The team exposes airline secrets, testing out if it is true that airlines snoop on flight searches in order to hike up fares. Plus Simon Calder has tips on visiting Dubai.
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JULIA SOMERVILLE: We asked you who's left you feeling ripped off
when it comes to your holidays,
and you came back with a catalogue of travel disasters.
I thought it was a joke, I really did.
You know, I started laughing.
I said, you cannot be serious.
They were saying it was not their fault.
It was unbelievable. I can't even explain.
-So whether it's a deliberate rip-off,
a simple mistake, or a catch in the small print,
we'll find out why you're out of pocket,
and what you can do about it.
-Your stories, your money,
this is Rip-off Britain.
Hello, and welcome to a particularly jet-set edition of Rip-off Britain.
Not just because we've come all the way to sunny Tenerife
to investigate your stories,
but because today we are focusing on
the problems many of you have had with airlines.
And our investigations have revealed some surprising secrets
about the way they do business.
We're also going to be finding out the answers to questions
that anyone booking a flight has probably wondered about
at some stage or another.
Such as, when is the right time to bag the best fare?
Is it by booking early or last-minute?
And should we really be swayed
by what looks like to be the cheapest deal in the first place?
That's the dilemma.
Well, on top of uncovering some surprising new facts,
we'll also be resolving some real old chestnuts.
So, as we prepare for takeoff,
fasten your seat belts and stand by for some especially useful advice,
because, after all, spending time with us
could mean that you end up spending less on a flight
that just wasn't what you'd hoped for.
Coming up, after one takeoff was held up for 40 hours,
will you get a bigger delay if you choose a smaller airline?
It was so deflating
to know that we'd lost so much time off the holiday.
We just thought, "Is there any point in bothering?"
And how you could end up with fewer rights,
not to mention hundreds of pounds out of pocket,
if your flight turns out not to be with the airline
you thought it was.
We had to pay for our own hotel,
the food in the hotel.
Just more expense on top of the holiday -
more expense we didn't expect to pay,
and I would expect the airline who made us late to pay for that.
Now, let's face it, long gone are the days
when it was just the big names that ruled the airways.
The skies are now crowded with dozens of other airlines, as well.
Some of the names you might recognise, others, perhaps not,
but while all of that extra choice can be a good thing for our pockets
in terms of driving down prices,
can those smaller companies really compete
when it comes to service, and, of course, reliability?
Well, some of those new kids flying over the block will say
yes, they definitely can,
but you have been telling us quite a different story.
So, we set out to investigate
if choosing a smaller airline could mean
that you're laying yourselves wide-open to much bigger problems.
And more than 100 passengers are unwittingly became headline news.
Now, they should be relaxing on a beach in Corfu by now,
but a plane-load of passengers is still waiting at Manchester Airport.
Due to technical problems, their flight to Corfu was grounded,
so the passengers had to sit and wait, and wait.
We've been at the airport since 9am Monday morning.
No water, no drinks being brought down.
At 39 hours, it was to become one of the worst delays
in the British civil aviation history.
We just had a lot of misinformation,
and people feel they've been lied to
by the holiday company and the airline.
Now, could it be that choosing to fly on a small airline
was at the heart of the problem?
Andrew Stafford from Stalybridge, in Greater Manchester,
was in the thick of it,
travelling with his son and friends and family.
We noticed the flight had been delayed by an hour,
but as the next hour passed, it went back an hour,
and then, obviously, as the day went on, it got worse and worse.
Andrew and his fellow passengers
were flying with a company that, chances are, you've never heard of -
Small Planet Airlines,
which has a fleet of 21 planes across Europe.
With its main office being in Lithuania,
Small Planet makes a big noise about its punctuality.
We are not some average company,
so we experience far fewer long delays than average.
Unfortunately, on this occasion,
the plane had a fault and just couldn't take off.
The 144 passengers were going nowhere
and were taken to a local hotel.
These aren't the type of holiday photographs we paid for.
Having already lost a day of their holiday, the next morning
the passengers were all shipped back to Manchester Airport
only to discover that their plane still wasn't fixed.
Small Planet Airlines contacted very frustrated customers
via its Facebook page.
"Dear passengers, we sincerely apologise
"for the inconveniences and stress
"the current flight delays have caused you.
"We have never had such a difficult situation before."
With only a relatively small fleet,
Small Planet wasn't able to schedule a replacement flight.
And as the day went on,
with no idea of when the broken plane could be fixed,
the exhausted passengers started to lose hope
that they'd ever get to Corfu.
At this point, some people were actually going home.
We were only going for a week,
we didn't know whether we were going to go that day, the next day,
or if we were going to be there for three or four days at this point.
It was really an anxious time for everyone.
Like Andrew, fellow passenger Tim Hewitt
also started to take snaps of the whole saga.
This was the departure board in Manchester Airport.
Obviously with the delayed flight,
telling us that it's next information at six o'clock.
People hanging around in the airport,
I think we were starting to lose the plot a little bit,
because we found this one quite funny,
it's the advertise that Manchester Airport,
"Your holiday starts here."
I get the point.
And at the end of day two,
the passengers were once again taken to a hotel.
It was so deflating
to know that we'd lost so much time off the holiday.
We just thought, "Is there really any point in bothering?"
Tim was travelling with his fiancee, Holly,
they'd paid nearly £2,500 for this trip
in order to plan their wedding.
We had meetings booked with wedding planners, florists, bakers.
We had quite a tight schedule
where we were going to try and fit everything in.
But by the early hours of next morning,
a replacement plane had been sent from Poland,
and Tim and the others were at last allowed to board.
But due to a further delay,
they had to sit on the tarmac for a couple of hours.
But in the end, what's two hours
when you've already been waiting for 37?
The moment that those wheels left the tarmac at Manchester Airport
there was cheering, there was clapping,
and it was a really nice atmosphere amongst the plane.
OK, three days late, mind, but we were actually on our way.
Now, airlines of any size can,
of course, experience technical problems,
but a situation like this exposes a particular issue
when that happens with smaller ones.
Sure, these carriers have often wonderfully cheap fares,
and they may fly to places that the bigger airlines don't,
but if there is a delay, it could be more significant
because an operation that's leaner all around
is unlikely to have the ability to deal with the resulting logistics.
If you don't have very many planes
and something goes wrong with one of them,
you are immediately in some serious trouble
because your whole fleet planning is based on the fact that
the aircraft on the ground in Malaga is expected to be in Manchester,
and from there it's going to fly to Faro in Portugal,
and there's people waiting there to fly back to Gatwick.
So it's this huge jigsaw puzzle
that you need to have plenty of resources for.
If you don't, or if you simply decide
"We're going to sweat our assets as much as we possibly can,"
then that can expose some very serious problems.
To see just how serious those problems might be,
we took a closer look at flight delays
on all routes flying in and out of the UK.
We wanted to know if delays tended to be longer
on routes operated by smaller airlines.
And to find out,
we looked at the data from the Civil Aviation Authority.
Now, of the 5,055 routes in and out of UK airports in 2015,
only 1,153 were operated by smaller airlines.
But perhaps surprisingly,
given the very small share of the market that these airlines hold,
when it came to keeping you waiting on the tarmac for longer,
they played a much larger part.
In fact, of the 50 routes that had the longest average delay,
more than half of those were run by smaller airlines.
Now, that doesn't mean that if you fly with a smaller airline
that you're more likely to be delayed,
but it does suggest that if and when a delay happens,
it is likely to be longer.
And one name that just kept cropping up
on routes that had experienced the longest delays was...
You guessed it - Small Planet,
an airline that's very familiar to this legal firm
in Wilmslow, Cheshire.
Hello, Bott and Co.
You're through to Candace and the flight delay team. How may help you?
If your flight is delayed over five hours,
then you are entitled to compensation.
And litigation executive Kevin Clarke says
the number of claims for delays on all smaller airlines has shot up.
2016 has been a bad year for some of the smaller airlines.
Airlines that, this time last year, we were seeing
claims for, maybe, a couple of hundred passengers a month.
We've seen a 500% increase with those airlines.
And Kevin says that especially applies to Small Planet.
It's been a particularly bad summer for Small Planet.
They like to have the aircraft in the sky as much as possible,
and they don't have the capacity to deal with these issues.
So what you will find is that the knock on effect
of a seemingly routine incident can run through days and weeks.
And there's been a number of lengthy delays,
particularly at Manchester,
in excess of 20 hours,
culminating in this monster delay.
That particularly bad delay
is a flight that the team here has taken a very close interesting.
I've personally corresponded with all 144 passengers
and asked them to tell me their experiences.
We've had people who are going for business,
we've had people who were going to plan weddings,
we've had people who were going to scatter ashes of their loved ones,
we've had people who've lost car hire bookings.
We'll work out exactly how much they are entitled to,
but I wouldn't be at all surprised
if the total sum exceeds six figures.
But as Small Planet airlines doesn't have offices in the UK,
getting it to actually pay that money out may not be plain sailing.
Last year, Kevin had to go to court
to demand that the airline pay a huge compensation bill
for delayed flights,
which involved bailiffs seizing one of their aircraft.
So with the court order,
the High Court enforcement officer attended the airport,
walked onto the runway,
and took ownership of the aircraft as it landed.
At that point, the airline owed
somewhere in the region of about £16,000 in court orders.
And they were told that the aeroplane would remain there
until such time as it was paid.
That is an extreme example,
but those are the lengths we have to go to.
I must say, I haven't heard of that before.
But when we contacted Small Planet Airlines,
it told us that the delay on the Manchester to Corfu flight was,
"One of the most difficult technical situations that it's experienced,
"with the plane's crucial hydraulic system needing immediate repair."
Engineers made every effort to fix it as quickly as possible,
while the company attempted to source a replacement aircraft.
It reiterated that, in the meantime,
it did take care of affected passengers,
including organising hotels and meals.
The airline went on to say
that "while its services may sometimes be delayed,
"it has never cancelled even a single flight,
"and always carries out its responsibilities
"in accordance with UK law."
It acknowledges it's difficult to put a price on
the "stress and frustration" caused by a long delay,
but says it's always willing to cover negative experiences
to some degree.
As for other recent delays,
it says that late delivery of aircraft
and the knock-on effect on training
are amongst factors that have caused problems in summer 2016.
But it says for future summers,
among other considerable improvements,
it will have "two stand-by aircraft with dedicated crews
"to cover delayed flights."
Even so, after experiencing such a long, long delay,
Andrew says he is more likely to fly with a bigger name
when he next goes away.
I'll certainly have a look
at which airline's are servicing that holiday,
and we'll probably make a decision based on that airline.
We'll probably move away from the smaller airlines
and stay with the bigger ones now.
And Tim feels exactly the same way.
After all, the next time he goes to Corfu,
it will be for his wedding,
and that's one flight he cannot afford to be late.
Come April when we fly out for our wedding in Corfu,
we will certainly be using a large airline
and not a smaller one.
We feel at least then we have a fighting chance
of actually getting to our wedding on time!
Booking a cheap flight has never been easier.
Instant access to the internet means that, frankly, any of us can
straightaway compare prices right across the entire market.
But while, understandably, it is the fare that most of us focus on,
there may be other details that you'll want to look for, as well,
particularly if it turns out that the airline with which you've booked
is not the actual one with which you're going to be flying.
Now, that could make a difference in all sorts of smaller ways
from the legroom and seat pitch to whether or not you get a snack.
But more fundamentally, if something goes wrong,
then you may find that you simply have not got the rights
that you would have expected,
which could leave you hundreds of pounds out of pocket.
Right, so where have we been?
Jeff and his wife, Karen, from Wakefield
have been taking their granddaughter Paige on holiday with them
since she was three years old.
And after ticking off over a dozen destinations across Europe,
the then 11-year-old Paige wanted to spread her wings
and go a little further for their 2015 holiday.
We'd taken Paige away, but never to America.
This was the big thing. This was the thing she'd always spoke about.
"Can we go to America? Can we go to Orlando?"
Jeff and Karen didn't take much persuading
and had soon booked a two-week trip to the Sunshine State.
A few weeks before we went, everyone was really excited.
Paige was telling her football coach,
telling everybody at school.
The family flew with Virgin Atlantic,
and to make their trip even more memorable, Jeff paid a bit extra,
to make sure that their seats would be reserved
on the top deck of the plane.
The flight from Manchester to Orlando was brilliant.
I mean, on the top deck, we felt like royalty.
Climbing up the steps, the three of us.
And it was a fantastic flight.
It was what we expected from Virgin.
The family touched down in Orlando
and enjoyed the holiday that they'd always dreamed of.
Paige even managed to get her grandma, Karen, on the big rides.
I liked seeing Grandma nearly have a heart attack on all the rides!
anything that were going, she was on it,
and Grandma had to go on, too.
But all too quickly the holiday was over.
And it was time for the family to head back home to Manchester.
Their return, unlike the outbound flight, wasn't direct.
Instead, it involved a connection in Atlanta, and the family noticed
that the internal leg of the journey wasn't with Virgin
but the American airline Delta.
Virgin had said that it were their sister company in America.
So, if it's their sister company in America,
we expect the same kind of service from Delta as from Virgin.
Timings with the connection were tight,
but providing there were no hold-ups,
they would have just enough time
to make the onward flight to Manchester.
Mother Nature, however, had other ideas,
and as a hurricane swept into Orlando,
the family's flight was delayed.
We were really getting concerned, weren't we?
We knew we had an hour and a half to get our connection.
When they finally touched down in Atlanta,
there were only ten minutes to spare,
but the family hoped they might just make it.
We made good time on the flight, I think we saved half an hour,
and people were still saying, "If you rush, and you run,
"you can get that flight."
But Jeff, Karen and Paige weren't the only ones hurrying
to try and catch that Manchester flight.
Everybody were up, out of their seats, ready for rushing.
We went up to the guy that was telling people what to do
and he just said, "Don't ask me, just go to the gate.
"If you've got the gate number, just go.
"Don't bother checking in,
"you've still a chance of catching that plane, it is there."
The family was moments away from reaching the gates,
and their plane was in sight.
As we got to the gate, we were told it had been closed,
we couldn't get on the plane.
We asked them why, we said, "The plane's still there."
They said, "International rules." Heart sank.
So Jeff joined the queue of other disgruntled passengers
waiting for advice on what to do next.
After three hours, we eventually got to speak to a customer service rep.
She tried to find us flights for that day, that night,
couldn't do it, couldn't do it for the next day.
The best they could offer us was the Saturday,
which was in a couple of days' time.
At that time, we started to panic,
not knowing if we'd get back on time for school or work.
Jeff and Karen had no option but to accept the flight two days later,
which involved another connection, this time in New York.
We just wanted to go home.
Instead we had to go to a small motel,
we were just shattered,
in the same clothes we'd been in all day,
and I guessed we would be for the next two days.
They weren't able to change their clothes
because their luggage was kept at the airport.
Check-in staff told them it would be forwarded on
to their connecting flight,
whichever that turned out to be.
But for Jeff, what was most concerning about all of this,
was that instead of a rep from Virgin Atlantic
dealing with his queries,
it was Delta that he was now having to deal with.
It turned out that was because
he'd booked what's known as a codeshare flight,
which means the journey he'd bought through one airline
was actually operated by another, in this case, Delta.
It wasn't something he'd really been aware of,
and he certainly hadn't realised
what significance it would come to have.
This is the Virgin Atlantic booking.
This shows that it's a VS number,
which is a Virgin code,
from Manchester to Orlando.
Then coming back, Orlando to Atlanta,
and then Atlanta back to Manchester.
These are all VS codes.
Even though that was a Delta airline that we ended up catching.
When all goes well,
codeshare agreements can mean more choice for customers,
allowing airlines to coordinate luggage handling, for example,
leading to a smoother onward journey.
But if anything goes wrong,
don't assume the airline with which you booked
has any obligation to sort it out.
And the other company
may not have any responsibilities to do that either.
In Jeff's case, the Delta representative told the family
that it wouldn't cover the extra costs
involved in staying those additional two days.
Instead, all it offered was a discount voucher for a nearby hotel.
To be told that we'd have the pay for everything ourselves,
they wouldn't help us at all with nothing,
we were really frustrated.
The least we expected was to be put up in a hotel.
The family spent an extra £340 over the two days
whilst they were waiting for their flight home.
We had to pay for our own hotel, the food in the hotel,
just more expense on top of the holiday,
more expense we didn't expect to pay,
and I would expect the airline who made us late to pay for that.
After arriving back two days later than planned,
Jeff put in a complaint to Virgin.
I wrote to Virgin, I complained,
and asked them to do something about our delay.
They wrote back to me,
and basically said I should get in touch with Delta.
At this, I was incredulous.
I'd booked with Virgin,
and expected them to do something about it.
And when, as instructed, Jeff did get in touch with Delta,
the news was no better.
Delta told us at the time that they had no responsibility
as it was due to bad weather,
and they are not covered for bad weather.
But in any case, as far as Jeff is concerned
it should be Virgin that's liable for all this,
because that's the company with whom he booked.
We booked these flights through Virgin,
I really think they're responsible for this.
At least they could have done, whether it's legal or morally,
they could have paid our expenses for the hotel,
the transport and the meals.
But as our travel expert Simon Calder explains,
it's not that simple.
And the nationality of the airlines involved can have a major impact
on the treatment you receive.
Codesharing was invented to enable airlines to pretend
they flew to more places, more often than they actually do.
And so therefore a typical airline will have relationships
with a number of other partners and apply its code to those flights.
A single flight can be pretending to be half a dozen different flights
on different airlines.
The worst case is when things go wrong with a flight,
and if you are on a codeshare flight with an airline from
outside the European Union,
then if you are flying from outside the European Union,
your rights are effectively wiped out.
So, if Jeff's delay had been on the outward leg of the trip
on Virgin, based, at least for now, in the EU,
the airline would have been required by law to pay compensation.
But because it occurred on his flight with Delta,
based in the US, no such laws apply.
It's really frustrating that Virgin being an EU carrier,
if we'd have gone with another EU carrier,
we'd have got some compensation,
but with then passing it on to Delta,
which is an American airlines,
we're not getting any compensation at all,
either from Delta or Virgin.
With Jeff frustrated at the response that he's had from both airlines,
we tried them again on his behalf.
But in a joint response,
while apologising to the family for the inconvenience
on their journey home,
the airlines stuck to what they'd previously said,
telling us that "with safety always the number one priority,
"if there's bad weather,
"such as hurricanes, snow or thunderstorms,
"flights may have to be delayed or cancelled.
"And in such cases, airlines are not obliged to offer compensation."
They went on to say that
"alternative flight options were looked into,
"and hotel discount vouchers were issued for a local hotel."
The companies also pointed out that
because the customers didn't request their bags back in Atlanta,
they remained in the system,
and were placed on the customer's flight home.
And they stressed that while a number of airlines
have codeshare agreements in place,
it's always made clear during the booking process
who the operating carrier is.
Oh, I'm useless at these.
But after this experience,
Jeff is going to try and avoid codesharing flights in the future
by asking whoever he books with
exactly who will be operating his flight,
and therefore, who will be looking after him should things go wrong.
I try and ensure I knew about the codeshare flight thing.
Didn't mean anything to me at the time,
now I know exactly what it means,
I would definitely want to know if it was a codeshare,
and if there was any problems, would we get compensated?
Still to come on Rip-Off Britain,
are the airlines really snooping on your online searches
so they can hike up the fares?
There must be something that ties in,
-that you've looked for that flight before.
So when you eventually do go in to book them...
-They hike it up.
-..it becomes dearer.
Our travel expert Simon Calder has all the secrets
to save you money on your travels.
He's full of tips on everything from how to avoid the crowds,
to the best way to steer clear of those tourist traps.
This time, seven-star hotels,
eight-lane highways and the world's tallest building.
It could only be Dubai -
destination for more than a million Brits this year.
To me, it can feel like Las Vegas on sea.
But unlike that desert city,
Dubai has a long and distinctive history.
And if you follow my advice,
I hope you'll agree it's a place with both spice and soul.
Simon says that to make contact with the real exotic Middle East,
you need to leave the air-conditioned shopping malls
behind and head to the large waterway of Dubai Creek.
From there, you can get a shuttle back and forth to the souks
for about one dirham, the equivalent of around 20p.
The souks - big, chaotic markets -
are full of noise, colour and commerce, and very few fixed prices.
When you're haggling, you'll never outsmart a merchant,
but don't feel pressurised to buy unless the price is right.
Keep smiling and don't hesitate to walk away.
The United Arab Emirates is a deeply Islamic nation,
and visiting the vast Jumeirah Mosque provides
a fascinating insight into the religion's philosophy and rituals.
Tours take place every day at 10am except Fridays
and cost 20 dirham, around £4,
which includes water, dates, tea and pastries.
Close to Dubai Creek,
you can escape from the heat and clamour of the city.
Simon recommends heading into the Al Fahidi historical neighbourhood,
filled with art galleries, cafes and hotels.
They don't have seven stars,
but they do boast plenty of character.
And finally, as ever, Simon recommends local transport
to get the real feel for the old Dubai.
You won't be in town for long before someone tries to sell you a tour
to the mountain fortress town of Hatta,
but just catch local bus number E16 instead and you'll save a fortune.
Now one of the complaints we hear time and again
involves the apparently sneaky way that airlines are said to keep tabs
on the visits you make to their websites
as you search for fares.
The theory goes that if you're using the same computer or tablet
to check back to see if the price has changed,
the site will recognise it's you and bump up the cost
so you feel under pressure to book right away
in case the cost goes up even more.
Now, it might sound like some far-fetched conspiracy theory,
but so many of you have now come to us with the same suspicion,
we were curious to find out whether this really is what's going on
or if it's just an urban myth.
So, we've done our own test to discover the truth once and for all.
For many of us, the days of walking into our local travel agent
to book a simple flight are a thing of the past.
More often than not, we just open up a laptop and do it ourselves online.
Like millions of us, frequent flyer Margaret Durnin from Glasgow
has become a dab hand at searching out the best bargains.
I think because we fly quite often, I think I'm quite savvy
around how to book flights and how to get the best deals.
So, when Margaret received an invitation to her friend's wedding
on the Amalfi Coast in Italy,
she got straight on to her trusty laptop
to check out the flights.
We had looked to see who flew from Scotland directly to Naples,
and the only flight we could find was from Edinburgh direct to Naples.
But with the wedding still over a year away,
flights for the dates she needed hadn't yet been released,
so Margaret kept checking back on the airlines website
to see if they'd become available,
hoping that by booking as early as possible,
she'd get the lowest price.
On the morning that we found out they were released,
we were so excited
because we were desperate to go and enjoy the wedding,
and we knew that as soon as the flights were released that
that would be the cheapest time.
And we went on the laptops as quickly as we could.
Margaret selected return flights for herself and her husband.
Happy with the price, she proceeded with the booking.
But when she clicked onto the payment page
her bargain fare no longer seemed quite such a good deal.
I keyed in the card details and pressed send,
and at that point, a screen popped up to say, "Do you wish to continue?
"Just to advise you that the flight prices have changed."
And at that point, I noticed that the flight had gone up
in a total of £100.
In just the few minutes in which she'd been making the booking,
the two seats she'd chosen had each gone up by £50,
and Margaret wasn't impressed.
I was extremely angry.
I just couldn't believe that they could do that -
change it without giving you prior warning.
Even if there was an indication beforehand,
before you put your bank details,
because to me that means they know you definitely want those...
You want that flight, so you're prepared to pay for
whatever price they put on that screen.
More than a little miffed that the price had changed mid-booking,
Margaret contacted the airline to ask them why.
She was told that only a limited number of seats had been available
at the original price,
and as prices aren't locked during payment,
on this occasion once those had run out, the cost went up.
But Margaret has her own theory as to what had gone on.
I think their website has some kind of knowledge,
that it knows that you've gone through this booking procedure,
and it knows that you are definitely wanting to buy this,
and you're not just browsing.
They definitely know that you want this flight,
and I feel that they just automatically increase the flight
behind the scenes.
And Margaret wasn't the only wedding guest to share those suspicions.
Her daughter, Lisa, and family friend, John, both also found
that during the course of booking their flights,
the seats increased in price.
There must be something that ties in,
that you've looked for that flight before.
-They must have some kind of system on their website,
so when you eventually do go in to book them...
-They hike it up.
-..it becomes dearer.
For it to jump 50...
Well, in my case it was £60, for me and Kate, it was just...
-In a matter of a couple of minutes, is...
Aye, it's ridiculous.
Margaret, Lisa and John are all convinced
it's more than just coincidence that the flight prices went up
just before they were about to pay.
They firmly believe that the airline had been monitoring
their previous interest in those flights,
so that knowing they were set on that particular journey,
it could bump up the price just as they were about to book.
And their suspicions are shared by plenty more of you, too.
Over the years, we've often heard from people claiming
that once you've done a number of searches
to keep tabs on a particular fare,
the airline will nudge up the price to subtly pressure you
into finally making the booking.
The concern is that your online activity is being somehow tracked
in order to squeeze more money out of you.
It's a theory we've now heard so many times
that we thought it was about time we put it to the test.
So we set up an experiment,
monitoring the price of two specific return flights
with airlines we've heard this allegation levelled against
at regular intervals over the course of the month.
Crucially, each time we checked the prices,
we did so on two different computers.
One of them was wiped clean of all our browsing history,
searches and stored information before we looked at the fares,
so in effect, each time we checked, we were starting afresh.
But on the other computer,
we didn't get rid of any of our previous search details,
so all our online activity
and the digital footprint we'd left behind remained.
The theory goes that if airlines really are watching
your movements online,
tracking your behaviour so they can sneak up prices accordingly,
then this second computer would carry all the information
they'd need to help them do it.
However, our results suggest
we can knock this particular conspiracy theory on the head
once and for all.
We found that though prices did fluctuate,
they did so entirely consistently across both computers.
We were quoted the same fares on each device,
and it made not a jot of difference
whether the airline could tell from our browsing history
that we'd made the same search before.
And though just a small snapshot of what may or may not be going on
across the wider industry,
our findings certainly ring true with pricing expert Oliver Ranson,
who's worked with some of the world's leading airlines
as a revenue specialist.
It's a bit of an urban myth that airlines put up the prices of seats
just because you've looked at one before.
It doesn't make good business sense to put up prices
when passengers come to your website for the second time.
If you do that, you'll make them angry,
you'll make them upset, and people will fly with your competitor.
while Oliver says it just isn't in the airlines' interest
to behave in this way,
it is entirely possible for them to do it.
The technology to watch passengers' online activity exists.
There are rumours that some airlines in the UK
have trialled this unsuccessfully.
So, Oliver has a much simpler explanation
as to why Margaret's fare went up
within moments of starting to book it.
I think Margaret's been a bit unlucky.
Airlines only have a limited number of seats to sell at the lower fares,
and on the busier flights, sometimes they close out those fares entirely.
It's all worked on the basis of something called demand to come.
If the airline's expecting a lot of passengers to buy,
the price is probably going to be a bit higher.
Margaret could even have been competing against
her own friends and family going to the same wedding,
who might have been able to snap up the seats
just in the minute or two before
she had the chance to press the buy button.
Well, Oliver might be confident that we're not being watched
in the way that was feared...
..but he soon found some of you who aren't convinced.
Do you think that airlines monitor your buying behaviour online
and increase the prices when you come back the second time?
Yeah, 100%. I've noticed that so many times happening to me.
Oh, yes, I'm sure that's the case.
I've sometimes been back and had another look at the price,
only a few minutes later, and it can be several pounds more.
When you go back and look at the flights
for the second or third time,
do you think that the airline increases the price?
Yeah, I've heard something about that.
That you're meant to browse privately or something,
so that they don't know that you're shopping around.
But suspicions of Big Brother type observations aside,
all any of us wants is to get the very best deal.
So, come on, Oliver, you're the expert -
how do we beat the system and get the best bargains?
Would you stay up a little bit late at night
to save a couple of hundred pounds on your airfare?
Airlines often release their cheapest seats late at night.
12 o'clock midnight, or one o'clock in the morning.
If you stay up to catch this,
then you'll be buying the cheapest seats on the flight.
OK, that means I'm going to have a late night.
..they'll be able to get the special offer straight to you.
That's very interesting. I shall try that next time.
Don't always book a year ahead travel,
wait and see if the airline has a sale.
And Oliver's final tip to get the very best deal,
regardless of whether or not the airlines are watching you,
make sure you're always keeping a close eye on them.
Spend just five minutes a week looking at their website
and seeing when they have their sales,
recording it in a document on your computer.
You'll then be able to know in the future
whether or not you're getting good value for money
on flights that you're buying.
And for just five minutes a week of effort,
you can potentially save £1,000 a year for the rest of your life.
Meanwhile, back in Glasgow,
even if they're not being watched,
Margaret, Lisa and John still don't think a price should change
once you've clicked to buy it.
It's definitely made me, like, more wary
about booking things like plane tickets and trains.
Why and how do they put up the prices?
It's not transparent.
The price that you start with doesn't finish.
It's just not right.
Once again, we took Rip-Off Britain on the road,
setting up our pop-up advice clinic
in one of the UK's biggest shopping centres,
the Trafford Centre in Manchester.
It's a great way to meet as many of you as we can,
and give on the spot advice on all your consumer troubles.
We've been watching you for many, many years!
-Oh, that's kind of you to say so.
-And you look amazing!
Holiday questions have been top of the agenda here at our pop-up shop,
and so many people have been coming to see our lovely travel expert,
Yours is the kind of story
that I know Simon likes to get his teeth into.
In January 2015,
Christine and John Davies from Crewe booked a big trip to Turkey
with 11 members of their family.
But after paying a deposit of £2,200,
some unexpected news meant they'd no choice but to cancel.
How come you didn't go, what happened?
Unfortunately, in the March, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I had to have surgery,
followed by chemotherapy,
followed by radiotherapy.
Christine was too poorly to go on holiday,
and even though the travel firm had offered to delay the trip
by six months,
Christine didn't think she would be well enough by that time, either,
so they cancelled the whole thing.
But Christine's travel insurance company made clear
they wouldn't be getting back all of the deposit.
-Well, they e-mailed and said,
the only people that were covered was myself and my husband.
-Not all 11 of you?
-Not all 11 of us.
They said that the others would have to claim under their insurance,
on their travel insurance.
-Had they booked travel insurance?
One had, one hadn't.
But the one that had, they wouldn't pay him out
because he hadn't paid the holiday.
Plus, they said there was no reason why he couldn't go
on the holiday, anyway.
So how much did you finally get back?
We got back £295.
-Instead of 2,200?
-That sounds like a really bum deal, Simon.
Well, especially since there you were,
going through this awful treatment with all the health worries,
you know, really alarming time for the whole family,
and suddenly, you're told, "Oh, by the way,
"we're hanging onto your money
"and you can't claim it back on insurance."
Had you asked me before you made that booking,
I would have told you two things.
First of all, if you're going to buy a £12,000 holiday
and put down, what, a £2,000 deposit,
then take out travel insurance for the whole thing at the same time.
As we've said before,
taking out travel insurance
to cover you from the point of booking your holiday,
and not just for the period while you're way,
means that in the event you have to cancel,
you won't lose any money you've already paid.
And Simon has another tip for avoiding losing out
should you need to change your travel plans.'
To avoid all of that pain,
I would have said, "When are you going?
"September? Don't even think about booking it yet."
I would've said, "Maybe have a look in June, July."
You'll still be able to get a great place to go on holiday,
you just won't have that risk exposure,
for so much money over such a long time.
Well, I'm pleased to say that Christine is making a full recovery.
But instead of rebooking the same holiday, the couple decided
to take their four grandchildren to Cyprus instead.
And there's one more bit of advice
that's key to protecting themselves in the future.
Pay part of your deposit with a credit card,
even if it's only £1 or a fiver.
The fact that you've paid £1 or £5 on your credit card
means that the whole sum is covered.
-Are you doing my job for me?
-No, I'm not!
It's what I've learnt by listening to you, Simon!
I'm just sorry,
and I do hope you get to have a holiday with the family.
But get in touch, tell me when you're travelling,
and I will tell you the best time to book.
You couldn't ask better.
Don't go to your travel agent, go to Simon Calder.
He'll sort it out, then you write the cheque or pay.
If you've got a story you'd like us to investigate,
you can join in the conversation on our Facebook page,
just look for BBC Rip Off Britain.
Or you can log onto our website, bbc.co.uk/ripoffbritain.
If you'd like to send us an e-mail, then our address is...
Or if you want to send us a letter, then our new address is...
Well, I'm afraid we've reached the end of the journey for today,
but on the way, with any luck,
you've learned a few tricks of the airline trade
that even if they don't save you any money,
could well save you a bit of time the next time you go abroad.
I was particularly interested in hearing how airline pricing works.
And while we might think that there's
a touch of the dark arts about it,
in fact, it seems that the secret really is
just to use your common sense!
And if you can, keep an eye on the ups and downs in pricing
over the months before you book.
And that way, you will get
a sense of what is likely to be the lowest price.
Well, with the huge number of airlines we have these days,
it's very hard to believe that once there were so very few of them.
But while things may have seemed a lot simpler back then,
it was also a lot more expensive to fly.
So in the end, all of that choice is really good for consumers.
But at that point, that's where we have to leave it for today.
Hope you've enjoyed the programme.
And we'll be back with more of your stories very soon.
So until then, from all of us, happy landings and bye-bye.
Gloria Hunniford, Angela Rippon and Julia Somerville expose airline secrets, testing out if it is true that airlines snoop on flight searches in order to hike up fares.
Plus how the longest delays might be experienced by flying with smaller airlines, and why if a flight isn't with the airline you booked, passengers could end up hundreds of pounds out of pocket if things go wrong.
Travel expert Simon Calder has tips on visiting Dubai.