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Brits charged nearly double for the same travel deals when using UK websites

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Written by: Rebecca Goodman
25/10/2022
British holidaymakers are charged hundreds of pounds more for travel bookings made through UK websites, compared to the same deals available on foreign domains. Here's how to legally get round these algorithms.

Holiday firms sell the same products – holidays, flights, car hire, boat trips and theme park tickets – but charge people different amounts, based on the country they live in.

One of the biggest price differences spotted was car hire on a New Zealand website which was charging people in Britain 97% more.

For a two-week car hire booking from Auckland airport, the company Avis charges someone using a New Zealand website £1,258. But someone booking exactly the same service through a British website would pay £2,484, a hike of £1,226.

To compare prices, NordVPN, which carried out the research, used a virtual private network (VPN) when accessing the travel websites.

It found a host of examples where people using a British website are charged more for the same deals.

Price hikes for Brits

NordVPN said there were cases when prices offered to holidaymakers in different countries were similar. But it also found lots of price differences when it conducted simultaneous searches for identical products.

A seven-night stay at Disneyland Hotel New York for a family of four booked via the Disneyland Paris website cost £5,406 for natives. But switch to a British website and the price goes up to £6,562, a difference of £1,156.

A hotel stay for two in Venice booked via Booking.com was priced at £1,576 when using a Spanish website, but £1,869 via a British website – a difference of £293.

Elsewhere a seven-night Mediterranean cruise with MSC Cruises was 28% cheaper when booked through the Italian site as opposed to the UK one, adding £454 to Brits’ bills. A 10-night Caribbean cruise with the same company was 17.2% cheaper or £573.

TUI’s German website offered a saving of 11%, or £339, to those who used it to book a 14-night hotel stay in Tenerife for two, when compared to the price offered to those using the UK website.

The Hotels.com website, visited from an Italian server, saved 10% or £128 for a seven-night hotel stay in Florence while a Channel crossing for a family of four with Brittany Ferries was 10% cheaper, a saving of £48, when going through the French instead of the UK website.

‘Anything a website knows about you can be used against you’

Marijus Briedis, chief technology officer at NordVPN, said: “Never assume you’re seeing the same price as everyone else. UK consumers have always known it’s wise to shop around but the age of the internet means you now need to shop around with the same provider.

“Companies use all kinds of complex algorithms to cater to the purchasing power of different countries. They will routinely show different prices on different website domains, and it can even differ depending on where you’re visiting from.

“Anything a website knows about you can be used against you. The factors most likely to influence the price you see are your location, your repeat visits to the website being tracked by cookies and whether your search coincides with a school holiday at home.

“We’ve demonstrated how you can save hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds a trip by using a VPN to access the websites seen by customers overseas. You don’t have to be a computer scientist to bag these savings. VPNs are so easy to use, anyone can do it.”

Is there a way to dupe the algorithms and pay a better price?

It is possible to access a foreign website, via a server, even if you’re not in the country.

This can be done with a VPN. It allows someone to visit a website without the owner of the site knowing which country they’re currently in. That’s because they disguise an IP address so you can select a country and that is where the website will think you are.

The data shows there are big price differences depending on which country’s website you use. But if you use a VPN you can trick the system and still benefit from these savings. We asked NordVPN to clarify exactly how this works…

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for “virtual private network” and it is a service that protects your internet connection and privacy online.

It creates an encrypted tunnel for your data, protects your online identity by hiding your IP address, and allows you to use public Wi-Fi hotspots safely.

How can it help you save money?

There are several different tactics for making sure a website isn’t using your information to offer you higher prices.

Clearing your browser cookies, for example, and using the ‘Incognito’ mode both help someone to avoid a company tracking what you are looking at, and then being targeted with higher prices based on this.

However, the difference with a VPN is that it makes it appear as if you’re browsing from a country where the prices are lower.

Your IP address reveals your geographical location but using a VPN can hide your IP address in one click.

Is it legal?

VPNs are legal in many countries, but some countries, such as China, Russia, and Iran, have banned VPNs or heavily regulate their usage.

That’s because a VPN grants users more online privacy and freedom, so some governments see it as a threat to their leadership.

It’s possible to use a VPN connection to bypass government censorship and gain internet access in countries like these. If people decide to do it, in order to avoid any inconveniences NordVPN recommends downloading the app and getting a subscription before traveling.

How do you set up a VPN?

There are both hardware and software VPNs. Hardware VPNs are physical devices that work well for remote access to internal company networks and are great tools for very specific needs.

Software VPNs, which can be accessed anywhere and are generally cheaper and easier to set up, are more generally suited to most people’s needs and security reasons.

There are a number of different VPN providers, including NordVPN. To start using one you can usually pick the subscription plan you want and then download the app and log in.

How much does it cost?

The prices vary depending on the type of programme you buy – whether it’s a one-off cost or a monthly subscription – and on the provider. As an example, you can buy a yearly plan for around £25 from most of the major companies, such as NordVPN, McAfee and Norton Secure.

What is the difference between a VPN and going Incognito?

Incognito mode is a feature of Chrome and other web browsers that allows you to surf the internet without saving your browsing history, cookies, and other site data. When you go incognito, your browser doesn’t record which web pages you visit.

However, incognito doesn’t hide your IP and doesn’t encrypt or route your traffic via a remote server the way a VPN does. Your ISP and employer, websites, search engines, governments, and other third-party companies can still see and collect your data or track your IP address.

VPNs encrypt your internet traffic and hide your IP address, preventing tracking by ISPs and other third parties on the network level.

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