Don’t Forget This Airline Booking Quirk – Knowing It Could Save You A LOT Of Money


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Due to the nature of how airlines price up their fares it can make a big difference which of the one airline’s many websites you use to book you flights – using the wrong website can end up costing you a lot of money. I’ve written about this quirk in the past but, as I’ve just seen it rear its head again and as I have just noticed that this same quirk applies to online travel agents too, I thought it was worth bringing it up again.

Here’s the situation.

As I split my time between the US and the UK I often find myself booking some trips that originate in the US and some that originate in the UK. When I’m booking American Airlines flights I generally prefer to use the US version of the website and I generally don’t give much thought to the fares the website displays (as long as they appear to be along the same lines of whatever sites like ITA Matrix and Himpunk have found for me).

Earlier this week a friend asked me to see if I could find a good fare for a quick trip he needs to take to Los Angeles later this year and, being a good friend, that’s exactly what I did.

I found a very good fare (for a London departure) on ITA Matrix…..

….but when I went to check the fare on AA.com (USA) this is all that I was offered:

I don’t mind it if there’s a difference of a few dollars between what one site and another will show me (that’s usually down to a currency conversion or a small online commission) but I draw the line way before it reaches the huge $370+ difference I was seeing here.

The dates I was using for my search were identical as were the flights I was looking at so I was tempted to write this off as an ITA Matrix phantom fare…but I decided to dig around a bit more.

First I checked to see what the online travel agencies were offering and, when I checked Expedia.com (note that this is the USA version of Expedia), I saw the same fare as AA.com had shown me:

It was then that I remembered that airlines will sometimes offer different fares based on where in the world you’re booking from.

In this instance, even though I was booking a trip originating in the UK, because I was looking at US versions of the American Airlines website and the Expedia website, I was seeing prices based on someone booking from the US.

I then switched to the UK version of AA.com and, sure enough, there was the fare:

AA’s UK site is pricing the fare up in British Pounds but, at the current exchange rate, £541 is about $709…..which what ITA Matrix had shown in the first place.

To make sure this wasn’t a glitch I worked my way through the reservation and even managed to put the fare on hold:

This was a real fare – AA.com (USA) was happy to charge me over $370 more than the airline’s UK website.

That’s not all.

I then decided to check the Expedia.co.uk (Expedia’s UK site) and, while the US site had shown me a fare of over $1,080, the UK site had the lower fare I was looking for:

I knew that airline website can behave like this but I had no idea the same would apply to OTAs….although I guess it makes sense that it does.

This Isn’t Limited To American Airlines

Last week I wrote about some promising looking fares that airberlin has been offering on its new routes to Chicago and Dusseldorf….and the same issue reared its head there.

When I searched for fares between Chicago and Dusseldorf on the French version of airberlin’s website these were the fares I could see for roundtrip travel:

But when I checked flights on the same dates and the same routing on the US version of airberlin’s website this is what I was offered:

$1,129.65 is approximately €955……so that’s a lot more than the €369.36 fare that the French website was offering.

I have no idea why airlines will sell you the same flights at different prices depending on which website you use but the fact is that they will.

Bottom Line

If you’ve found a good fare by using one of the many search facilities available on the web but can’t replicate it on the airline’s own site, try using the site from the country where the flight is originating (if you aren’t already). If that doesn’t work, try any of the airlines other sites around the world….you may have more luck with them.

7 COMMENTS

  1. “I have no idea why airlines will sell you the same flights at different prices depending on which website you use but the fact is that they will.”

    POS – point of sale differences – it would be good to update your article to reference this, as it is a well known phenomena.

    • I appreciate that this a POS difference (hence different prices depending on which country’s website you use) but why, when you don’t necessarily have to have an address in the country of sale, do airlines insist on pricing in this way?

      • It has nothing whatsoever to do with where you live/have an address.

        I suggest you read up on the numerous articles on this topic to understand the concept, rather than preaching that this is a ‘hack’ 😉

        • Oh where to start?

          Firstly I called this a “quirk” not a hack – there’s a big difference. [Passive aggressive comment redacted – two wrongs don’t make a right]

          ETA: A hack is where one takes advantage of an error or weakness in an airline’s or hotel’s systems/policies/rules to get outsized value. These weaknesses or errors are prone to being shut down or corrected st any point.

          This “quirk” isn’t prone to being shut down because, as you point out, it’s something airlines do deliberately.

          Secondly, I’m not sure where you think the “preaching”came into this but there wasn’t any.

          Thirdly, if you had bothered to read my reply and the post properly you would have noted that I never said it had anything to do with where you live – in fact I specifically said that it doesn’t have anything to do with where you live when I typed “you don’t necessarily have to have an address in the country of sale”.

          I’m not sure I could have made it any clearer.

          So, rather than hinting at the fact that you know the answer why don’t you enlighten us all….why do airlines price in this way?

  2. I did encounter this difference while living in Brazil, but sometimes opting to use the US version of a site (most often LATAM), for the ease of having it in English. I sometimes found lower prices on the Brazilian site, and maybe the Chilean one as well. However, one catch was that the payment did require a local credit card. I needed to use my Brazilian address and card to be able to complete the purchase. Did you encounter that distinction in any of your trials?

    • Very true and yes I’ve come across this. A local credit card can be a prerequisite on some sites but, fortunately, the proliferation of PayPal appears to be helping us all out.
      In the two examples I gave, both the American Airlines UK website and the airberlin website both allow customers to pay via PayPal and, from my experience, it can be a PayPal account from a different jurisdiction (I’ve used US PayPal to purchase a fare on American’s UK site).

      In short, the need for a local credit card can and will be an issue in some instances – in others PayPal will probably come to the rescue

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