Distrusting the airline pricing model. Again.


I don’t care how much time or energy the industry spends lobbying for the “New Distribution Capability” (NDC) pricing systems. I am not going to trust it. There are many reasons for this, of course, but ultimately it comes down to an issue of trust. Everyone on the sell side says we should trust them to provide us with the best price for our needs. And yet they all seem to fail at delivering that reasonably often. I’ve written about similar scenarios previously but I have yet another example, one which I think demonstrates the crazy of the pricing challenge pretty well.

Here’s the itinerary I want to fly as shown on ITA Matrix.

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Sure, the CPM isn’t great but the fare is top-notch relative to what my other options are (basically a 4+ hour bus ride for each leg and only saving ~$60) and this is a quick trip so I’m going to book the flight. I hope. I like to help the airlines out where I can so my first effort was to book direct. They don’t offer a multi-city booking option and they won’t show the overnight connections. Also, their direct sale pricing was $20+ more than what ITA says the fare should be. Fine; I can handle that. I know lots of OTAs and odds are Hipmunk will find my itinerary, right?

Indeed, Hipmunk did find it, though I had to “encourage” it a bit by forcing the first segment using the routing codes. Still, I got to the flight selection page and had many choices at a variety of prices:

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Hipmunk gave me many options. Turns out that booking them was not so trivial.

Well, gosh. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Of course four vendors will sell the same airfare at wildly different prices for no apparent reason. But I’m frugal and I don’t really have any allegiance to any of these OTAs so I try Priceline. That $120 fare? Yeah, it is actually $147.

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So now that it is more expensive maybe I can get CheapOair to give me a deal, right? Sure enough, clicking through gets me a fare of $134.30, just like Hipmunk advertised. But I was not yet done.

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I remembered that CheapOair is one of the booking engines I can get cash back from using the Travel Rebates section of my Wandering Aramean Travel Tools site. And if I can save an extra $7 on the ticket then I should give it a try, right? Same exact search with the same flights got me a completely different price:

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Clicking through actually showed me the exact same flights with a higher “Base Price” for the same fare class and same rules as the cheaper flight direct from the Hipmunk click-through. I can get a $7 rebate on the booking if I pay $7 more for it today. That’s not so helpful after all.

And, yes, I did check the higher priced options just to make sure they didn’t reprice in my favor. They did not.

So, yeah, call me a skeptic of anything the industry says they’re doing to make sure that I’m always going to get the best offer presented to me. They’ve done a really good job so far of ensuring that they are delivering everything but that lately.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

5 Comments

  1. Cheapoair is one of the few sites left that runs coupon codes for flights – thats how they manage to offer same thing, with different pricing.
    Usually they just swing their booking fee up and down, discuising it as “taxes”.
    Coupon usage might void the cashback though.

  2. No need for lobbying “New Distribution Capability” (NDC) is happening 17 airlines are doing trials now the prime reason is the the airline industry is at the mercy of three GDS’s that act very unfairly and control the entire market place. NDC will happen one way or the other as the status quo is not sustainable going forward, customers are really not getting a fair deal today. How can you comparisons on the sites you listed to see, who has free drinks ? free bags? access to lounges?, wireless?, free food? NDC will enable this to happen. What about comparison on Air New Zealand’s Sky couch or new product like that, how is that going to happen without NDC today you only see price and time no product details thats a rip off I say. I can guarantee you the you will get cheaper pricing with “New Distribution Capability” (NDC) as it will introduce more competition and allow the Airlines to go direct allowing cheaper pricing to be put into the market. Today these GDSs have contracts that stop alines putting cheaper pricing on there websites (which is there cheapest channel for cost of sale) now, answer me this how can the be fair on the customer. Just look at the fiscal figures and see who is benefiting from the status quo GDS 27-28% ROIC (Return of Invested Capital) OTA 23-24% ROIC Airlines 0.3% ! Of the top 260 airlines over the last 20 years have had a negative ROIC. Check out the facts see http://www.iata.org/whatwedo/stb/ndc/Pages/index.aspx for more.

    At the end of the day you need to look at why people don’t want to change is usually means that they are benefiting in some way. More power to the customer to make the choices is what I say!!

  3. It’s interesting, when I have had trouble with getting fares to match to ITA the best site I have had luck with has been AMEX travel business booking engine. You use to get access to your own portal with any OPEN card but they recently discontinued it, unfortunately (only for corp users now is my understanding). It was the most powerful tool out there IMO albeit a little finicky.

  4. How about when UA delivers a higher fare class on married segments when there is lower class inventory with valid fares on each individual segment that can in fact be booked with multi-city.

  5. No comment on the pricing but I just finished a Baltics tour and it was wonderful. A bit more expensive than I had expected but still a great trip. Suggestions if you haven’t left yet.
    TLL: Energia Cafe for an old Soviet style cafeteria. Draakon right in the center of town for elk stew, free pickles and cheap beer. Also to stuff your face, Georgia Tavern Tbilisi, Ruutli 18. Late night food a Loca.
    RIX: Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs for food and beer.
    VNO: Būsi Trečias and Šnekutis for food and beer.

    The “like a local” guides were great for these cities.

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