Recently, I learned of the incognito mode “hack”, where you can get lower prices on airfare by searching in a private mode in your internet browser. This is because, according to some, airlines store your cookies (your data you store on a website) to jack up the prices. The airlines can see that you have searched for that January flight from LAX to Paris 18 times in the past week, so they know if you see prices going up you’ll feel as if you have to buy sooner to get a better deal.
I was skeptical when I first heard this, especially since I work at a travel agency and this was not a tip that the travel agents nor myself had caught wind of yet. But friends of mine swore it was true. So, it’s time to put the theory to the test.
I will be searching for my flight home for Christmas, a search I have done while logged into my Google account dozens of times. My first search is in Google Flights (which I have found the most comprehensive of all the comparing search engines), for LAX to ORD, flying December 20 to December 28.
Google Flights top results in regular browsing:
Google Flights top results in Incognito Mode browsing:
Hmmm… Looks exactly the same. Even the ads are the same. Let’s cross-check with Kayak.
Kayak regular browsing:
Once again, it’s the same. Except this time I don’t have to endure an ad targeted to me based on my browsing history! And Kayak did show me one more Spirit flight at a lower fare than Google did, so maybe Google does some consolidation.
So far, Incognito mode hasn’t changed anything; the prices are exactly the same. I have one final check up my sleeve – checking in Apollo. For those of you who don’t know, agents use one of several programs to look up and book airfare, and Apollo is one of the most common. In this system, airfare is exactly as the airlines sell it for, and the markup scheme based on browsing history or agent interest just wouldn’t happen. When I asked the agents about the incognito theory, they said they cross-reference Apollo results with websites like Expedia to make sure they are finding the best fare, and it would be noticeable if these engines had been marking up flights from their true price. So let’s go and check in Apollo for the true price of the first airfare shown, the Spirit flight.
This information is for the same flights at the same times and the same days as the first listed in the Google and Kayak search. The number we want to look at for this comparison is the last number shown — $397.70. What did Google and Kayak show? The rounded number of $398. The same price.
Conclusion? The “hack” is an urban myth.
That being said, if there are any die-hards out there who want to prove the hack true, send me a video showing your method of search and the results!