Published on Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Study finds travel sites manipulate prices, search results

Online booking sites have been accused of lack of transparency when it comes to offering the best rates, according to new research which says available prices can be dependent on past browser history and 'personalization.'

A study by researchers at the Northeastern University said price discrimination, whereas price is customized to a specific user, and price steering, when the order of search results is customized are two ways that OTAs manipulate results.

The study looked at 16 e-commerce sites and found these practices were more often used by travel search websites.

Examples found included Priceline personalizing search results based on a customer's previous booking history and Expedia and steered some users to more expensive options.

Travelocity also personalized results specifically for mobile users.

Researchers found that Orbitz customers who registered on the site are charged an average of $12 less than first time users.

Most of these practices are not illegal and in some cases rewarded loyalty by offering lower 'member only' rates but lack of transparency means it is hard to know when customers are really getting the best deal, said study co-author Christo Wilson.

"I get this question from people all the time: 'How do I get the best price?' The truth is I don't have a good answer," Wilson said.

"It changes depending on the site, and the algorithms they use change regularly, so good advice today might not be good advice tomorrow."

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  • Delete Cookies ???

    Will deleting cookies or clearing cache allow for truer not imbedded pricing???

    By dickd1946 , Friday, October 31, 2014

  • Agree that results are manipulated

    I've said this for some time now that the OTA's search results are not always accurate or complete -in terms of pricing, availability and flight schedules. Why is it that a customer cannot always see the same flight and price that I see available through my GDS? My advice is if you want to see all of your options, seek out a professional travel consultant for an unbiased search of fares and flight availability for the purchase of your next airline ticket.

    By Chervyl Hammerley, Friday, October 31, 2014

  • Not illegal??

    How can that not be illegal for online sites? If an agency's GDS system did that, they'd be blasted and fined!

    By Barbara Bom, Friday, October 31, 2014

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