I was involved in an interesting dinner table discussion about travel the other day. The conversation eventually turned to online booking and reservation systems and how “cookies” can impact the deal that you end up with. Now, even though this was a dinner conversation, the “cookies” I’m talking about here are not the edible variety. These “cookies” are the data tracking tid bits that websites leave behind on your computer after you visit and search their site. Cookies of this sort allow web sites to keep track of what you looked at, your interests, etc. Have you ever noticed how when you go back to a site it offers you information related to your previous visit? That’s the result of these “tracking cookies.”
Tracking Cookies frequently work against the traveler who is shopping and trying to book reservations and the like at the best possible price. Have you ever searched a site for an air fare, eventually finding one that looked good, a good price at the right times etc., but you weren’t quite ready to book it? Then you later go back to the site,say the next day, ready to book the deal only to find that the low price you found yesterday is no longer available? Me too. Irritating isn’t it. What’s the deal? Well, now I will admit that it is “possible” that all the “cheap seats” somehow sold out while you were trying to make your decision. But the more likely scenario is that you were the victim of the impact of tracking cookies. During your first visit to the site, tracking cookies registered your interests and prices offered. When you returned to the site those tracking cookies allowed the site to know you were interested enough to return and so when you searched for your flight on the second occasion – well they offered you the same flight but at a higher price. Gottcha!
That’s an example of how tracking cookies can work against you. Fortunately there is a solution if you run into this situation and suspect that you were served up an inflated price. If you are computer savvy you can delete tracking cookies after your visit and then the site won’t have any way of knowing of your previous visit and interests. If you don’t like the idea of messing with your computer and removing cookies, then you could also simply use a different computer on your second visit to the site. Either way, the site will be unaware of your initial search and, as a result, will respond to your interest as a first time visitor – providing you with information which is unbiased by any previous contact.
During my dinner conversation the other day a very experienced traveler noted that there are, however, times when tracking cookies can work for you. He mentioned, for example that when you initially visit some sites for something such as a car rental, they will offer you a variety of companies and pricing options. They may even show a “drop down” menu asking if you would like to look at “better deals.” So you click on that and examine the offer. My travel wise dinner companion said that if you examine but decline all such offers on your initial visit and then come back later that “sometimes” the site will use information from your previous visit (tracking cookies) to immediately offer you an even better deal. Interesting.
I found this information fascinating and potentially very useful. Based on this I have now decided to modify my online approach to searching and booking. First I will search and find my best options, then I will return (without removing tracking cookies) and give the site a chance to improve their offer. Maybe they will. If they do, I’ll probably book the deal. If, however, they increase the price I will then decline and leave the site. I will then remove my tracking cookies and again return – hopefully to find the original price still available.
Okay – now I admit – it’s not an exact science. But it does at least give me a bit more control of the process rather than just being at the mercy of the website and it’s computer pricing algorithms. Something for you to think about and consider? Obviously – no guarantees here – written or implied. As they say – “your milage may vary.”
Love Those Cookies! ………. And Enjoy The Adventure!
Dr.B, The PhotoTrekker