For years we’ve known that websites ranging from Home Depot to CheapTickets vary prices using a digital composite of user information–stuff like location data, demand, or even if you’re using a Mac versus a PC. (Mac users tend to have higher household incomes, therefore you can charge higher prices. Or so the thinking goes.) Dynamic pricing is one of the primary reasons the ticket industry is so universally despised.
That said, what if you could “hack” the system into feeding you better bargains? What if you could use something like say, a VPN (or Virtual Privacy Network)–a funneling technology that Occupy Wall Street Protesters used to shield their identities while communicating–to hide who you appear to be online to score a thriftier deal?
Blogger Jose Casanova claims to have done just that when he used a VPN to artificially change his location to purchase a cheaper flight from Miami (where he’s from) to New Orleans via Kayak. (Okay, okay. He admits it wasn’t really hacking. But you get the point.) In the end, he says he ended up saving roughly $100 on a plane ticket.
Casanova claims the whole experiment was something of a happy accident: One night he was perusing flights while still logged into his VPN, which he uses to “mask [his] Internet traffic.” The next day, when he checked flights using his real IP address, those same flights were somehow more expensive–about $200 more.
So: He logged back into his VPN, and instead appearing to be from Miami, his IP address was floating around somewhere in Toronto. He went back to Kayak, and voilà: The price from Miami to New Orleans was suddenly more attractive.
“Moral of the story? Try booking your flights through a VPN, maybe you’ll save a few bucks,” he writes, “even if you pay in euros.”
You can head over to Casanova’s blog to get the details. And it’s also worth mentioning that he isn’t the first person to try to game the system for a better bargain–bloggers have been openly sharing the secret for years.
The experiment does however raise some slightly murky ethical questions; you’re not exactly being truthful about who you are. For a few other folks, though, a deal might just be a deal.
Fast Company asked Kayak whether or not location data influences pricing. A Kayak representative declined comment.