December 2017
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Don’t get overcharged by “Thetrainline.com” and other travel websites

Many travel websites – for booking hotels, holidays, train and plane tickets etc – have a function that identifies each person accessing them by their computer and which then charges them more once the website knows which hotel date, holiday or ticket they are interested in. Let me explain from what happened to me yesterday:

I tried to book a train ticket from London to Bournemouth using Thetrainline.com and was quoted £18. I couldn’t remember my password and so didn’t go ahead. A few minutes later, I thought I’d found the right password and so tried again and was quoted £26 for the same train, so I booked on an earlier train for £18. But the password I found was an old one and when The Trainline sent me a new password and I tried to do the booking again (just a couple of minutes later) on the earlier train, the price had also jumped from £18 to £26. I tried from two other computers in my home and on both got the higher ticket price for both trains. But a few hours later, I went to an Internet cafe and made the booking. This time both train journeys had returned to the original price of £18 as Thetrainline.com did not identify that I was the same person who had tried to make the earlier booking.

I realise that a jump in price from £18 to £26 is trivial. But I’ve had the same experience when booking flights, hotels and ski holidays – then the price jump can be hundreds of pounds. Many travel booking websites identify which trains, planes, hotels or holidays you are interested in. If you buy immediately, you get a low price. But if you want to think about things or discuss with someone else, next time you visit the website it recognises you and pushes up the price because it knows exactly what places, dates and times you want.  The only way you can then get the original lower price is to go onto those travel websites from a different location so the website doesn’t recognise you or to use their usually expensive phone booking services.

I’ve also heard, though don’t know if it’s true, that if you make a booking from an Apple computer, you’ll be charged more than if you make it from say a Samsung as the website knows that Apple users will usually be prepared to pay more.

This is not an earthshattering revelation. But it’s still worth knowing about this little trick that many travel websites use to fleece their customers.

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