site Orbitz has discovered that “people who use Apple Inc.’s Mac computers spend as much as 30% more a night on hotels” and as a result, Mac users are being shown higher priced accommodations than those who search the site with PCs – at least, initially.
UPDATE 6-27-12: Orbitz CEO Barney Harford slammed the article, telling Tnooz it is “nonsense that we’d charge Mac users more for the same hotel” which is not quite what the Journal reported, but Harford then added that information gleaned about the buying habits of customer is “just one of many factors that determine which hotels to recommend a given customer as part of our efforts to show customers the most relevant hotels possible.”
Listen as airfare analyst Rick Seaney explains what you reveal every time you search:
Mac Users, Higher Prices: ‘What They Like’
On Tuesday, FareCompare contacted Orbitz for comment [disclosure: Orbitz is a search vendor for FareCompare] and received no response but ABC’s Good Morning America program reported Orbitz as saying it offered Mac users certain travel options because, “that’s what they like.”
Data Mining to Target Customers Not New
Mining data to extract value for online retailers is nothing new, according to FareCompare co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Graeme Wallace, who points out that Amazon’s recommendation system was just the start. Says Wallace, “Companies are building more sophisticated machine learning systems, and it is these systems that are going to lead to better targeting of products to consumers on the web.”
Could Data Mining Backfire
Travel analyst Rick Seaney who appeared on Good Morning America (see the video below), says matching consumers with products they are perceived to covet is understandable: “If you’re the kind of person who likes to pay for premium things, certainly as a travel company like Orbitz, I want to offer you those things first.” However, Seaney says, at some point, some customers may get “outraged” if too much personal data is mined. “Digital companies, especially those in the travel sector, are walking a creepy tightrope on privacy,” says Seaney, adding that sometimes data doesn’t tell the whole story. “For example, I’m a Mac user – though I also have Windows products – but I am a cheapskate.”
FareCompare Prices: From Cheapest to Highest
Fellow cheapskates have an easy remedy, says Seaney. “The cheapest price is typically one click or one tap away – just hit, ‘sort by price.’” FareCompare always shows its airfare prices beginning with the cheapest flights to the more expensive ones, but users can sort or filter the fares to produce custom results depending on their needs.