Using Proxies To Get Good Deals When Virgin America Reneges

Reader Tom was all set to buy a ticket on Virgin America when all of a sudden the fare he thought was locked in shot up 33%. The machine told him his reservation had expired. Tom tried redoing the purchase several times, clearing his cookies, changing browsers, only to continue to be denied by Richard Branson’s faceless automoton army. So then he cleared his cookies and then rerouting his signal through another computer so to Virgin America it looks like a different user is trying to buy the ticket (in technical terms, he rerouted his traffic through a SOCKS proxy server on the West Coast). Shazam, he was able to get the ticket at the old price. Whether the deal had expired because he dawdled too long, or whether he was only able to get it because it looked like he was coming from the West Coast and the fare was related to the time of day, Tom felt jerked around. If this happens to you, here’s a how-to on using proxy servers.

thanks, Virgin America [Manifest Density]
Virgin America: still evil, but now defeatable [Manifest Density]


Edit Your Comment

  1. That sort of thing has happened to me consistently on Travelocity and Orbitz. Step away for a few minutes after finding a great deal, or open another browser window to check nearby airports, and you are hosed – the ticket price is guaranteed to go up while you fiddle.

    Isn’t this illegal? Bait-and-switch?

  2. BillyShears says:

    I had a feeling that they(travel sites in general) were actually storing IP information on the server end in lieu of cookies for awhile now.

    So I check prices at work, find the good ones and then do my ordering from home. :)

  3. valarmorghulis says:

    @BillyShears: That wouldn’t be terribly effective as lots of different people these days are using routers and the like. This would mean that the first person in an office, internet cafe, or household would screw it for everybody else behind that router.

    Doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen though.

  4. johnva says:

    If something isn’t done to regulate this sort of practice, then it could become impossible to comparison shop.

  5. johnva says:

    @valarmorghulis: It’s kind of hard to see any other explanation for the fact that the price changed using a proxy, though.

  6. @johnva: then it could become impossible to comparison shop.

    You thought they were looking out for your best interest? They want to scare you into buying the ticket – subconciously, the message is “better buy now…or it might go up again!!!”

  7. Concerned_Citizen says:

    Those are good theories, but this is clearly a case of their servers trying to identify people who will make a purchase before they make it. So that they can jack the price up.

  8. heavylee-again says:

    Just be careful about sending CC info (or any other personal info) through a public proxy.

  9. ThomFabian says:

    Unless it is using the time zone of the originating IP for time-based discounts

  10. Traveshamockery says:

    I love the weird caption in the Richard Branson picture.

  11. tom says:

    @heavylee-again Good advice in general, although if you are using an SSL connection, trust your DNS server (which won’t tunnel over SOCKS) and don’t receive any warnings from your browser about SSL certs, then your information will be safe even if a party in the middle is snooping on you. Behold the magic of SSL!

    In this case I was using a shell account on one of my employer’s servers, though, so I was pretty confident about security.

  12. matto says:

    @heavylee-again: As long as you’re posting to a site that uses TLS (an https: url scheme), there is zero additional risk sending credit card info through a public proxy.

  13. johnva says:

    @CaliforniaCajun: No, I don’t think they’re looking out for our interests. I’m saying that I think that sort of practice of price-changing and price discrimination based on individual profiling should be illegal.

  14. johnva says:

    @ThomFabian: That’s still profiling you based on your IP (which is a rather poor way of identifying people or even individual computers). I doubt that it’s ONLY the IP that they are using, but they do seem to be using that information. The only information that should change when using the proxy is the apparent originating IP.

  15. B says:

    I wish I had a faceless automaton army.

  16. DeafChick says:

    Thanks for the tip.

  17. kengineer says:

    Seems I’ve run into the same situation with air canada when booking a recent trip to hawaii, Only thing is I was booking a hotel through them. Price went up by the minute as we were shoppping around on various sites.

  18. ideagirl says:

    I have noticed this even between different browsers. It used to be Amazon gave me a lower price when I logged in with Opera that it did when I used IE.

  19. oakie says:

    i think this is more based on deal expiration based on purchase date and time. the fare probably increased like the usually do if you buy X amount of days prior to your scheduled departure. the fare increased in his time zone, but when he used a proxy based in a later time zone, he was given the previous price as the fare hadnt yet adjusted for the later time zone.

    simply put? midnight is still midnight no matter the time zone you’re in. if you missed the midnight deadline in your timezone, pretend you’re before midnight in another timezone to get the previous price. i have done this before purchasing fares online via expedia and travelocity.

    i think the complaint lacks too many variables to judge fault squarely on VA. unless more facts are revealed, it should be assumed the complaintant should have bought his fare before the price expired in his time zone instead of corroborating some conspiracy, much like many o you commenters are doing right now.

  20. johnva says:

    @oakie: If it’s based on X number of days before departure, then why should the local time where YOU are matter at all? Duration is not affected by time zones. What you’re saying seems possible, but stupid (and it’s still price discrimination based on IP address, even if they have a “reason” for it). Precisely this sort of thing is why buying airline tickets can be so infuriating.

  21. Fly Girl says:

    I think a more accurate explanation is that the majority of VA’s fares are “Instant Purchase” fares. It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t familiar with a GDS, like Sabre or Worldspan, but lemmee try…

    When you select a flight, and a price, what you’re really telling the computer to do is build you a record, a “PNR,” with that flight segment at a particular fare basis.

    Let’s pretend you’re booking a flight from San Francisco to Las Vegas at the super-cheap $49.00 fare. You’re really selling one segment, in a particular class of service, into a PNR, or record.

    Maybe it’s VA flight 387 from SFO to LAS in V class on 29-May.

    When that segment gets “sold” into your booking, you still have a shell of a booking. The segment shows up as “SS,” which means it’s not actually confirmed. When you make the actual booking (put in your name, phone number, payment information, etc…) the segments in the PNR are converted from “SS” to “HK,” which means that they’re confirmed.

    Some airlines, Alaska for instance, will let you build and confirm the PNR on thier website without entering payment information– they’ll let you hold the space for 24 hours. VA doesn’t do that– you have to pay immediately to get your PNR confirmed. Therefore, the space that you’ve got “held” on VA is only SS’d until you PAY for the flights. That’s when they become HK’d.

    Two things can happen while the segments are SS’d– someone else can swoop in and buy the seats at that fare right out from under you, especially if there was only one seat left at that fare.

    The other is that the SS hold can expire. Since they’re instant purchase tickets, if you SS some segments and then leave that browser window open while you shop around, after 10 minutes or so the SS segments will cancel themselves and that “instant purchase” price will no longer be valid for the segments that you selected. The computer may tell you that you have to start all over, or it may offer you a higher-priced, not-instant-purchase fare.

    I don’t think that VA is being sneaky or malicious– it’s pretty standard industry wide and it’s really just a computer glitch more than anything else.

    Because the airlines don’t allow PNR churning (using the same PNR over and over to rebook flights), if it happens to you, you’re going to have to use a different IP or something to get that fare back.

    Instead of leaving the browser window open, I suggest just writing down what you found and then CLOSING the window instead of letting it expire.

  22. Fly Girl says:

    Also, it really is possible that you see a fare and then, 10 seconds later, it isn’t available. It’s not bait-and-switch, it’s reality. Ticket prices, and availability, change by the second and until the segements that you want are HK’d, it’s all subject to change.

  23. LUV2CattleCall says:

    Finally…more people that are familiar with the airline industry and don’t just whine without a true reason! I enjoyed your explanation and comparisons of GDS systems, but beg to differ that that applies in this case, due to the fact that it allowed the fare to be purchased from a further-west time zone after the original one was jacked up in price.

    VX does do time zone based promotions in order to give people on both coasts a fair chance; In some cases, a fare will only be available in the EST at first, but people in CA will be able to get that deal for a few hours after the NY people can. Tickets in the discounted price buckets are sometimes held back for PST clients, which the folks in yield-management find nerve racking for whatever reason.

    Oh, just a tip for everyone flying the Virgin skies: The onboard credit card system is truly “Dumb.” When you order food or on-demand video, try swiping your Sam’s Club membership card, hotel key, etc… The flight attendants have no way of identifying your “mistake” and billing transactions aren’t done until the aircraft returns to SFO and talks to the payment processors. They have no way of identifying you either and since they can’t go after you for the money, make sure you leave the actual amount of whatever you bought on your seat in cash…as it would be unethical to do otherwise lol.

  24. tom says:

    I appreciate the inside perspective of folks who have worked in the industry, but it doesn’t really change how frustrating this process is for customers. Nor does calling them “instant purchase” tickets change the fact that the pricing structure is designed to confuse customers so that they can’t comparison shop and end up making a sub-optimal purchase.

    Trains and buses manage to advertise fares and then stand by them. Acronyms are great, but they don’t change the underlying customer experience. I appreciate the fact that the amount of statistical, logistic and business acumen underlying the airline ticketing system is substantial, but I hope you can understand that in practice it makes customers want to kill every *@#!ing person associated with the industry.

  25. GrandizerGo says:

    @valarmorghulis: That isn’t true at all…
    The ONLY way the prices jump are if you are booking the same itinerary…
    Unless the entire office behind that router is planning their vacations together…

  26. notallcompaniesareevil says:

    One way to do this without crazy tech if you have a router connecting to the internet (think Wifi) is to just unplug your router if you have DSL. Plug it back in, and it (usually) will get a new IP.