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We sometimes hear of a great fare, usually in a premium cabin, that’s only available to those residing in a specific country. It’s at times like these where people will suddenly remember that they have, coincidentally, just moved to that country and they’ll attempt to book tickets (sometimes successfully) using any old address in the country of question. I’m not about to pass judgement on those who do that but I just wanted to mention this practice simply to point out that this is not what I’m referring to in this post.
A few days ago I was helping out a friend and looking for a flight for him for travel between London Heathrow and Los Angeles for June next year. My first port of call was the ITA Matrix search tool so that I could get an idea of which airlines were offering the better fares and it soon became obvious that American and British Airways were providing the best options.
A Quick Bit Of Background
I’m used to using the US version of the American Airlines website and it’s my site of choice regardless of where I am in the world. I prefer to see my trips priced up in dollars because it the currency I’m most accustomed to using and, when I’m searching for fares, seeing them in dollars means that I don’t have to think too hard to know if a fare is good or not. I know immediately.
That’s why I found myself pricing up a trip originating in the UK, for a friend based in the UK, who would be paying for his trip in British pounds, on American’s US website.
As it happens there was a very good fare on offer and, after I saw it on the Matrix site, I found it on AA.com:
$693 for a round-trip between London and Los Angeles is a very good fare indeed and one that is unlikely to be beaten (at least not by AA) any time soon. So, despite the fact that we’re still almost 10 months away from departure, I felt confident in recommending that my friend purchase the fare.
But before I called him up to tell him what I found I decided to do two things.
First I checked to see what flights the $693 fare was for…and they were great:
Next, because I knew that my friend would probably prefer to know the price in British pounds, I decided to reproduce the fare on American Airlines’ UK website.
Here’s what came up:
For a trip using the same Heathrow to Los Angeles flight that I had selected on the US website, the UK website was quoting a minimum price of £705. That’s $916!
It gets worse.
When I clicked through to select the return flight the final price was even higher:
The exact itinerary that I’d priced up a few minutes earlier on AA.com at $693 was coming out at £887 or $1,153!
I went back to AA.com to see if American had suddenly withdrawn the fare (unlikely as it was the middle of the day and most fares get changed overnight) and the $693 fare was still there. I cleared my computer’s cache and went back to the UK website and I was still being quoted the inflated fare.
A closer look at what the respective websites were offering explained what was going on.
The US website was pricing up the Economy fare using the “O” fare code…..
….while, for some reason, the UK website was only offering Economy fares booked into the “Q” fare code:
That seemingly small difference was causing the UK website to price the itinerary at over $450 more than its US counterpart.
What To Do?
I wasn’t sure whether this was a glitch or whether this was something that American Airlines was doing deliberately and I wasn’t sure what would happen if a UK resident with a UK bank/credit card attempted to purchase a fare priced in dollars on American’s US website….so I checked.
I made sure I was logged out of AA.com, cleared my cache again, turned on private browsing, opened up AA.com and reproduced the $693 fare again.
When I clicked through to the booking page I entered a fictitious name and deliberately supplied a UK contact number and a yahoo.co.uk email address to see what would happen when I clicked through to pay. Would it kick me out and redirect me to the UK website?
No, nothing out of the ordinary happened.
I was now at the payment part of the booking and that’s when I noticed this:
There’s absolutely no need to use a UK bank/credit card directly on AA.com – you can use PayPal.
I didn’t bother proceeding any further as it was clear that AA.com wasn’t going to force me to redirect to the UK website and re-price the fare at the higher rate…..but my friend ended up booking the fare in exactly the way I described above (using a UK bank card) and had no issues at all.
I have no idea why one version of American Airlines’ website was offing to book the itinerary in a lower fare code than another of the airline’s sites but it certainly taught me a lesson.
In this example it was the UK version of AA’s website that was offering the higher fare….but there’s no reason to think that, on another occasion, it couldn’t be the other way around.
If you have access to more than one version of an airline’s website don’t assume that the price that you’re seeing is going to be the price that you see on all other versions of the airline’s site. This is why I prefer to search for airfares on sites like Matrix rather than directly on an airline’s own site – Matrix, more often than not, will show the true lowest fare and then you know what you should be seeing when you visit the airlines’ own sites.