I booked a flight NYC- (via TOK) – SYD – TOK – SFO. The flight was with ANA Airlines. I called the US office, and was quoted a price of 2700 USD. Had to think about it, and called back later when they were closed, so I called the UK office. This time I was quoted a price of 4500 GBP (around 6200 usd at the time), I was horrified and again had to think about it. Later the UK office was closed, so I called the number in Japan. This time I was quoted 2100 USD. WT actual F I thought.. And promptly booked that one.
Third party ticket sales work with something called OfficeIDs. All OTAs and Travel Agents are allocated one, which gives them access to airline inventory and prices. An officeID is tied to a country. Airlines price many tickets differently from country to country. And although I haven’t experienced such an insane price difference again, there are consistently substantial differences in fares. The price you see on your local version of an online booking site, or an aggregator, depends on where you’re logging in from, and where you are travelling from.
So what is going on…
Some agents and OTAs acquire multiple office IDs from different countries for this reason. Here are some of the factors to consider when chasing good deals:
Home advantage: a local airline flying domestic routes will often have the best prices reserved on their own website, and for local travel agents.
Competition: a route that is serviced by multiple alliances will have lower prices, than routes dominated by one airline or alliance. Sites like https://skiplagged.com/ have created clever ways to find fares that are cheaper when using only the first leg, of a two leg journey.
Local sales targets: airline ticket prices are not decided from one central location, there is a certain amount of discretion left to each local office. Sometimes prices are decided by Country of Sale, some by Country of departure.
Codeshares: Airlines are selling each others’ fares in order to offer one point of purchase for international multi-leg journeys. Some flights have multiple codeshares, with each airline showing different fares for the same flight.
As frustrating as this all is, when different sites show different prices, it’s usually some combination of these factors. And not necessarily some nefarious scheme to cheat you out of your money.