Do airlines give different prices to website visitors from different countries and regions?
The answer is a definitive 'yes'. And in the example route we chose there is a considerable difference in price - over twice as much is the quoted price to the visitor who is searching from abroad.
Make sure that person is not you.
We scan the internet for stories about how to get the better deal for travellers and this theory popped up on our radar in an article from Time magazine: Use a ‘Fake’ Location to Get Cheaper Plane Tickets and some further googling resulted in an article on a slightly different tack from the Guardian: Booking a flight? Airlines' overseas websites offer better deals
Essentially these two articles are saying that your location, currency and choice of carrier website affects plane ticket price. So we had to test this...
Long distance London to Bangkok
We tried Thai Airways main site (http://www.thaiairways.com) from the UK, from Sweden and from Thailand itself looking for a flight LHR to BKK one way.
When you arrive at the site for the first time from any location their website looks at your incoming IP address and browser language settings and tries to match up the best version of the site they have for you.
So when we arrived on their site from a Swedish IP address it offered us English as the only option and took us to http://www.thaiairways.com/en_SE/index.page note the encoded information in that page address "en_SE" which shows what region is being selected as default.
When we looked at the page as a Thai would we got the option for the Thai Language also. It is possible that Thai Airways only have these two language options or maybe they have translations for e.g. Spanish or German which might have larger passenger numbers - a lot of Swedes can read and write in English so maybe that is why Thai Airways figure they can just give them English.
No matter what combination we tried Thailand Airways always offered us the same price for that flight of £873.96 - remember that all searches we enacted on their global portal... thailairways.com
Domestic New Zealand Flight different websites (.co.nz and .com)
The Guardian article mentioned that a Kiwi guy had natually navigated to the Air New Zealand home site at http://www.airnewzealand.co.nz rather than the global site and got a very different price So we thought we'd try that too! The Guardian article dates from 2011, and the situation still stands today.
We try first as someone booking on the airnewzealand.co.nz site:
Home page Search .co.nz
We chose a flight in the not too distant future between 2 domestic cities: Auckland and Wellington where there are several daily flights.
Results page co.nz
We got a price of $NZD 89 on the first flight of the day in the basic class and options.
Now try it again as a hopefuly European traveller looking to book it as part of a trip to the Antipodes.
Home page Search .com/.eu
One thing to note about Air New Zealand Global .com site, is the browser redirects to a different site depending on where it thinks you coming from (rather than just setting language options like Thai Airways above). So when we approached the http://www.airnewzealand.com site it instantly redirected us to http://www.airnewzealand.eu
Things continue to go very differently for the European visitor to Air New Zealand.
The same flight was selected and look at the price!
The same flight first thing in the morning is shown as €118. This seems like a lot more, and worth investigating.... So we head over to Google for some currency advice.
Today the 118 Euro is equivalent to 189.12 New Zealand dollars. That is more or less DOUBLE the price.
As the mainstream articles pointed out, these fares may not acutally be able to be bought by someone outside of New Zealand due to restrictions on the ticket such as a local bank or local billing address and any credit card that could be used would charge a currency fee to change from the Euro to the New Zealand dollar which would add a small percentage.
What to look out for and do about this.
When going to any webesite, and especially when booking a ticket be mindful of the web address changing. This is your first indicator that something is happening if e.g. you go to bbc.co.uk and it changes to bbc.com you will know you are getting different global content from the BBC and if your airline does it as well, then be particularly aware.
If you can't get to the website you want, in this example if Air New Zealand redirected any non-New Zealand traffic to their .co.nz to the .eu site it would be much harder to check the way we have done.
If you discover any airlines doing this PLEASE let us know as we will check out the situation and update this blog page.
As well as lettings us know, you can ask family or friends in that country to check out the prices for you and possibly make the purchase for you if a local bank or bank card are required.
Update 22 January 2016
Interestingly EU law prevents airlines from doing the same thing within the EU.