A recent study by Smarter Travel suggests that more and more savvy travelers are using VPNs to secure the best prices for plane tickets. Due to differences in regional pricing, a ticket for the same flight, in the same travel class, at the same time, on the same day can cost more in some locations and less in others – a fact which is contributing towards a trend for travelers to change their location via a service such as EasyHide-VPN. By hiding their real location and instead buying from a regional website that offers lower fares, travelers are making it more cost effective to take vacations, visit family, or travel for business.
Researchers at Smart Travel discovered that a flight from Boston, USA, to Lisbon, Portugal could be secured for 605 USD from the US website of a global online travel agent (OTA), but could be purchased for even less – just 573 USD – from the OTA’s Spanish website. Similarly, a flight from San Francisco to Tokyo was found to cost 788 USD from the US site of a major American airline, but 772 USD from the Japanese version of the website.
This isn’t the only research that’s been conducted into differences resulting from point-of-sale for plane tickets. Only last year, Map Happy conducted a similar experiment, and came up with similar findings. Looking at fares between Cartagena and Bogotá in Colombia, Map Happy claimed that buying from a US version of a website resulted in costs ranging from 116 USD to 137 USD. Using a VPN to change location and searching through the Colombian version of the website, however, showed fares for the same flights ranging from 61.59 USD to 91.96 USD.
Why Do Prices Differ?
According to Virgin, ‘prices can differ between countries at different ends of a route because market conditions vary and also because of changes in currency values over time’, but it appears there’s more to the story than meets the eye. It’s suggested that airlines offer more attractive fares to their target demographic, so, as in the cases above, flights to Lisbon are targeted at the Spanish market, and domestic flights within Colombia are targeted at the Colombian market.
Interestingly, it’s not just the travel industry that’s guilty of such price manipulation. Office Depot have admitted to using geolocation to determine which offers and which special pricing is available to which customers. Preferential treatment is given to ‘core’ demographics, in the same way that many businesses offer greater discounts for loyal customers through point accumulation for example. The difference here is that VPNs are leveling out the playing field, offering affordable fares to all travelers regardless of physical location.
A common question often asked is ‘is it legal to use VPNs in this manner?’. According to the Smart Travel study, most major airlines do not include clauses relating to VPN use in their standard terms & conditions for one very important reason – they’d be alienating a large portion of their audience by doing so. With increasing numbers of business travelers using VPNs abroad, not only to improve their online safety but also to satisfy company rules and regulations, many will be required to arrange their business travel through a VPN. Airlines cannot reasonably request that customers forego security measures when using their websites. The answer to the question is, therefore, this: Legal? Yes. Ethical? That’s for you to decide!
VPN use amongst travelers isn’t exclusively related to securing the best fares, however. It’s also about becoming more aware of the security dangers of using hotel-provided WiFi.
Until recently, hotel WiFi wasn’t believed to be anything that people should be particularly concerned about. The BYOD (bring your own device) trend has been growing in recent years and travelers have been connecting to hotel WiFi and public WiFi spots without worry. However, all this changed at the end of last year when a number of high profile hotel guests – most notably company CEOs and technology entrepreneurs – reported being attacked by what has become known as ‘DarkHotel’. DarkHotel has now been attributed to many attacks dating all the way back to 2007, and vulnerable hotel routers which facilitate hacking are considered to be largely to blame for these security breaches.
Today, it’s estimated that 84 percent of travelers do not take the necessary precautions to protect themselves online while they’re away from home. Experts highly recommend that people who may need to connect to their workplace during their travels do so by using a VPN, which encrypts the data between the device you’re using and the server, making it more difficult for hackers to access valuable or confidential information.
We’ve looked at how savvy travelers are using VPNs to secure the best deals, and how they’re using VPNs to protect their valuable and confidential data, but how about to facilitate internet access? While abroad, many encounter foreign censorship laws which prohibit them from accessing certain websites, specifically social media. The ‘Big 3’ of the social media world – Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – are all banned across North Korea, Iran, and mainland China, while Vietnam has a ban in place surrounding Facebook use, and Twitter and YouTube are periodically prohibited in Turkey in response to ‘media oversharing’ of government scandals. In fact, it was only in the last few weeks that the most recent ban took place.
Focusing on business travelers specifically, unless a part of a digital marketing team, these individuals can reasonably be expected to ignore social media during a trip without any ramifications. However, the same cannot be said for VOIP services such as Skype – an integral part of corporate communications. Skype is blocked in Belize, some Caribbean countries, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and many more regions, making it difficult for people to maintain vital contact with colleagues back home. This is yet another reason why VPN use is on the rise amongst savvy travelers – to bypass censorship laws abroad that can affect day-to-day living.
Whether you’re a business or leisure traveler, a VPN is one of the most important tools for ensuring a safe, enjoyable, and cost effective trip.