Do Airlines Charge Higher Prices Based on Online Activity?

Q: Hey, Rick – is it true that if your web browser accepts cookies, the airlines can track how much you paid for tickets in the past, and if you paid a lot for your last flight, you might be quoted a steeper price for your next search?

A. First of all, everyone drops cookies on the web so that they can track a variety of things. As for this particular myth – that the airlines will quote you a higher price based on your previous online activity – a myth is all it is.

It just is not true. In fact, I would give it – 5 Pinocchios.

But is it true that the airlines would love to know everything about you?  Sure. They’re just like any other retailer, online or off. So, yes all airlines collect tons of info on you – loyalty programs, for example, provide them with a wealth of personal information – but this is mainly to tailor add-on product offerings that they believe you would be likely to purchase.

Ask Rick Q&A: When’s the Best Time to Buy Around-the-World Tickets?

However, if any airline was caught changing quotes based on a person’s ability to pay or based on what was learned about them through Experian or past online activity, they would be raked over the coals and probably break about a dozen pricing and disclosure laws and regulations along the way.

Airlines do change their prices – and sometimes change them frequently – but this pricing activity is based on dozens of criteria including demand, advance purchase, length of stay, day of travel, time of year and much more. Airlines do not do this based on individual online or historical purchasing information.

Now whether this answer will stop conspiracy theorists from continuing to promulgate this particular myth, well – I have my doubts!


Published: January 9, 2012