The price of cookies when booking your flight

Air New Zealand’s current advertising cheekily claims their fares have nothing to hide…

have you ever checked flight availability and prices then returned later to make the booking only to find the price has risen?

This happened to me using Air New Zealand recently, only when I went to make the booking using a different browser I was offered the original, lower price.

When the website cookie policy states;
‘will track website usage patterns’ and ‘display content more relevant to you, based on information we collect when you visit our websites’

…does this really mean;
‘We’ll offer fresh sales prospects our best price, then bump it up depending on how interested you appear to be?”

What’s going on here?

Raising the price creates a sense of urgency, encouraging us to ‘buy now before the fare goes up, or worse, sells out’ …a cheeky tactic. …but discovering you could have paid less, and have potentially been duped out of your dollars certainly doesn’t encourage customer loyalty.

The message in the advert initially sounds promising.
Upfront and transparent pricing through the browsing and booking process is something that keeps people coming back.

So, How appealing is it to use the features of myairnz if you’ve got the feeling you might be better off masquerading as a new customer?

Kiwis love a good deal offline, but do we need to delete cookies, or switch browser to ensure that we’re being presented with the best prices online?

7 thoughts on “The price of cookies when booking your flight

  1. Kim Walbridge

    Hi Nick,

    Cookies are in no way used to manipulate pricing in Air New Zealand’s online booking process; the fluctuations noticed will be a reflection of pricing data sourced from the underlying central reservations system.

    Things cookies are used for on the Air New Zealand website are aggregated measurement of user activity (page impressions, unique visitors, etc), and other simple things such as remembering a user’s origin location after they’ve used the booking search tool (to save them having to re-select this location on subsequent visits).

    Kind regards

    Kim Walbridge
    Ecommerce Manager, Air New Zealand

  2. dorenda britten

    Prove it Air NZ!
    You are doing some really great work at the moment and we, your customers AND owners, are right behind you.
    Please don’t risk our loyalty
    Dorenda Britten

  3. Zef

    Hi Nick – I think you’re onto something – but the issue could be something other than cookies. Regardless of what AirNZ are claiming I’ve also noticed big pricing fluxations when using the online booking. I’ve had instances where I’ve looked at a flight where all the lowest priced seats were sold out but then looked a day or two later and they’re available again. All I could dechipher was that someone else was in the process of looking at the same date/time and had gone on a step further than me so AirNZ had ‘reserved’ that price for the other customer.

  4. Nick

    Hi Kim,

    Thanks for your response. The web sometimes works in mysterious ways but it seems I am not the only Kiwi this has happened to.

    Dorenda is right; Air New Zealand is breaking new ground in terms of customer experience, both online and in-airport with check-in systems.

    A travel website client once suggested to me that the booking process should emulate the real world experience of consulting a travel agent; On your behalf they scour what’s available to get you the best deal.

    If I found out that the person after me walked into the agent and was quoted a lower price, I’m not sure I would go back to that agent.

    During user research for UK based airlines I’ve seen travellers abandon website booking processes or switch airline when they notice an inconsistency in pricing. That seed of doubt sends them elsewhere to hedge their bets.

    We don’t have as many options here in NZ and maybe our patriotism keeps us loyal to the teal and koru but if there’s a hole in the booking experience, it’s not only us Kiwis who could fall in. (or out as research suggests)

    Cookies certainly optimise user experience by offering relevant items and recognising travellers’ preferences, so perhaps there is a way Air New Zealand can use this technology to plug the hole, rewarding rather than risking penalise the loyal customer?

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  6. Mathew Sanders

    Disclosure – I used to work for Air New Zealand (and with Kim – hi Kim! *waves*)

    Airfares might be changed manually for a tactical reason (so an airline might offer a special price to stimulate sales for a route).

    But apart from that the pricing that is shown online (or through any other channel for that matter) is completely automated and dependent on how fully booked any particular flight might be.

    A situation that can happen is when people make a booking through the contact centre or through a travel agent, as you probably know you can hold a booking for a while without paying. When this happens that fare is taken out of the system. Sometimes a group booking hat was being held may be cancelled, allowing lower priced fares to become available again. Really it’s great that Air New Zealand (and other airlines) offer lower fares automatically like this if they become available – an alternate path could be just to keep selling with the current lowest price.

    @Zef because of these fluctuations, it is entirely possible that a traditional travel agent might be able to offer a latter customer a lower airfare.

    It’s a result of having near instantaneous and access to flight loadings which may change over time as bookings are held or cancelled that may result in this behaviour.

    To be fair, one benefit of online is that you’re not biased with which travel agent you receive. I know from personal experience that different travel agents will put more or less effort into getting you the best deal – which is why if you’re booking offline it pays to shop around.

    @Dorenda (hi Dorenda – you should come and see us at our new offices at LeftClick!) I don’t see a practical way how Air New Zealand could prove this. I guess you could give open access to all the booking data – but this would be a strategic #Fail – competitors like Qantas would love to get their hands on that information!

    @Nick as well as quite frankly pushing the boundaries of online experience compared with New Zealand companies in general, and airlines globally, Air New Zealand are also innovators with their loyalty programme. It was only a few years ago that they made a huge investment in their Airpoints programme to make it easier for people to redeem loyalty flights, and as a next step they’re now making changes to try and make sure that all loyal customers are fairly rewarded.

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