Is Using a VPN to Get Cheaper Flights Possible?
Whether you’re just going on vacation or on a business trip, it’s extremely easy to spend anywhere between a few thousand dollars up to tens of thousands of dollars per year on airline tickets nowadays – depending on how frequent you fly, and where you fly to.
Things might not be this bad if airlines wouldn’t rely on online price discrimination so much. It’s actually why many frequent travelers have started using VPNs to get cheaper flights too.
What is price discrimination?
If you haven’t heard of online price discrimination yet, it’s basically a type of price discrimination which airline companies use to display different ticket prices to recurring or new web visitors, or to users from different countries.
For instance, you might notice that an airplane ticket that was initially $100 doubled in price when you looked it up a second time. Another example would be you living in the US, and finding out you are being charged more for a ticket than someone living in India.
This isn’t really a speculation, as changes in price can be noticed even when you change the currency the prices are displayed in.
Why Do Airlines Use Online Price Discrimination?
From the airline’s perspective, it does make sense. After all, if they were to offer the same pricing to clients from Western countries and South-Asian countries, they’d either have to deal with a lot of potential customers in South-Asia not being able to afford their services, or not making as much profit as they could off of Western clients.
Contrary to popular belief, running an airline company is not as profitable as others would have you believe. The profit is often small compared to the cost of operating such a business model, so it’s not extremely surprising that airlines would turn to online price discrimination.
In fact, some airlines have turned to dynamic pricing on top of that. In short, dynamic pricing relies on in-depth data mining in an attempt to increase or decrease ticket costs (emphasis on “increase”) based on personal information – essentially the kind of data a website logs about your sessions, especially if you have a customer account.
Is There Any Way to Bypass Online Price Discrimination?
Online price discrimination can involve a website automatically rising the ticket price for a returning website visitor or a new user. Basically, it checks the IP address that’s connecting to the platform to see if it was logged before or not.
Online price discrimination can also work based on geographical data. In this situation, different prices would be displayed to website visitors depending on what country or physical location they would be accessing the airline website from.
In both cases, it would mean you’d only be able to get cheaper flights by changing locations. Of course, leaving your home and going to a public library, a coffee shop, or even a different city/country just to try and find cheaper flight tickets is hardly ideal.
Luckily, using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a simpler, better alternative.
What is VPN?
It’s a helpful service that can create a private, encrypted network over the web for you. When you connect to said network, your online traffic and its place of origin (your IP address) becomes anonymized to a certain extent. You can find out more in our article “What is VPN and why you should know about it?“.
How Do You Actually Save Money on Flights with a VPN?
It’s quite simple – a VPN can hide your real IP address. You know, the address an airline might track in order to display higher prices every time they notice it’s used to access their website.
All you need to do is connect to a VPN server, get a “new” IP address, and start browsing for airline deals.
So, for example, if you are from the US, connect to a VPN server from Poland, and then access an airline website, it will think you are connecting to it from Poland because of the Poland-based IP address. This way, more budget-friendly deals will likely be displayed.
Sometimes, it might also help to connect to a VPN server in the airline’s own country. In the case of Lufthansa, that would be Germany. It’s not 100% guaranteed you’d find cheaper flights by changing locations this way, but it is possible.
How Big Is the Price Difference?
There’s no exact amount that we can guarantee. Online, you can find people saying they managed to save from $20-30 up to a few hundred dollars on a flight by using a VPN.
Our own research showed that – with a US IP – United Airlines had a one-way flight from Chicago to Paris for around $3,600 in the Economy class. With a Romanian IP, the standard Economy price was the same. However, new deals for the Economy (Flexible) class popped up, which were around $3,150. So, that’d be $450 saved.
Is Using a VPN to Get Cheaper Flights Legal?
Yes – to our knowledge, there is no international law that specifically says you cannot use a VPN to bypass price discrimination. If anything, you’d expect online price discrimination itself to be illegal.
It would theoretically only be illegal to use a VPN for something like this in a country whose laws outright state that using a VPN is illegal. And the only countries that ban the use of a VPN are the following:
- North Korea
VPNs are also restricted in Turkey, but most VPNs can bypass the government’s restrictions. Iran, China, Russia, and Oman only allow government-approved VPNs to be used, and the UAE do not allow VPNs to be used by individuals.
So, that info might be worth keeping in mind if you plan on using a VPN to get cheaper flights.
Don’t Forget to Delete the Tracking Cookies on Your Device
Besides logging your IP and geo-location, airline websites also use tracking cookies to increase their prices.
What are cookies?
Cookies are basically small files that are stored on your device whenever you visit a website. The cookie contains various data which can be accessed by a web server to identify an online user.
A VPN can’t really prevent cookies from being placed on your device, so you should delete them before connecting to a VPN server and looking for airline tickets. We actually recommend doing that every time you connect to a different server.
Also, if you want to really make sure an airline’s website doesn’t track you, you should consider using a separate web browser from the one you normally use. If possible, use the browser’s Private Browsing mode (like Incognito on Google Chrome).
All of this might seem like a bit of a hassle, but if you want to have a better chance of avoiding both online price discrimination and dynamic pricing, it’s definitely worth it.
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