When I plan a trip these days, I like to watch the plane fares for a good while before buying, since the fluctuations in price can be so big and unpredictable. In the past I would just refresh a search on Expedia or Travelocity as often as I could. This time I used Kayak.com, which searches a whole bunch of sites, mostly specific airlines, and offers a nicer interface and daily email alerts.
In this case I was looking for flights to Paris with departure on March 15th and return on the 22nd. The day after I started getting alerts, the lowest fare dropped from $590 to $533 on Air India, with the next lowest being $590 on Swiss Air. I've heard not such great things about Air India, and I was expecting it to drop further, so I watched and waited. Last weekend, it was a month before the trip and nothing had changed, so I decided to buy. I clicked on the link to airindia.in and was told that no economy seats were available; only "executive" class, for five times as much. Okay, no big deal, I thought. I went back to Kayak and clicked on the Orbitz link, which had a price of $544. The price was there in the search results, so I clicked "Select." Then I got this message:
Because flight availability can change rapidly based on traveler demand, the flight you selected is no longer available. Please make another selection. (Message 100)
and a revised set of search results with the $590 Swiss Air at the top. That's annoying, I thought. I tried the link to cheaptickets.com. I got the same exact message, even the same code of 100. At this point a panic started to set in. The Swiss Air flights had annoying departure times and layovers in Amsterdam or Frankfurt or something. But they would have to do; I figured the Air India flight had just filled up so I had to move fast. I went back to Orbitz and selected a Swiss Air flight. The same thing happened. Crap.
Long story short, we ended up paying $716 for an American flight with a brief stopover in London. Not at all what I was hoping for, and nearly twice what I paid for a direct flight on Air France three years ago. I can only assume this is due to the exchange rate, fuel costs, and whatever else is crappy right now. But a week later, the $533 Air India fare is still showing up on Kayak.com! What the hell?! I suppose I can't blame Kayak, because it also shows up on Orbitz with the same error message. So whether intentionally or not, Orbitz and some other sites are not doing a great job with data integrity, and my advice is not to trust search results until you're convinced you could buy the fare right then.
I just noticed now that Farecast has added predictions of fares to Europe, which is fantastic. Unfortunately, they too are infected by the bad Air India fare.