Dynamic Pricing, Dynamic Booking, Dynamic Traveling….
Everybody knows about ‘dynamic pricing’ by now, that internet-era phenomenon of everybody paying a different price for the same flight. It’s a whole lot like haggling with a rug merchant in… well, just about anywhere. Actually it’s mostly about tailoring certain prices to certain markets at certain times based on certain criteria, and as long as you know some basic principles, it can work to either party’s advantage. It only gets creepy when it seems like the robots at Google know more about me than I do, or when they think they do, but really don’t, since how can they tell what activities of mine are for work and which for pleasure, after all? Once again, this can still work to my advantage, since they know nothing about me if not that I am thrifty. So if they want to give me the best rates, then that’s cool.
So I’d been pricing my recent trip to Uzbekistan off and on for a while, trying to decide whether it was in my price range or not. Since it’s about half a world away from LA any direction you go, that gives multiple options, if not cheap prices, so I’d just about decided on Korean Air, which had a RT flight for about $1500. Then I waited a day or two too long, and it was gone, cheapest available now a hundred or two more. So I started the process all over. Well, at this point it was right at two months from the planned departure date, a crucial time in the booking process, AND Turkey had been undergoing social turbulence for a week or so by then, and their tourist season was looking dismal.
So, suddenly, flights that had cost $3000 a month before—via Turkey—were now going for less than the original Korean flight. Can that be right? Then I did something I’d never done before: push that button that offers to compare four to six flights simultaneously. It works. THAT’S how dynamic pricing works for the consumer. You’ve just made a quantum leap in the process, wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it for myself. Now prices are coming up for $11-1200, mostly on Turkish Air, hubbing out of Istanbul, of course.
Unfortunately, they were disappearing almost just as fast, so that, by the time I was ready to purchase, it was already gone. Was this all a scam? So I checked the Turkish Air website, and, sure enough, prices were all over the place. Then I went back to the multi-line process, but this time avoiding Turkish Air, since others still have to compete. I got one on Lufthansa and Uzbekistan Air for $1250 through Priceline, who I’ve worked with many times, though usually not flights. The deal was done. They never offered me that rate until I tried the four-way mix/mash BTW.
Of course one of the reasons that I got a good price was that I had almost a day layover in Frankfurt both ways, and eight hours in San Francisco on the way back. Most people don’t like such delays, but if you can use them, then it’s great. I’ve got a friend in San Fran and I like Frankfurt okay, too, gave me a chance to do a side-trip to Luxembourg maybe, which I’ve never been to. If you wanted such a stopover, it’d likely be expensive and you certainly couldn’t put it in the four-way discount dicker. Those are only for round-trips, I’m pretty sure. I figured I’d likely try to catch an earlier flight back anyway and see what happened, but there were no guarantees. To change the return would likely cost something, but I wasn’t sure what.
A better option might just be to re-enter Europe elsewhere and then re-confirm my return from Frankfurt to LA, and see if it flies. Back in the old days, if I wanted to leave ahead of schedule, I’d just show up at the gate, and stand by. It worked almost every time, but that was in the 90’s. If I didn’t get all the way home, then I’d lay over at the intermediate point, which in this case is what I wanted, Frankfurt, and which I had already considered with Korean Air. That’s how I saw Seoul the first time. A European airline might be stricter, and so might 2013. Of course, if I were to fall in love with Uzbekistan, then it’d be a moot issue. And if visas were easier, then maybe I’d visit the neighbors.
As strange as it might seem, you can get creative with frequent-flyer bookings, also. That’s what I did in 2006—or was it 2007?—while sitting in Ensenada, Mexico, wishing I were in Seattle, and Vancouver. I tried to find a frequent-flyer flight in mid-summer… with no luck, no way. So I got the brilliant idea of adding Anchorage to the itinerary, see how that flies. I’d always wanted to go. Bingo. That got me several options. But why sell myself short; think big! So I substituted Fairbanks in the itinerary. Wham! Bam! Thank you, ma’am! Now I can pick my times. Considering that I’d be flying out of San Diego, with a border to cross, that’d be really helpful. Since Alaska Air partnered with Continental, there were lots of options…. all of which hubbed out of Seattle.
I could go to Fairbanks, and then hop off in Seattle on the way back, summer over in Vancouver just up the road. It sounded like a plan. So that’s what I did—booked it and hauled ass out of Mexico a few days later all for free, courtesy of some Continental frequent-flyer miles, carrying nothing but a day pack and a laptop bag—WiFi was just kicking in around 2006—since you can’t check bags if you plan to hop off the itinerary mid-route. It’s best not to tell the airline staff, either. Sometimes they get upset knowing that people are picking apart their system.
I’ve booked multi-stop routes—frequently cheaper than direct flight—just to hop off in mid-route, and save money over that same stop as final destination. That works best for one-ways, or the final leg of a round-trip. They usually reserve the right to cancel a trip with segments not flown in order, so no problem on the final leg. You heard it here first. Don’t forget: no check-in bags.
p.s. I guess I did sorta kinda almost fall in love a little bit with Uzbekistan, so that particular travel design problem became a moot issue. Neighboring Kyrgyzstan is visa-free for Westerners, now, though, for whatever that’s worth. That’s where I’ll be next year.