Booking Travel on a Mobile Device Pays (Literally)A couple of weeks ago, we revealed how Qatar Airways customers may pay more when booking flights on a computer. That’s because Qatar Airways gives a 10% discount for bookings made on a Smartphone or mobile device. But Qatar Airways is certainly not the only company to employ price discrimination based on the device being used!

In response to that article, many Australian Frequent Flyer readers shared their own experiences where they’ve found different prices on a mobile device, compared to a computer. Booking.com and Expedia are among the list of companies that facilitate price discrimination by device.

In general, where such price discrimination exists, customers using a mobile device are shown a lower price than desktop computer users. There could be many possible reasons for this. For example, firms might assume (correctly or otherwise) that mobile users are more likely to be millennials, and therefore, more price sensitive. Or it could be a way for businesses to encourage customers to download their mobile App.

But there are also some cases where prices displayed on a computer are lower. It’s also possible that Apple iPhone users could be shown a higher price than Android users – or vice versa.

Here are some of our readers’ comments on the back of the Qatar Airways article…

I don’t think Qatar is the only airline that does this. I booked an Air France flight last year EDI-CDG. It cost well over EUR100 on its website and through other OTAs. I was on the verge of booking an EasyJet flight instead when I noticed the same flight was EUR77 via the AF mobile app, meals & luggage included.

Its not just them. The other month I went to book a flight back to adelaide from Bali via VA website and the app gave me a much cheaper option by far…

With rental cars there is a similar discrimination, though by phone brand. My son is an iphone user, I am android. When we do the same search, we get different results on occasion. His is usually better.

Booking.com “mobile rates”

Booking.com offers its hotel partners the option to set a “mobile rate” discount of at least 10% on all rooms, which is visible only to users on mobile devices. On its Partner Hub, it sells this feature as helping properties to “tap into this valuable and expanding traveller segment”.

This is what the company tells hotels on its website:

All you have to do is offer an exclusive discount of 10% or higher for mobile users. Once you’ve done this, a special badge will appear next to your property in search results and on your property page. This helps increase your visibility, and can improve your conversion rate for mobile bookers.

Expedia “mobile exclusives”

Many hotel rooms listed on Expedia are also cheaper if you’re booking on a mobile device or the Expedia App. For example, here are some prices on Expedia’s desktop website for hotels in Auckland:

Screenshot from Expedia desktop website
Screenshot from Expedia desktop website

The same rooms, on the same dates, are available for lower prices on the Expedia mobile App:

Screenshot from Expedia iPhone App
Screenshot from Expedia iPhone App

In fairness to Expedia, hotels that are cheaper on mobile devices are marked on the desktop website with “lower price available”. When booking in the Expedia App, these deals are often marked as “Mobile Exclusive”.

When using a computer, Expedia tells you that you have to sign up for an Expedia account to access the lower prices. But, if you’re using the Expedia App, the lower price is shown by default – and you don’t have to create an account to access it.

Air Asia member discounts (but only on a computer)

In general, we found that Air Asia offers customers the same price regardless of the device used. However, when logging into an AirAsia BIG Loyalty account, the prices are slightly lower on a computer. For some reason, this member discount is not applied if you log in and search for flights on the Air Asia mobile application.

The price difference is only small; using the Avalon-Kuala Lumpur route as an example, members save $1.50 per flight by logging in and booking on a computer.

Here are the App prices:

Screenshot of AVV-KUL airfare search on the Air Asia iPhone App
Screenshot of AVV-KUL airfare search on the Air Asia iPhone App

And the computer prices:

Screenshot from AirAsia desktop website
Screenshot from AirAsia desktop website

Different hotel award availability for members in different countries

AFF member motef recently came across a similar issue when trying to book hotel award nights using Hilton Honors points. When searching for award nights while in Australia, only around half of the rooms this member wanted were available to book using points.

But by using a VPN and logging in from “San Francisco”, this member suddenly had much more access to award inventory!

I then thought maybe I should check the award availability again with the VPN on, even though I had just checked and what we wanted wasn’t available.

Well, guess what, full standard award availability for all the remaining 50% hotels on the dates we wanted.

So I double-checked. Turned VPN off, using a different browser and no availability, turned VPN on and bingo full award availability.

(You can join the discussion about this issue on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Hilton Honors room award availability and VPN)

The moral of this story is that businesses are becoming better at using technology to discriminate against people using certain types of electronic devices, as well as people in certain locations. So, when booking travel, it can (literally) pay to check prices on multiple different devices.

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]

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Mister Wallace

It’s time for the ACCC and Human Rights Commissions to step up and stop these discriminatory practices.

john

seriously ? There’s price discrimination with everything. Nothing ACCC can do about it.

john

it continues to amaze me, that some people actually believe the garbage advertising that online is always cheaper. It’s NOT.

There are plenty of examples of accommodation & airfares ARE cheaper through a wholesaler, NOT online.

Travel agent groups also buy up seats, before they even make it online.

This means, what’s online is basically the leftovers.

We go to USA every year, cos it’s so cheap & every year we check online & then a real live travel agent goes to a wholesaler & gets us a much better deal.

bookworm

I have experienced this frequently with Booking.com. I like searching on a large screen, so after narrowing down my search, I use the app on my phone and book via the app if the price is better.

Another thing that I’ve noticed with Booking.com is the price variation when using Cash Rewards. If I’m logged in via Cash Rewards, the Booking.com price is more. This is the only site I’ve noticed who up their prices if you log in via Cash Rewards.

Feva

VPNs work even with deal sites, you sometimes get bigger discounts if you set your server to Europe or the US depending on which deal site you are on. It works for me using NordVPN but probably any paid VPN would suffice that has a lot of servers

Matt

The Qatar Airways web page about the MOBILE2020 discount (mentioned in your article as the reason why fares were sometimes lower when booked via a mobile device) says it was only valid 1-22 January 2020. Does QR still offer a lower price when booked via a mobile?