Are customized prices next for the travel industry?

Here’s a story that might have a familiar ring: Sue Clark was planning a theme park vacation for her family in Orlando when she found an affordable rate at Disney’s upscale Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.

Clark, who works for a telecommunications company in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, stepped away from the computer to consult with her family. When she returned and re-queried the site for the same hotel, the price had doubled.

She logged on to her husband’s computer, found the cheaper rate again and booked the trip. But Clark wonders why the Grand Floridian had switched prices. “I think the computer recognizes you and then changes rates,” she says, using cookies, or snippets of information on your Web browser, to identify you from your last query.

Perhaps. “We don’t target people with cookies,” says Disney spokesman Charles Stovall. The Disney site does allow guests to use special discount codes when they book online, but they have to be entered manually, something Clark hadn’t done.

But the travel industry is warming to the idea of showing you a price based on who you are. Or who it thinks you are. Last spring, a United Kingdom-based hotel site called VivaStay reportedly displayed slightly higher prices to visitors who came to the site through affiliate links than it showed to those who clicked directly on the VivaStay site. The company apologized, but said that it was unaware that price variations were frowned upon.
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