The online airline price hike myth – true or false?

It’s a myth that has been repeated so many times over, millions of people around the world believe it to be fact.

The myth is that airlines sneakily track your keystrokes (with a little help from google, naturally) when you’re browsing flights online, so they can hike the fare price when you eventually book your flight.

I met a woman at a party recently who swore black and blue that this happens, all the time.


“It’s true!” she said passionately. “It’s happened to me three separate times. I look up the flights over a period of several weeks and every time I visit the airline website again, the flights have gone up in price. It’s a total scam.”

I didn’t know this lady, we’d just met, so I politely smiled and waited for someone else to change the conversation. But in my head I was thinking… Yeah right.

In this day and age, where it’s possible to bypass your travel agent and do endless research yourself to get incredible value deals…

When there are entire websites and platforms designed to help you price match and get the most discounted rate…

When social media creates a transparency that means people will stand up and shout, loudly, if they suspect they’re being scammed out of fifty cents…

In this environment, why do people believe this myth about airlines trying to scam us everyday travellers out of an extra buck?

Some clever folks have gone to the effort of researching this myth, and have found there is “no strong evidence confirming the issue”.

“While it’s true that prices may go up when you return to a site, this is more likely due to other issues. Flight prices naturally rise closer to travel day and also when more seats on the plane are sold,” they report.

I booked a discounted return flight to New York from Brisbane in 2002 and it cost me $1,300. I booked a return flight to Auckland in 1999 and it cost me $485. Those flights cost about the same amount today, sometimes even less, so I sympathise with airlines and understand that they need to increase their profits somehow.

But the reality about air travel is this: it’s the pointy end of the plane that pays the bills. Airlines are happy to take our money for cheap economy fares, but it’s those people paying five-figure sums for a business class or first class seat who the airlines truly need.