The Incognito Mode Myth: Why Your Airline Searches Aren’t as Private as You Think

by joeheg

You’ll hear several tips when it comes to finding the cheapest airfare. One of these has been around since people started booking flights on the internet. I’m talking about searching for flights using your browser’s private browsing or Incognito mode. And despite everyone saying it doesn’t work, people still do it. Maybe it’s because it’s not hard to do, and you never know if it might work.

Airline ticket pricing can be confusing and often leads people to believe that airlines are conspiring to charge the highest possible price for tickets. One common myth is that using Incognito mode will help you find cheaper tickets. The belief is that if an airline detects you’re searching for a specific flight, their systems will increase the price because they know you’re interested in taking that flight. This would be similar to seeing a TV in a store for $500, but when you return to buy it later, the price has increased to $600.

This myth has been busted so many times that it’s hard to keep track. I found this article from Travel + Leisure from 2017.

For a website to determine it should show you a higher price because you looked for the same flight before, it would have to incorporate the prices from that single pool of seats plus the last price you sawand then guess at what price it could set a flight that you’d still be willing to pay.

In 2023, the Washington Post debunked this same myth, along with others.

It is understandable when faced with a change in pricing that our customers might attribute the change to their individual actions, but that is not the case, Hawaiian Airlines spokesperson Alex Da Silva said in an email.

Although we tend to believe that many things happen as a result of our own actions, there are often other factors at play. As it turns out, using Incognito mode on a Chrome browser doesn’t prevent airlines from seeing your previous searches. This is due to the fact that their “privacy mode” isn’t as private as one might think.

a screen shot of a computer screen

Photo by Lorenzo Cafaro on

The Incognito fare hack depends on the airlines or travel agencies not being able to know that you’ve looked for a flight before. Despite the implication, Incognito mode isn’t designed to hide your browsing history from airlines or travel agencies. Instead, it’s a privacy feature that prevents your browser from saving your search history, cookies, and other data.

Google just settled a$5 billion privacy lawsuit over tracking people using ‘Incognito mode.’They’ve also changed the wording to let users know that websites can still track user activity.

Others who use this device wont see your activity, so you can browse more privately. This wont change how data is collected by websites you visit and the services they use, including Google.Downloads, bookmarks and reading list items will be saved.Learn more

When it comes to finding cheaper airfare, using private browsing mode may not necessarily help. However, there are several other tricks you can use to your advantage. One trick is to look at alternate airports. For example, if you’re flying to a major city, consider looking at smaller regional airports nearby.

Another way to save is the hidden-city pricing trick. Known as Skiplagging, this involves booking a flight with a layover at your intended destination but then getting off the plane at the layover point instead of continuing to your final destination (we don’t necessarily recommend this one due to risks like this and this, but it’s done often enough that we feel we should mention it).

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that these tricks may not always work and may come with certain risks and limitations. It’s always a good idea to do your research and weigh your options carefully before making any travel arrangements.

Cover Photo by Jessica Lewis thepaintedsquare: via Pexels

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