On Orbitz, Windows Users Steered to Cheaper Hotels

The fun economics story of the day is that Orbitz sometimes looks at your computer’s operating system to decide what hotel options to show you. Dana Mattioli breaks the story over at the Wall Street Journal:

Orbitz Worldwide Inc. has found that people who use Apple Inc.’s Mac computers spend as much as 30% more a night on hotels, so the online travel agency is starting to show them different, and sometimes costlier, travel options than Windows visitors see.

The Orbitz effort, which is in its early stages, demonstrates how tracking people’s online activities can use even seemingly innocuous information—in this case, the fact that customers are visiting Orbitz.com from a Mac—to start predicting their tastes and spending habits.

Orbitz executives confirmed that the company is experimenting with showing different hotel offers to Mac and PC visitors, but said the company isn’t showing the same room to different users at different prices. They also pointed out that users can opt to rank results by price.

Here are examples from the WSJ’s experiments:

The WSJ emphasizes that Mac users see higher-priced hotels. For example, Mattioli’s article is headlined: “On Orbitz, Mac Users Steered to Pricier Hotels.”

My question: Would you feel any different if, instead, the WSJ emphasized that Windows users are directed to lower-priced hotels? For example, Windows users are prompted about the affordable lodgings at the Travelodge in El Paso, Texas. (Full disclosure: I think I once stayed there.)

As Mattioli notes, it’s important to keep in mind that Orbitz isn’t offering different prices, it’s just deciding which hotels to list prominently. And your operating system is just one of many factors that go into this calculation. Others include deals (hotels offering deals move up the rankings), referring site (which can reveal a lot about your preferences), return visits (Orbitz learns your tastes), and location (folks from Greenwich, CT probably see more expensive hotels than those from El Paso).

4 thoughts on “On Orbitz, Windows Users Steered to Cheaper Hotels”

  1. A depressing commentary on current politics. Although it seems to me the problem runs much deeper than a need to compromise–neither side is willing to propose a solid plan to fix our budget problems because no one is willing to talk about the sacrifices that would be needed. (I mean, let’s face it, it might save us from immediate default, but a compromise between low taxes and high spending will not a balanced budget make.) So I guess the other problem in this little drag race is massive grandstanding for the audience (voters).

  2. I think this is merely a first step towards profiling computer users in general. Over the years it seems as though, advertisers and corporations are attempting to delve further into the minds of their consumers. Considering Macbooks are far more expensive than regular pc’s such as my Lenovo, they are attempting to find a correlation between the operating systems and what the users are willing to pay. If this correlation points towards Mac users typically paying more for hotels, Orbitz can use this as a leverage point to earn more in my opinion. I don’t necessarily see this an ethical solution (as in fair to all consumers) but if the company believes they will profit from this, then that is their prerogative.

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