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How your browser history determines the price of your airline ticket

Dynamic pricing: If an airline thinks you're willing to pay a certain price for a ticket, based on your online spending habits, it's going to show you that price.

PORTLAND, Maine — As restrictions loosen, and more people begin booking flights again, a warning from consumer advocate and journalist, Chris Elliott, that your browsing habits could impact the price of your airline ticket. 

Elliott founded the advocacy group, Travelers United, and recently wrote an article for the Washington Post about what's called, "dynamic pricing." Basically, an airline changes the price of its ticket based on what it thinks you're actually willing to spend. How does Delta or American Airlines know your spending habits? "They are using your browser to determine whether or not you are willing to spend more money," says Elliott. "If you login and you give them a frequent flyer number they will get all kinds of information and say, 'This person is probably going to want to take this trip and is willing to spend this much money on a trip,' and they’re going to show you a higher price."

So they can access more information through our frequent flyer miles, but what if you're not typing that information in? Do airlines know that you have a dying relative in another state that you're desperate to see, and will pay a higher price to get there? Are they able to see information on Facebook pages or shopping habits on other websites? 

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"Customers have alleged that that’s exactly what’s going on," says Elliott. "That an airline can see what you’re doing on social media, they see your browser activity, they can also see of course your frequent flyer information if you have logged in, and they take all of that information and determine what they think you’re willing to pay for an airline ticket; so if they think that maybe you have a dying relative somewhere they might show you a higher price."

You can find out whether you're the target of dynamic pricing by logging into either another internet browser, or using your cellphone to compare ticket prices you've seen on your laptop. Want to keep your browsing history hidden from them? Try using an incognito webpage - many browsers offer that option through a drop-down menu. You are also safer, Elliott says, when using a VPN - a more secure connection. 

To read Chris Elliott's full article, click here

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