Flight Search Engines And The Multi-City Ripoff

from the well-look-at-that dept

It's no secret that almost no one who isn't employed by an airline really understands airline pricing, but in playing around with some flight search/booking tools, I recently came across something interesting, suggesting that if you're doing multi-city tours, it may pay to not let a flight search tool know that. I have a bit of travel coming up in the near future that's going to involve a bunch of stops. While I was booking the flights, I noticed some oddities. In pre-planning the trip, I had done some spot checks on pricing for flights between various cities -- plugging them into Expedia to see what came up, just to get a sense of what the cost would be. However, when it came time to book, I did one big "multi-city" list of flights, and was surprised that what came back seemed significantly more expensive than what my mental estimate had been from the spot check. So I went back, and looked what would happen if I booked each leg individually... and the prices went way down -- back to what I had seen with the spot checks. Hmm. In the end, if I had booked the multi-city flights for the exact same flights it would have been more than double the cost than if I booked the flights individually (which I did).

I decided to mess around and see if this was true in other situations and on other travel search engines. Because I really don't feel like broadcasting my travel plans/flight times/flight dates/destinations to the world, I tried it again with a made up itinerary, which I used to demonstrate the situation below. I did all of the searches within minutes of each other and went back and redid a few of the searches to make sure that my own searches weren't somehow influencing the pricing (they didn't -- if I went back and did the same searches, I still got the same prices). I will say that on my actual flights, the multi-city price was even higher and the individual flight costs were even lower than with this example that I show, so the spread was even bigger than seen here, though this example still gives a decent spread. First up, here's my example "multi-city" itinerary as per Expedia:
As you can see, three flights, total price: $2,891. Okay, now find the exact same flights on the exact same day and time, but do the searches individually. Here are the results:
Same exact flights. But the individual prices are $494, $723 and $477. That adds up to $1,694. Still kinda pricey for three flights, but well, well, well below $2,891. For the exact same flights. Yes, Expedia might show all of your flights in a single page itinerary on the website, but is that really worth $1,197? Seems doubtful. I mentioned this on Twitter, and someone suggested that the "risk" of booking individually is that they don't know if you're going to miss a connection, which does make sense on flights that are connecting flights. But none of these are. They're all different flights on different airlines on different days.

I was curious if other search engines would show the same thing. First up, was Expedia's main competitor in being the "big legacy" player, Travelocity. I haven't used that site in years, and discovered that their interface is incredibly annoying (it also seems to be one of the only flight search engines I can find that doesn't try to autofill airports as you type). Rather than showing the full package upfront, Travelocity makes me pick each flight, so I did -- and picked the exact same flights:
Now, here's our first clue into what's going on. Even though I very clearly had the box checked for only "coach/economy" seats, Travelocity put me in business class on that last flight. There was no option to change that at all, and other combinations more or less turned up the same thing. I have no idea why they did this, but the overall price was just a few dollars more than Expedia:
Also, in case you're curious, when I just did the single flight search for that final leg, Travelocity doesn't say it needs to be a business class ticket. Instead, it shows a coach ticket with a price not too far off from the Expedia price:
I have no idea why Travelocity sneaks in that business class seat (and it's not clear if that's what Expedia is doing too, though I suspect it may be). Then I decided to move on and test some of the next generation of flight search/booking sites, starting with Hipmunk, which I really like. The end result... about the same, though a tad more expensive.
Now, on this one there are two other things to discuss. First, while it's not clear from the way it's shown here, that first flight is not a coach seat either. The only options presented by Hipmunk were "premium economy" on SAS flights or business class on Brussels Air, even though if you search individually, there are coach seats available. Hmmm. So that's the second search engine that throws in a semi-hidden (you can only see it on mouseover) upgraded seat, which probably contributes to the massive price jump (though on Hipmunk it's the first flight, as opposed to the last one on Travelocity).

The other thing you might notice is that the final flight on Hipmunk is actually not the same. That's because, when doing the multicity search, Hipmunk doesn't even show that 8pm flight. You can see it if I expand out and it shows the final leg options.
With the multi-city search, Hipmunk only shows those two morning flights. I still chose the Iberia flight, since I was trying to keep it somewhat consistent with the other searches. If I had made a few different selections, I could have decreased the total by a bit, but not by that much. Oh, and it's not like Hipmunk can't find that 8pm flight. Do a single search, rather than multi-city and, boom, there it is:
Someone on Twitter suggested trying Kayak, and that turned up something interesting and different!
Hey, look! That first package looks an awful lot like the individual pricing that I found on Expedia. And note the little "Hacker Fare" note. If you mouseover, they explain that to get that rate, you may have to buy flights separately. Hmm. A Kayak blog post notes that such "hacker fares" are usually about finding better two "one-way" flights for a roundtrip. Except that's not what's happening here, since none of these are round trips. They're all the same flights. Except... actually, with Kayak... they're not. These aren't the same flights. One of the criteria I had used above was that I was seeking out non-stop flights, and to get the cheap fares via Kayak, you had to take one or two "1 stop" flights. In the side bar, there are check boxes for things like that, and so I "forced" it to only look for nonstop flights... and Kayak told me no such flights existed.
That seems odd. All the other search engines could find three nonstop flights. For what it's worth, I also checked Orbitz, and Orbitz actually had an even better deal, getting the price all the way down to $1,227.29 -- lower even than my individual flights, but there are caveats. All three of the flights involve layovers, and the final one is an overnight layover, so if timing is important, that might not work.
Oddly, Orbitz basically doesn't show any non-stop options until you get to the second page of results. If you just looked at the first page, you might be led to believe that there aren't even direct flights between these cities at all. Also, as far as I can tell, Orbitz, like Kayak, absolutely refuses to offer any way to take all three flights as non-stop, despite the fact that they clearly exist.

After going through all of this, I reached out to folks at Hipmunk, to see if they could explain the result. Hipmunk's Adam Goldstein kindly explained the basic situation, noting that airlines have all sorts of rules about what tickets can be combined with others. If you've never dealt with the insane details of fare classes (which go way beyond seating classes), you can spend way too much time online reading the crazy details. Given that, it seems that it is these kinds of "fare classes" that are the "culprit" -- and by "culprit" I mean the way in which the airlines force you into spending much, much, much more than you need to.

That said, Goldstein also argues that there are downsides to buying individual flights. He brings up, as we discussed above, the issue of connecting flights (and also having bags checked all the way through to destination) -- but as noted, that doesn't apply in this situation. He also points out that if you have to "change or cancel your whole trip, you have to pay separate change/cancel fees for each booking, instead of one for the whole thing." That's absolutely true, but is that "insurance" worth paying twice as much? I could rebook my entire trip with different times and dates... and basically pay the same total amount. So... that argument doesn't make much sense.

In the end, it really feels like a scammy way of making fliers pay a lot more than they need to, without them realizing it. What I do know, however, is that if you're looking for the best deals, do not assume that a multi-city search will turn up the cheapest prices -- and also recognize that the different search engines can give out extremely different answers. For example, if price was the only concern, and short flight times/non-stop flights were less important, then obviously that British Airways option at the end is by far the best price -- but it turns up on none of the other search engines. However, I'd imagine that most casual fliers have no idea, and I wonder if many people end up booking multi-city flight options, not realizing that they could save a ton by booking the exact same flights individually.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Jay (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 1:33pm

    Price discrimination?

    Perhaps the answer to this lies in who does multi-flight tours.

    I would think that people with more money want the convenience of just booking at one time rather than individual bookings. So we have a system set up to charge what the market will bear in this situation.

    The smarter people are those that opt for individual tours and don't go first class on each leg.

    Other than that, I can only think that it's a great scam that nets them huge profits for less work. Kind of like copyright.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 7:26pm

      Re: Price discrimination?

      This is not a scam.

      It's very clear the author neither knows much about how to book smartly (and cheaply) nor that he understands how ticketing works.

      First off - his flights span 3 different airline alliances. Not only fare class, but alliance rules and agreements affect the seat availability and the price for those seats.

      If the author was more knowledgeable - instead of doing multi-city OR buying separately - he would have done a round trip ticket from hist 1st and last flight. Then bought a separate flight b/n city 1 and 2. You can price this itinerary over $150 cheaper than booking 3 separate flights!!

      Likewise, he could have choses flight 1 and 2 as a round trip and flight 3 as a separate ticket.

      This is a pure product of ignorance rather than some master plan to scam consumers... Research pays off... No offense to the author - but he didn't do his homework here!

       

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        Kingster (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 7:14am

        Re: Re: Price discrimination?

        Maybe I'm missing something here...

        You say buy a round trip ticket for first and last (1 and 3), then buy a separate flight from 1 to 2. He would also need another flight from 2 to 3. In addition, because he is not returning to his origin city, how does he get a round trip for 1 and 3? Right? Or did I get lost somewhere...

        Can you explain a bit more, please?

         

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        Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 7:42am

        Re: Re: Price discrimination?

        nor that he understands how ticketing works.

        Why should understanding ticketing be any more complicated than "show me every flight and option for each leg of my trip so I can decide the best options for myself"? Can you give a good answer as to why there are all these bizarre rules you need to understand?

        You shouldn't need to understand fare classes. You shouldn't need workarounds and hacks to getting the best prices, or even being able to know what flights are available.

         

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          art guerrilla (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 1:26pm

          Re: Re: Re: Price discrimination?

          thanks...

          so a person who travels airlines needs to get a degree in ticketology to protect themselves AGAINST the airlines ? ? ?
          uh huh, that sounds reasonable...

          IF 'we' have to go to major levels of research and education to simply buy a freaking airplane ticket at a reasonable price, then the system is obviously set up by default to rip us off...

          which -in fact- pretty much describes 90% or our transactions with companies: they ARE trying to rip us off, NOT SIMPLY provide a service/good we need at a fair price, BUT ACTIVELY, CONSTANTLY, EGREGIOUSLY attempting to obfuscate and confuse us TO RIP US OFF...

          it ain't by accident, it is done purposefully...

          art guerrilla
          aka ann archy
          eof

           

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          Vdiddy (profile), Apr 12th, 2014 @ 9:21am

          Re: Re: Re: Price discrimination?

          Your absoloutely right , you shouldn't need to understand fare and ticketing rules to get better price on a Multi search.
          However if there is no need to transit or connect same day then multi search is clearly not the best option as the article suggests.
          The reason is bit like buying a Ford from a Toyota dealer and then on selling it to a Mazda dealer.
          There is no agreement between the existing companies to carry the order and as such a premium is placed on the purchase. If there were an agreement between Scandinavian , KLM and Iberia
          then the search would have returned all flights with the same SAS or KLM flight number and fare would have been cheaper than doing it
          individually. A good prompt when searching multi's if this happens,then to check the flight numbers carry the same airline code and if not book individually.
          I think the OTA's need some java prompt for when this occurs.

           

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    BentFranklin (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 3:09pm

    Another tip is to make your purchases on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. The same flights cost much more if you buy them on a weekend.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 3:16pm

    Good job, Clouseau. This racket is well known to most business travelers. How do you think these helpful search engines really make money? Not on the pittance they get from the airlines. Find a good travel agent, they still have the best command of the games the airlines play.

     

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      PRMan, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 4:34pm

      Re:

      Yeah. You mean the travel agent that wanted to charge me the amount like Mike is talking about and then charge me triple for 3 star hotels?

      No thanks. I just took over my whole trip myself after figuring out that she was completely useless.

       

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      Enrique, Apr 23rd, 2013 @ 9:39am

      Re:

      Note that the ones making money out of this are not the online engines. It's the airlines.

      As a travel agent, I face the same situation with several clients who often book complicated itineraries. You need to know and check when it's better to break out the tickets and when it's not...

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 3:36pm

    This is why I like trains.

     

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    Uriel-238 (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 3:49pm

    Not atypical for shopping search engines.

    Even Google Shopping favors stores that pay for priority, and omits plenty of non-franchise locations or ones that don't have enough of a public presence.

    Despite my expectation of a discount for bundling, it turned out to be cheaper to get individual parts for my recent computer upgrade rather than buy a new one from HP or Lenovo. And this was when shopping at discount places anyway, like Woot and Costco.

    I do not believe there are any truly impartial shopping search engines or even ones that make their partiality transparent (such as identifying links to sponsors).

    So it only makes sense that a travel agent would create for you a flight itinerary that prioritized cost and commission over price efficiency.

    After my recent experiences with travel services, I'm reticent to go anywhere.

     

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    Danny (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 3:56pm

    Two other disadvantages of separate leg bookings

    Not only does one lose out on the airline looking out for you with delayed flights (as was mentioned on Twitter to Mike), but I suspect there are a few other losses as well.

    1. If you do have to re-book do to missed flights or change of plans, you would get hit with a separate change fee for each leg.

    2. My recollection from doing the separate leg thing in the past we that I couldn't get them to check my bags all the way through.

    I was separately buying legs of a contiguous trip. Mike seems to be buying legs with stopovers, so this constraint wouldn't apply to him.

     

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      DSchneider (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 4:17pm

      Re: Two other disadvantages of separate leg bookings

      Not that it justifies double the price, but I agree if you check any baggage this trick will not work unless you have huge layover times. As Danny says booking seperately means you can't check your bags to your final destination which means at each stop you will need to go down to baggage claim, get your bag, recheck it, and then re-go through security.
      Even without checked bags, if you forget to pre-print your boarding passes for you other flights you may have to leave the terminal to go check in which means another round of security. You may be able to find someone to check you in in the terminal at customer service or another gate, but that isn't a guarantee.

       

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        PRMan, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 4:36pm

        Re: Re: Two other disadvantages of separate leg bookings

        Fed Ex your bag to your hotel at your destination. It would be cheaper, even if it doesn't arrive.

         

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      Chosen Reject (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 4:19pm

      Re: Two other disadvantages of separate leg bookings

      Don't take offense, but I'm going to poke some fun at you now.

      Hey Mike, Danny here makes some good points. You should add something to the story indicating those problems. Perhaps make up a fictitious converstaion you had with a man named Goldstein (that's a more mature sounding name than Danny), and have him bring up those points. Like this:
      That said, Goldstein also argues that there are downsides to buying individual flights. He brings up, as we discussed above, the issue of connecting flights (and also having bags checked all the way through to destination) -- but as noted, that doesn't apply in this situation. He also points out that if you have to "change or cancel your whole trip, you have to pay separate change/cancel fees for each booking, instead of one for the whole thing."
      But then (because you are Mike and have to be contrarian) rebut it with something like this:
      That's absolutely true, but is that "insurance" worth paying twice as much? I could rebook my entire trip with different times and dates... and basically pay the same total amount. So... that argument doesn't make much sense.

       

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 4:35pm

      Re: Two other disadvantages of separate leg bookings

      How are those "other" disadvantages when I brought up both and responded to them in the article itself?

       

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    Joe, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 4:00pm

    or book Ryan Air. 15 Euro for all three flights, but god help you if you want to change anything. or bring luggage. or use the bathroom.

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 4:37pm

      Re:

      or book Ryan Air. 15 Euro for all three flights, but god help you if you want to change anything. or bring luggage. or use the bathroom.

      Or sit. Or breathe.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 4:02pm

    Thanks for the info if I ever do care to travel in a multi-city fashion.

     

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    akp (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 4:38pm

    If you think that's something, try looking at airline prices from PC and then from a Mac. Do it again from Chrome and then IE and see what your price differences are.

    Spoiler: The flight search makes presumptions based on your platform and browser as to what prices it should present you. Mac users pay more, for instance.

     

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      BentFranklin (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 5:19pm

      Re:

      I am guessing IE pays more than Chrome?

       

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      Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 5:37pm

      Re:

      Spoiler: The flight search makes presumptions based on your platform and browser as to what prices it should present you. Mac users pay more, for instance.

      That's going to be increasingly the case as companies compile more data on us. Each of us will get a different price based on previous buying patterns. The upside is that if you only buy when something is on sale, perhaps that's all you'll ever see. They'll know the proper price point to send you to encourage you to buy.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 5:43pm

        Re: Re:

        I think that's right. By now I'm sure the data aggregators know my income or can infer it from my address and spending habits. Know what I buy online what kind of computer and car I have.... and fuck me accordingly.

         

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    Pixelation, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 4:52pm

    Expect takedown notices for this article in 3,2,1...

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 7:24pm

      Re:

      Takedown notice for what? This is one of the most ignorant articles I've read.

      It's very clear the author neither knows much about how to book smartly (and cheaply) nor that he understands how ticketing works.

      First off - his flights span 3 different airline alliances. Not only fare class, but alliance rules and agreements affect the seat availability and the price for those seats.

      If the author was more knowledgeable - instead of doing multi-city OR buying separately - he would have done a round trip ticket from hist 1st and last flight. Then bought a separate flight b/n city 1 and 2. You can price this itinerary over $150 cheaper than booking 3 separate flights!!

      Likewise, he could have choses flight 1 and 2 as a round trip and flight 3 as a separate ticket.

      So, I really don't think there will be any take down notices here... the dude needs to realize that buying tickets across 3 airline alliances will always be more expensive and will always choose budget-unfriendly fare class seats due to availability and alliance codeshare rules.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 1:33am

        Re: Re:

        But that is not what the author wanted to bring up. The different searches and their results are what is problematic here.

         

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    Designerfx (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 7:10pm

    what about ITA?

    I'm not sure you can do the multi-city thing in ITA, but I'll test.

    Google seems to default to business class for 2 of the flights as well.

    http://matrix.itasoftware.com/view/details?session=42373449-43f1-46e4-8906-c102bb4d5ef0

    comes out to around $3400.

    Searching individually finds the first flight for $184? wow.

    http://matrix.itasoftware.com/view/details?session=ab204067-2277-401b-84bd-e79c08daa325

     

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    K, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 7:16pm

    There's a Better Way to Book than what you suggest!

    Mike, this is not surprising. If you travel often you should have already known that for an itinerary like your multi-city is not a great option.

    In your multi-city itinerary - you'd notice that all 3 flights are on 3 different airline alliance. Yet the ticket is ticketed to the airline on the first leg. Do you not realize that beyond fare class rules your ticket is also subject to codeshares and seat availability across airlines and alliances?

    It is no surprise that due to that - you are only shown an availability for a business class flight bc there is no appropriate fare class compliant codeshare seat availability.

    This is basic stuff.

    And so is structuring itineraries like yours. What you should try is getting an open jaw ticket and buying a separate ticket for the connecting flight that takes you from city your second city to the third and so on.

    I price your

    http://www.kayak.com/flights/OSL-BRU/2013-04-23-afternoon/MAD-FCO/2013-04-25-evening - to about $740 - which is cheaper than buying them separately by over $150 bucks... then you can buy your KLM flights.

    Your article is really misleading and misinforms folks to book in ways that do not work very well.

    A little education & research goes a long way before publishing something like this!

     

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      Designerfx (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 7:23pm

      Re: There's a Better Way to Book than what you suggest!

      Uh, you put different days in than Mike did.

      MAD FCO was 4/29. Which I see for $264 (lowest) searched individually in ITA. Which is umm, $500 less?

       

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        K, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 7:28pm

        Re: Re: There's a Better Way to Book than what you suggest!

        You are correct... What i was searching for here is based on his last screenshot... thought the dates across his screenshots are consistent.

        But you are right - there are MUCH cheaper fares there.

         

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 11:10pm

      Re: There's a Better Way to Book than what you suggest!

      First off, there are ways to add to the conversation in which you are insightful and helpful. And there are ways to add and be a total dick. Which did you choose?

      It is no surprise that due to that - you are only shown an availability for a business class flight bc there is no appropriate fare class compliant codeshare seat availability.

      Which seems like a point worth highlighting.

      This is basic stuff.


      I've been talking to people about this for a month now and have yet to meet anyone aware of any of this. You may be a travel expert, so good for you. Do you insult everyone who isn't as brilliant as you on any particular subject?

      You honestly could have shared more information in a nice and helpful way and I would have thanked you. But, what the fuck, dude?

      And so is structuring itineraries like yours. What you should try is getting an open jaw ticket and buying a separate ticket for the connecting flight that takes you from city your second city to the third and so on.

      Note, as stated in the article, the itinerary you see is made up. What I booked in real life is exactly what you suggest, but it seemed off-topic to the point I was making.

      (Also note, I don't live in Europe, so clearly there are more flights involved in my actual trip, which actually involves 10 flights. I simplified this down to 3 to show the issue).

      http://www.kayak.com/flights/OSL-BRU/2013-04-23-afternoon/MAD-FCO/2013-04-25-evening - to about $740 - which is cheaper than buying them separately by over $150 bucks... then you can buy your KLM flights.

      What you see in Kayak now is different from when I took these screenshots 3 weeks ago. Not comparable, so you're not making the point you think you're making.

      Your article is really misleading and misinforms folks to book in ways that do not work very well.


      I don't think that's true.

      A little education & research goes a long way before publishing something like this!


      Again... nice way, dick way.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 9:23pm

        Re: Re: There's a Better Way to Book than what you suggest!

        Never book flights on kayak.com....only book hotel or resort stays....the cheapest flight booking you can find is actually using the airline's in house booking agents...

         

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          Suzanne Lainson (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 9:33pm

          Re: Re: Re: There's a Better Way to Book than what you suggest!

          Never book flights on kayak.com.

          It's probably been at least five years since I used Kayak to book any flights, but it seemed to provide links to quite a few sites to comparison shop. What's wrong with it?

          These days I usually use Southwest and do book directly on the airline site. Between flying into airports most convenient for me, free bags, and no penalties if you cancel (you get a credit you can use within a year), it's the best airline for me.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 7:36am

      Re: There's a Better Way to Book than what you suggest!

      This is basic stuff.

      Basic? Someone that doesn't make a habit of flying and just wants to get from point A to point B as simply and quickly as possible is supposed to know this how?

       

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      Ryan Bradley, Mar 11th, 2014 @ 8:50pm

      Re: There's a Better Way to Book than what you suggest!

      I agree, this article is extremely misleading. The author simply doesn't know how to put together a flight itinerary.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    Bob Jonkman (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 7:45pm

    Geek and Poke

    Oliver Widder had something to say about this last year:

    http://geek-and-poke.com/2012/07/the-geekpoke-philosophy-special.html

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    Wally (profile), Apr 17th, 2013 @ 8:49pm

    Depends on where you live and how high the taxes are Mike...you live in California so the state sales tax adds to most of the cost of tickets sold in California.


    Round trip from Columbus Int. Airport Ohio to Boston Int. can range from $300 to $500 depending on the year.

     

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    Androgynous Cowherd, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 9:36pm

    Collusion alert!

    Hipmunk's Adam Goldstein kindly explained the basic situation, noting that airlines have all sorts of rules about what tickets can be combined with others.


    That shouldn't matter in the instant case, however, in which only a single flight was being bought from any one airline. So, no single airline had you combining more than one of their tickets. And if they care about tickets purchased with distinct airlines, that boils down to collusion and violates the Sherman Act.

    Whatever is going on, it proves the presence of market failure. A properly functioning competitive market that was free of collusion would drive prices down to near marginal cost, and would thus drive the total price for booking the same three actual flights, with corresponding actual costs, towards the same single number. Search engines being programmed to fail to see cheaper options (such as economy vs. business class) under certain conditions would likewise be driven out of the market by competitors that did a better job for the user of finding a cheaper set of tickets.

    The observed data indicate that the airlines are colluding with one another, that the search engines are colluding with one another, and even that the search engines are colluding with the airlines (as, for example, for three separate flights with long stayovers in between them a search engine could conceivably price out getting separate tickets, with separate baggage handling and everything, and present that option, and if it's selected buy the tickets from each airline without letting each airline know anything about any other tickets being bought from separate airlines; yet no such search engine is on the market it seems).

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 10:34pm

    Interestingly enough it also is always worth checking on flights from smaller airfields. We are traveling to England over the summer and found that booking our flight to start in Wichita falls TX (approx 2 hours north of DFW) and flying american eagle to DFW then flying British airways to London was $900 cheaper for 3 tickets than just leaving from DFW (45 min from my house) and parking is $3 for 2 weeks instead of $9-17 per day. So flying on 2 carriers = less money and we wonder why the airline industry struggles. On a side note the fees including taxes, fuel surcharge, etc are more than the actual ticket.

     

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    damien morton, Apr 17th, 2013 @ 10:38pm

    cookies

    try doing your searches after clearing all cookie s- or maybe do your searches in another browser or an incognito browser. You can bet your bottom dollar that every search site is sharing your flight searches and adjusting their pricing based on that.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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      TasMot (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 5:17am

      Re: cookies

      When searching for flights, clearing cookies is mandatory. I searched for flights once. Got called away to do some work. Went back to the saved flights and the prices on the flights had gone up 75%. It was only two hours later. I cleared the cookies for that web site, and the prices went back down. Another fun thing is the "Buy Now only x+1 seats left" scam. I was looking for flights for my family (the 4 of us) but got tired up changing it to 4 seats, 2 adults and 2 children. So I started leaving the default of just 1. On every list of flights was a note to "hurry up, only 2 seats left at this price". So, after I found the fligts I was interested in, I cleared the cookies and specified 2 adults and 2 children. It was amazing, now there were "only 5 seats left". So, I thought, let's stretch it some. Cleared the cookies again and entered, 8 adults and 8 children. It was truly amazing. In the 5 minutes since the last search, 12 people canceled their flights and now only 17 seats were left at that price (same price per seat per flight as the other searches). So, now I just ignore the "only x seats left" because it is a flat out lying scam most of the time because some people will hurry up and book because they don't want to miss out on that 1 remaining seat.
      I only know this because I have learned a lot about computers and browsing the Internet, plus I traveled every week for 15 years for work. I could more easily "see" all the flights online rather than listen to a travel agent give me their limited selection of flights. So, I started looking for flights myself (especially non-stops) and just told the travel agents the flights I wanted.
      Knowledge is power, as with many, many other things in life, it is important to learn as much as you can and not necessarily rely on the "experts" that you trust to pull the wool over your eyes.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 1:51am

    Tried Skyscanner too?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 3:06am

    Really Nice Article, Mike

    Thanks Mike - very enlightening. I'm a semi-frequent traveler and had no idea that it was so hard to get the facts from all the search engines in this case.

    K - I do agree with Mike. Your use of terms like "open jaw" and "codeshare seat availability" show that you're a pro or a really knowledgeable amateur and can really add to the conversation. Mike clearly did a ton of work here - You say there's a better way? What is it?

    Thanks,
    Perry

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 5:39am

    I work for one of these "aggregators" and it is positively LAUGHABLE how smart you think we all are. This is not a feature, it's a bug.

    And the airlines are the ones making the extra cash, not us.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 6:16am

    I travel internationally a lot, and this has hit me a few times. Even been told at check-in that I couldn't check my bags all the way through because of the separate tickets booked by a travel agent! (They're meant to check I suppose, but most check-in staff don't bother..)

    Solution: Act like you didn't know, don't bring it up. Grumble if someone tells you you'll need to go out and back again. Then at your stop-over ask at the transfer desk first of all. If you have time, you can even try backing off and trying check-in with someone else. (Only really works at really busy airports where they have a kiosk style system and don't start acting suspicious... Yeah, okay, those don't exist anymore.)

     

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      icon
      Violated (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 11:17am

      Re:

      I have never seen that problem.

      Whenever I go to a check-in desk I pull out all the forms and point out, here is my fight now, but look I am catching this other airline flight a couple of hours later.

      Sure enough she taps into her keyboard the new details where then the baggage labels get printed out showing their routing to my final destination.

      Only some budget airlines can be a bitch because they have no luggage transfer system meaning you need collect the luggage yourself on arrival and to manually check the luggage in for the next flight.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    Shaun, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 6:20am

    Interesting

    I usually use Skyscanner. If you were to be flying around Europe and paying out of your own pocket I always use Ryanair. Spent over a grand with them last year and got over 20 flights for that. Yeah, they're shysters but you have to learn to play the system.

    Example
    Dublin-Milan-Munich-Dublin

    1st and last flight with Ryanair were 30 euros each whereas the middle flight, which was the shortest, wasn't on their route and was 150 euro with Aitalia.

     

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    identicon
    NOT APPLICABLE, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 6:32am

    ALL corporations will try to rip the people off just like politicians NUFF SAID

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    icon
    Violated (profile), Apr 18th, 2013 @ 11:07am

    CrAzY FlIgHtS

    Flight prices are indeed crazy these days.

    What I discovered is that by flying from anywhere to anywhere within possible travel plans the lowest fire ALWAYS wanted you to exchange flights at one destination.

    So you aim to book a flight between A to B but it tells you the cheapest flight is through C. The change over times are not good so lets trying booking the flight from A to C where then I can then book C to B next. No such luck when the A to C flight now costs more and cheapest flight from A to C now passes through a new D.

    This makes no damned sense and no matter my many tests all over Europe and Asia the results were always the same in that the cheapest flight always had one stop over. Try to book either half of that leg and the price shoots up now making it not the cheapest option.

    This makes trying to book an efficient trip near damned impossible when either you can do A to B through C or bad times or you are flying all over the place trying to find some acceptable times.

    General advice I have heard is to always delete your cookies when otherwise they know you are busy seeking a flight and they jack up prices as a result.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Plamen Alexandrov, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 9:27pm

    Everbread's Haystack Solution

    to: Author

    I just checked your request at our Haystack system on everbread.com/demo and we found a split ticket with lower price. However, we do not have all European lowcosts data as well - you know Ryan Air is sensitive on keeping the data to themselves.

    1,069 USD on 2 tickets

    550 USD
    [1] 04/20 12:20 OSL 04/20 13:30 CPH [SK 1467] COS:[B], CABIN:E 737
    [1] 04/20 15:40 CPH 04/20 17:10 BRU [SK 1593] COS:[B], CABIN:E M80
    Point of Sale: US Channel: Amadeus
    Total: 550 USD Base: 423 USD Taxes: 127.29 USD
    Fares - ADT
    SK OSL-BRU [BNOOWY] [DI:T] 2,436 NOK [PUB] CABIN:E

    519 USD
    [2] 04/22 07:00 AMS 04/22 09:10 BCN [VY 8318] COS:[T], CABIN:E 32S
    [3] 04/26 07:00 MAD 04/26 08:55 CDG [VY 8200] COS:[Q], CABIN:E 32S
    [3] 04/26 15:30 ORY 04/26 17:30 FCO [VY 6254] COS:[K], CABIN:E 32S
    Point of Sale: US Channel: Amadeus
    Total: 519 USD Base: 345 USD Taxes: 173.53 USD
    Fares - ADT
    VY AMS-BCN [TOWVY] [DI:F] 65 EUR [PUB] CABIN:E
    VY MAD-PAR [QOWVY] [DI:F] 11 EUR [PUB] CABIN:E
    VY PAR-ROM [KOWVY] [DI:F] 189 EUR [PUB] CABIN:E

    https://www.everbread.com/demo/results/OSL-BRU-AMS-BCN-MAD-FCO/JkCqqP

    Feel free to register for our demo at http://www.everbread.com/demo or contact me at paleksandrov@everbread.com for any related discussion.

    Regards,
    Plamen Alexandrov
    @ Everbread PST Ltd
    Singapore

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Plamen Alexandrov, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 9:46pm

      Re: Everbread's Haystack Solution

      A few hours ago the price was even lower: 739 USD, but it seems it expired:

      739 USD on 3 tickets

      315 USD
      [1] 04/23 06:35 OSL 04/23 08:50 BRU [SN 2288] COS:[V], CABIN:E ARJ
      Point of Sale: US Channel: Amadeus
      Total: 315 USD Base: 239 USD Taxes: 76.21 USD

      165 USD
      [2] 04/25 07:00 AMS 04/25 09:10 BCN [VY 8318] COS:[X], CABIN:E 32S
      Point of Sale: US Channel: Amadeus
      Total: 165 USD Base: 115 USD Taxes: 49.55 USD

      259 USD
      [3] 04/29 06:30 MAD 04/29 08:45 BRU [SN 3732] COS:[S], CABIN:E 32S
      [3] 04/29 20:35 BRU 04/29 22:40 FCO [SN 3187] COS:[S], CABIN:E 32S
      Point of Sale: US Channel: Amadeus
      Total: 259 USD Base: 129 USD Taxes: 130.29 USD

      Anyway, feel free to contact me if you find our product interesting.

      Regards,
      Plamen

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    travelgurl, Apr 18th, 2013 @ 10:09pm

    book online, get?

    Airline agreements are negotiated just like anything else and come at a cost to the ticking airline - communicating between them, transferring baggage, awarding points,mitigating issues with scheduling etc. Sometimes it is to the benefit to the client (they negotiated well and you'll pay less), sometimes it isn't (you end up with business class).
    If you know enough and have the time to burn, then you can work around these rules to your benefit. But booking online is your choice and it comes at the cost that the websites and airlines set (they're not charities)
    You could also use an agent that does know all this - if the first one is useless or can't find you a decent price or at least explain the cost, find another. Travel agents, like doctors, accountants, lawyers etc are experts that have invested their time so that you don't have to and are due their pay just as any other professional.
    So sure you can go online and try to do it (self diagnosis/taxes...) on your own - but you'll not guaranteed to get it right. If your not willing to pay more, you must be willing to pay with time. Airlines aren't going to get better until people get smarter and stop buying these tickets, but there is too many people willing to go online and blindly buy what they are selling. I guess I'd rather know that some of my $ ends up in my agent's pocket than more into some websites coffers...

    Maybe the bigger question is why people think they should be able to find/do everything online better? Why do we think we should be able to get it better on our own so easily?

    Ps - the software that Expedia. Google and many others use are ALL from the same place - iata software. So its all the same everywhere online in the end... check them out if you don't believe it.

     

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    identicon
    Dave Davidson, Apr 24th, 2013 @ 6:24pm

    Baggage

    Am I missing something?

    It looks to me like the itinerary is spread out over multiple days such that the traveler would not want to check luggage thru to the final destination. It looks like S/He is staying one night in each of the intermediate cities.

    Checking thru to the final destination doesn't apply as a risk here, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    Uriel-238 (profile), Jul 11th, 2013 @ 10:46am

    Habib didn't read the article.

    But he really wants to sell us SeaWorld tickets.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    heathrowtransfer, Nov 1st, 2013 @ 4:18am

    Online Travel

    This site is very important and famous for Travles.
    Heathrow Transfers And Packages Provide Services of Taxi, Airport Transfers, Heathrow Taxi,
    Cheap Cap, Heathrow To Gatwick Transfer, Gatwick to heathrow Transfers,
    Cheap Taxi To Heathrow.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Carlos Norvik, Nov 16th, 2013 @ 9:58am

    Low cost

    I would use Ryan from Oslo (Rygge) to Brussels (Charleroi)
    Vueling from AMS to BCN
    and Vueling from MAD to BCN, the cost including all extras would most probably be below USD 400.-

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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