Of all the myths surrounding travel and finding cheap flights, one stands out. We hear it again and again and again, from beginners to even so-called travel experts and social media influencers. You’ve probably heard it too – it’s practically common knowledge.
“You should search incognito for flights or clear the cookies on your internet browser because the website is tracking what you’re looking for and will jack up the price.”
Let me say this unequivocally: Searching for flights incognito does nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nor does clearing your cookies.
Pssst… that thing you’ve heard about booking on Tuesdays is wrong, too. There’s no best day to book flights, either.
It sounds like it makes sense, right? It’s an easy explanation for why the price of a flight you were looking at changed an hour later when you went to go book. Searching incognito for flights makes travelers feel like they’ve got the power – like they’re beating the airlines.
But it’s just not true. Airlines are not tracking your searches. Neither is Google Flights – the best search platform for finding good deals on airfare – or most other search engines and online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia and Priceline. Your flight searches aren’t being affected by your previous searches.
At Thrifty Traveler, we find flight deals for a living and send them to Thrifty Traveler Premium members. We’re searching all day, every day for flights. If airlines were tracking our searches, we’d never find cheap flights.
So what’s the answer behind the constantly changing flight prices, then? Why did that ticket you were looking at suddenly jump in price?
Explaining Changes in Airfare
The reality is that airfare pricing is fickle, and it’s always changing. Airlines are constantly altering their prices as tickets sell and demand changes.
One simple explanation behind a sudden change in price is something called the airfare’s fare class. While you just see economy and first class when you walk on the plane, airlines sell an alphabet soup’s worth of tickets called fare classes – and it’s literally an alphabet, as most airlines have a fare class for every letter.
Here’s a look at just some of United Airlines’ fare classes, for example.
There are close to a dozen or more different fare classes for even a standard economy seat, each with its own set of rules for upgrades, earning miles, and more. Basic economy fares – the bare-bones tickets sans seat assignments or checked baggage – are represented by an entirely different fare class. Even award fares booked with miles have a distinct classification.
Here’s the important part: Every fare class has its own price. So when the cheapest fare class sells out – or an airline simply decides to remove that fare class – the price will jump up to the next, higher-priced class.
So let’s say you’re looking at roundtrip flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Las Vegas (LAS) on Google Flights and you see a good deal for $157 roundtrip. Little do you know, there’s only one ticket remaining at that price.
So when you go back an hour – or even just a few minutes – later and find that price is gone, it’s not because Delta is tracking your searches. That cheapest ticket likely just sold.
If you really want to know how to find cheap flights, you need to know the facts.
You can search incognito for flights if you want, but it’s not doing you any good. And stop wasting your time clearing your cookies, too. These tips have been passed around for years even by so-called experts. But it’s simply not true.