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Use a “Fake” Location to Get Cheaper Plane Tickets


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I can’t explain airline pricing but I do know some plane tickets can be cheaper depending on where you buy them or, even better, where you appear to buy them from. This is all about leveraging foreign currencies and points-of-sale to your advantage.

For reasons I never quite understood, every time I tried to book a domestic flight in another country, the prices were always exorbitant. But, say, once I was in Bangkok, that same flight that was once $300 would fall to $30 almost inexplicably. This phenomenon is because a ticket’s point-of-sale—the place where a retail transaction is completed—can affect the price of any flight with an international component.

Most people don’t know there is a simple trick for “changing” this to get a cheaper flight on an airline’s website; it’s how I managed to pay $371 for a flight from New York to Colombia instead of $500+. Though it can be used for normal international flights, it often works best when you’re buying domestic flights in another country. (Point in case: A Chilean friend once told me Easter Island flights were much cheaper to buy in Santiago instead of abroad.)

To demonstrate how this scheme works, we ran a one-way search from Cartagena to Bogotá—two cities in Colombia—for June 17 on Google ITA, Kayak and Skyscanner. To keep things simple, I’ll ignore a VivaColombia flight that Skyscanner found because Google ITA and Kayak do not include smaller airlines in their searches. Instead, we’ll be comparing two large airlines that fly this route, LAN Airlines and Avianca.

Unsurprisingly, Kayak takes a U.S.-centric approach. Going the path of least resistance, a Kayak search shows that the cheapest flight on LAN is $116 and the cheapest flight on Avianca is $137. If we run this exact search in Google ITA with New York City as the point-of-sale, we see those exact numbers. Skyscanner returns similar results: the cheapest flight on LAN is $114 and on Avianca it is $136.

Where to change point-of-sale in Google ITA.

Where to change point-of-sale in Google ITA.

Though Skyscanner actually has the best prices, let’s not stop there. Instead of using an American city as the point-of-sale, let’s use Colombia as the point-of-sale, something that can only be searched for in Google ITA. You actually don’t have to tweak a thing because the departure city is usually set as the default for this option — that said, it’s possible to change this to any place in the world you want. The main difference is we’ll get the price in Colombian pesos and that’s *exactly* what we want.

Prices shown in Colombian pesos.

Prices shown in Colombian pesos.

In this new search, the cheapest flight on Avianca is 116,280 COP and the cheapest flight on LAN is 173,820 COP. That of course means a lot of mumbo jumbo to most people, so let’s convert that over to U.S. dollars. The same Avianca flight now approximates to $61.59 while the LAN flight is $91.96. In short, you’d be saving $22.04 on the LAN flight and $74.41 on the Avianca flight by simply paying in a different currency. The price difference between the cheapest flight in both the U.S. and Colombia search is $54.41. That’s how much you’ll end up saving just by comparing the flights in different currencies.

Where to select a different point-of-sale on the Avianca site.

Where to select a different point-of-sale on the Avianca site.

Now the real problem is that we’ve got to find a place to buy this ticket in pesos since Google ITA won’t tell us where to go for that. I head directly to the Avianca website, which brings us to the U.S. price—about $137—for the flight. That’s not what I want though. I start again, but this time I click on the upper right-hand corner and select Colombia as my country and English as my language. (Other airlines may not always offer the ability to keep using the site in English. How good is your Spanish?) It’s not using the same thing as a VPN, but this mimics the idea that you are buying from a different location other than the U.S.

I search again. Sometimes I’m not always able to get the same exact fare I see in Google ITA, but I almost always manage to get something cheaper than what Kayak calculated for me. In this case, the cheapest flight available is 136,000 COP or $72.14, a bit more than what I was told but still less than Kayak’s price. To save the most money, make sure you pay in a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. In total, I manage to get a flight about $43.86 cheaper than what any U.S. site quoted me.

Actual price shown on the Avianca site.

Actual price shown on the Avianca site.

Even if you don’t have a travel-friendly credit card, it still might be worth it to pay the fees just to pay in pesos. In this case, the standard foreign transaction fee 3% surcharge would only cost you an extra $2.16 to book the flight. The exact percentage will vary depending on the terms of the card issuer, but in short, you still come out ahead.

With a little adjustment, this trick can also be used for purchasing international flights. The most obvious points-of-sales to check for generally include the destination country and the country where the airline is based in. I mean, you can also go ahead and check for every single country out there, but that’s real dedication that even I don’t have time for.

Though most of the time it works out that I get some sort of discount—which can range from a few dollars to over a hundred dollars—by leveraging foreign currencies against each other, it doesn’t always work all the time. Sometimes, in fact, the cheapest airfare is the most straightforward fare you’ll find. But hey, just so you know.

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  • Hank1961

    Thanks, I just saved $43.

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      No problem Hank!

      • Tanny

        Hi Erica how can I book a ticket using the ITA codes in hipmunk…i tried using the TYS US X/PHL QR X/DOH QR CCU and QR X/DOH QR X/CHI QR TYS and hipmunk says “we could not find this location”….

        I tried couple of agents but they were unable to replicate the same fare and it is $700 more expensive than the ITA search.

        I m looking for TYS to CCU and back..departing on Dec8 and returning on Jan8 2015

        Thanks in advance

        Tanny

        • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

          Hi, Tanny you may want to take that over to this thread. I’ll help you over there.

  • Ben Cheever

    The title is misleading. It says how to say money on cheaper tickets for plane flights. But then the whole article is about international flights only. Even the page URL says “use-point-of-sale-to-get-cheaper-international-tickets”. Very confusing..

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      I’m sorry if you found it misleading, Ben. You can often pay in a foreign currency if you like for a domestic ticket but it usually almost never works in your favor. Who knows, though, it might :)

      • Wake and Wander

        But you use the example of Cartagena to Bogotá?

        • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

          It seems Ben was referring to U.S. flights only from his comment. Typically, the two cheapest currencies are the home airline currency and home pos currency. For flights in the U.S. this would be one and the same (USD).

  • Mitch S

    Just be careful if there are any visas or entry/exit fees you would still need to pay. Sometimes these fees are included in your fare if booked from your home country but may not be automatically included now due to your new found “foreign resident” status.

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      Good point Mitch. We didn’t think of that one!

  • Carol

    You also have to be careful, since some sites dont accept “foreign” credit cards

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      Some sites don’t. Some sites do. I’ve found U.S. credit cards typically work better than cards issued in other countries, in the case of Colombia. ᐧ

  • Louie Frias

    So, what those of us in the states booking to another country, such as Mexico?

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      Works.

      • Louie Frias

        OK…so I choose “Bogota” as my departure location…”Mexico” as my destination. That DOESN’T work. Unless I’m completely missing the actual steps to make the ticket purchase work, the departure and arrival cities, if not, a US city, will not permit anyone holding such a ticket to board from another location.

        • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

          It’s hard to know whats going on without knowing the specifics ie airline booking site and what searches you’re running it in. Did you try Google ITA first and specify the currency? The second option is that you just may need a VPN.

          Also Colombia and Mexico BOTH use pesos, so make sure you’re not getting confused with MXN and COP.

        • Louie Frias

          I did go to the Google ITA site, but it only offers a link to “AirFare” search…hold up…it’s in the “Advanced Search Criteria”…let me try that and see what happens…

        • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

          Did you make sure to use the ‘advanced’ version of the search?

  • Raul

    So if i want to fly from Amsterdam to Sydney you suggest I check on the australian website to book my ticket instead of a dutch website?

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      I’d suggest you check both. Or if you want to make it really fun, all of them!

  • Denise Ackerly

    Just tried round trip NY to Puerto Vallarta–2 different trip dates–each was $7 cheaper by using Pesos on ITA than Kayak. A little over 1% savings. Tried Cancun to PV, using ITA was $57 more than Kayak and on other dates, $119 higher using ITA. :(

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      It’s hit or miss but I’m glad at least it was $7 cheaper for you. The most dramatic difference I ever saw was over $100.

  • Kara

    There still would be an eventual conversion fee to consider, though, correct?

    • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

      Depends on your credit card. The credit card I use doesn’t charge me a fee for that.

  • http://www.queermusings.net/weblog/ David

    The one thing to keep in mind that it isn’t always a currency conversion that is providing the savings. Many times the lower domestic fares for a particular country must be purchased in that country. The problem that you can then run into is that some do those fares are only valid for sale to residents of that country.

    My advise is to always check with a travel professional that can read all the rules of the “lower” fare. And remember… caveat emptor. If you do purchase a fare only valid for residents of that country, you could be forced to forfeit the ticket you’ve purchase and then forced to purchase a much higher fare on the day of departure.

    • Oscar Perez

      Has this ever happened to anyone?

      • http://maphappy.org/ Erica Ho

        I think its often more the *extreme* exception rather than the rule.

    • lou63563

      “check with a travel professional”?? what is this? 1961? lol. And NO airline will EVER forfeit your ticket on a domestic flight over residency…THEY WANT YOUR MONEY.. and government officials will NEVER come near to you and your ticket i’d know.. im typing this from visiting Colombia. David might think the WHOLE world is controlling at that granulated level of residency, but outside of the G8 i can tell you for personal experience… NO ONE gives a fuck about the way you got an air ticket.. you paid it, you ride… END OF STORY.




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