VERIFY viewer Angie asked if searching for flights in incognito mode can help you find lower prices.
Will searching in incognito mode help you find lower flight prices?
No, searching in incognito mode will not help you find lower flight prices.
WHAT WE FOUND
There’s no evidence that browsing in incognito mode or clearing your cookies will help you save money on airline tickets, travel experts at Going, CheapAir, Nomadic Matt, The Points Guy and Thrifty Traveler all say.
“Let us say this unequivocally: Searching for flights incognito does nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nor does clearing your cookies,” Kyle Potter, the executive editor of Thrifty Traveler, said. “We're searching all day, every day for flights. If airlines were tracking our searches, we'd never find cheap flights.”
Scott Keyes, the founder and chief flight expert at Going, formerly known as Scott’s Cheap Flights, explains that this myth persists because some people believe that airlines will see that they’re interested in a certain flight or route, and then jack up the prices to make them pay more. But he says airlines are not manipulating individual prices based on past flight searches.
“Part of the confusion may come because airline and online travel agency websites do typically access your IP address, but they do that so that they know where you are to serve you information in your language and currency—not to manipulate prices based on your searches,” Keyes said.
“Airlines are not tracking your searches. Neither is Google Flights or most other search engines and online travel agencies like Expedia, Hopper and Priceline. Your flight prices aren't being affected by your previous searches,” Potter said.
Another reason Keyes and Potter say this myth persists is that airline prices are constantly changing and sometimes a price does increase in the few minutes between searches.
“If that happens, it could be a number of things causing it, though,” Keyes said. “The first is pure coincidence. Second, a listed fare is usually only good for a certain number of seats. Once all the seats in that fare bucket have been sold, the price rises to the next bracket.”
Going staff search for thousands of flight deals daily. The company says it wouldn’t exist or would have a harder time finding deals if this incognito mode travel hack was true.
As proof, Going posted a video searching the same flight 100 times in a row using Google Flights and American Airlines, and the price remained the same.
VERIFY conducted our own test by repeatedly searching for a one-way flight departing from Washington, D.C. to Chicago on July 14 using a regular web browser and we found no change in airfares after browsing United’s website, Priceline and Google Flights. We then repeated the same search using incognito mode and found the same $139 airfare.
Airlines typically don’t discuss how they price tickets, but Hawaiian Airlines told the Washington Post that a customer’s individual actions – like using incognito mode – do not change the price of a ticket.
Going has a list of tips that will actually help you get a better price on its website. These tips include:
- Picking your destination and dates based on price.
- Setting fare alerts to track specific flights.
- Searching in the “Goldilocks window,” which Keyes describes as two to eight months prior to international flights and one to three months before domestic flights.
- Searching flexible dates.
- Avoiding peak travel times.
- Acting fast when you find a great deal.