There’s a lot of bad travel advice out there. But the one that always makes me cringe is when people insist that clearing your cookies will result in lower flight prices.
Searches don’t affect prices
There's a persistent myth out there that you need to clear your cookies or search in incognito mode when looking for flights. If you don't, the thinking goes, the airlines will see that you're interested in a certain flight or route and then jack up the prices so you pay more. But airlines are not manipulating individual prices based on past flight searches.
If they were, Scott's Cheap Flights wouldn't exist. Or at least, the Flight Experts and I would have a much harder time finding deals. We run thousands of searches every day and if the price of a particular route or flight rose because we searched it multiple times, we'd see that.
Part of the confusion may come because airline and OTA (aka online travel agency) websites do typically access your IP address, but they do that so that they know where you are to serve you information in your language and currency—not to manipulate prices based on your searches.
Coincidence ≠ causation
Another reason this myth persists is because airline prices are highly volatile and sometimes a price does increase in the few minutes between searches. If that happens, it could be a number of things causing it, though. The first is pure coincidence. Second, a listed fare is usually only good for a certain number of seats. Once all the seats in that fare bucket have been sold, the price rises to the next bracket.
Finally, it you’re searching on an OTA, it’s possible that initial price you saw had already expired, but the OTA hadn’t updated its prices yet because it's a few steps behind the airline website. When you searched again, the OTA had caught up and the price rose to the current fare.
Members of Scott's Cheap Flights know we don't take any kickbacks from the airlines and helping our members is our number one priority. If the airlines were manipulating prices based on your searches, we'd be the first to call them out and let you know. But it's just not happening.
No harm, no help
The bottom line is that there's no harm in clearing your cookies or searching for a flight in your browser’s incognito mode. If it makes you feel better, go ahead and do it. But it's not a magic bullet that's going to help you get a better price, a repeating this myth just adds to the confusion around the already-complex world of flight pricing and booking.
Things that actually will help you get a better price: searching in the Goldilocks window (2-8 months for international flights and for 1-3 months for domestic), searching flexible dates, avoiding peak travel times, acting fast when you find a great deal—and of course, joining Scott's Cheap Flights so we can do the work for you.