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Booking Tips for Travellers Stranded During Corona Crisis

Last edited: March 26, 2020
Reading time: 7 minutes, 14 seconds

Air traffic is coming to a standstill due to the advance of the corona virus. As a result, countless people from all over the world are stuck in a foreign country, looking for a way home. Travelling by plane turns out to be very difficult; many flights are cancelled, the ones that aren’t, are overbooked, and the supply of information at airports, by airline companies, and on booking sites is very limited and inaccurate.

In many countries, governments are setting up programs to get stranded travellers back home from their various locations abroad. However, depending on the country where someone is being held up and the destination they want to go to, it may still take days or weeks before they can return home via these initiatives. Therefore, we at VPNoverview studied some flights that are still available via large booking sites. For anyone who is looking for a way to get home by themselves as safely, quickly, and cheaply as possible, here are some tips and tricks that might help massively reduce the price and length of your flight.

Research Design

On 22 and 23 March 2020, we analysed the fastest flight routes for the following trips, using major booking sites Skyscanner, Agoda, and Expedia:

  • Jakarta – Amsterdam (departing 27 March 2020)
  • Rio de Janeiro – London (departing 27 March 2020)
  • Bogota – Miami (departing 27 March 2020)
  • Tokyo – Dubai (departing 27 March 2020)
  • Lisbon – Bangkok (departing 28 March 2020)
  • Cairo – Düsseldorf (departing 28 March 2020)

When possible, we took the Dutch, American, Romanian, Portuguese and British versions of the relevant booking sites into consideration. The aim of this was to check whether the offer and pricing changed depending on the regional version of the booking site. We checked the different regional versions of booking platforms by changing the settings on Skyscanner and Agoda. Expedia did not offer this possibility. We also checked whether changing our IP address by using a VPN had an impact on the price and availability of flights.

Fastest Flights Not Available for Everyone

One of our most important findings is that, depending on the local version of a booking site, a specific flight doesn’t always show. For example, on Skyscanner, Dutch people who want to depart from Cairo to Düsseldorf on 28 March 2020 and choose the ‘fastest’ flight, will be shown a flight of €1779 that takes 17 hours and 25 minutes. If you then switch from the Dutch to American version of Skyscanner at the top of the website, the fastest flight is 8 hours and 35 minutes with a price tag of €492. Clearly, this is a big difference in both pricing and flight time.

Fastest flight from Cairo to Düsseldorf for the Dutch version of Skyscanner:

Skyscanner Cairo Dusseldorf Dutch version

Fastest flight from Cairo to Düsseldorf for the USA version of Skyscanner:

Skyscanner Cairo Dusseldorf US version

The screenshots above clearly show that not everyone gets to see the most efficient and fastest flight options. We’ve also found examples where the British or American version of the website didn’t show the fastest or most competitively priced flights, while other versions, such as the Dutch one, did. We found this same issue occured on several booking sites, namely both Skyscanner and Agoda.

Large Price Fluctuations Depending on Regional Version of Booking Site

In some cases we even found strong price differences for the same flight. The differences are already considerable between booking sites (Skyscanner, Agoda and Expedia), but also within the same booking site the price difference could be substantial depending on the version of the website you use. Below, you’ll find an overview of the availability and pricing of various flights. All tickets are one-way, for one adult, economy class.

Flight #1: Jakarta – Amsterdam, 27 March 2020, 21:55 Garudah Air (travel time: 15 hours, 35 minutes)

Booking site Price
Skyscanner NL €1221
Skyscanner USA €1996
Skyscanner Romania €2070
Skyscanner Portugal €1198
Skyscanner UK Unavailable
Agoda NL €1221
Agoda USA €1280
Agoda Portugal €1204
Agoda UK €1280
Expedia NL (VPN) $2252
Expedia USA (VPN) $2252
Expedia Portugal (VPN) $2252
Expedia UK (VPN) $2252

The example above shows large price differences between different websites as well as different versions of the same website. The Dutch version of Skyscanner and the American version of Skyscanner, for example, ask a vastly different price for exactly the same ticket (€1221 versus €1996). This is the same for many other flights as well, as illustrated in the tables below.

Flight #2: Jakarta – Amsterdam, 27 March 2020, 00:25 Qatar Airways (travel time: 18 hours, 50 minutes)

Booking site Price
Skyscanner NL €926
Skyscanner USA €936
Skyscanner Romania €914
Skyscanner Portugal €929
Skyscanner UK €929
Agoda NL €489
Agoda USA Unavailable
Agoda Portugal €957
Agoda UK €1006
Expedia NL (VPN) $1411
Expedia USA (VPN) $1411
Expedia Portugal (VPN) $1411
Expedia UK (VPN) $1411

Flight #3: Jakarta – Amsterdam, 27 March 2020, 19:25 KLM (travel time: 16 hours, 30 minutes)

Booking site Price
Skyscanner NL €522
Skyscanner USA €538
Skyscanner Romania €515
Skyscanner Portugal €486
Skyscanner UK €486
Agoda NL €503
Agoda USA €511
Agoda Portugal €578
Agoda UK €524
Expedia NL (VPN) No longer available
Expedia USA (VPN) No longer available
Expedia Portugal (VPN) No longer available
Expedia UK (VPN) No longer available

Flight #4: Rio de Janeiro – London, 27 March 2020, 22:00 British Airways (travel time: 11 hours, 10 minutes)

Booking site Price
Skyscanner NL €536
Skyscanner USA €534
Skyscanner Romania €509
Skyscanner Portugal €496
Skyscanner UK €536
Agoda NL €513
Agoda USA €543
Agoda Portugal €508
Agoda UK €503
Expedia NL (VPN) $595
Expedia USA (VPN) $595
Expedia Portugal (VPN) $595
Expedia UK (VPN) $595

Flight #5: Bogota – Miami, 27 March 2020, 18:10 via Panama & San Jose (travel time: 19 hours, 20 minutes)

Booking site Price
Skyscanner NL €855
Skyscanner USA €855
Skyscanner Romania €855
Skyscanner Portugal €855
Skyscanner UK €855
Agoda NL €855
Agoda USA €855
Agoda Portugal €855
Agoda UK €855
Expedia NL (VPN) No longer available
Expedia USA (VPN) No longer available
Expedia Portugal (VPN) No longer available
Expedia UK (VPN) No longer available

Flight #6: Tokyo – Dubai, 27 March 2020, 23:00 Emirates (travel time: 12 hours)

Booking site Price
Skyscanner NL €459
Skyscanner USA €491
Skyscanner Romania €483
Skyscanner Portugal €459
Skyscanner UK €500
Agoda NL €481
Agoda USA €521
Agoda Portugal €479
Agoda UK €501
Expedia NL (VPN) $557
Expedia USA (VPN) $557
Expedia Portugal (VPN) $557
Expedia UK (VPN) $557

Flight #7: Lisbon – Bangkok, 28 March 2020, 08:25 TAP AIR Portugal/Thai Airways (travel time: 12 hours)

Booking site Price
Skyscanner NL €499
Skyscanner USA €514
Skyscanner Romania €495
Skyscanner Portugal €496
Skyscanner UK €507
Agoda NL €501
Agoda USA €564
Agoda Portugal €502
Agoda UK €512
Expedia NL (VPN) $4083
Expedia USA (VPN) $4083
Expedia Portugal (VPN) $4083
Expedia UK (VPN) $4083

Fastest way to get from Cairo to Düsseldorf on 28 March 2020

Trying to fly from Cairo to Düsseldorf turned out to come with all sorts of other challenges. The different regional versions of Skyscanner and Agoda showed very different options for the fastest available flight. Below, we’ve listed the fastest flight option for the different versions of different booking sites. As you can see, the travel times and prices vary widely.

Booking site Fastest route Price Travel time
Skyscanner NL 13:50 via BAH & AUH €1779 17h25
Skyscanner USA 04:50 via KBP €492 8h35
Skyscanner Romania 04:50 via KBP €489 8h35
Skyscanner Portugal 04:50 via KBP €489 8h35
Skyscanner UK 04:50 via KBP €497 8h35
Agoda NL 13:50 via BAH & LHR €1047 23h25
Agoda USA 13:50 via BAH & LHR €1319 24h45
Agoda Portugal 19:30 via SSH, BRU & DUB €572 38h10
Agoda UK 13:50 via BAH & LHR €1107 23h25
Expedia NL (VPN) No flights available
Expedia USA (VPN) No flights available
Expedia Portugal (VPN) No flights available
Expedia UK (VPN) No flights available

To show the vast difference between flights, we’ve mapped out the routes offered by Skyscanner and Agoda below. First, here are the routes provided by Skyscanner, one going via Kiev (available for the USA, Romania, Portugal, and the United Kingdom), while the other one goes via Bahrain and Abu Dhabi.

Flights Skyscanner Website English

Agoda also offers two different itineraries. One is available for the Netherlands, the USA, and the UK and goes from Cairo via Bahrain and London to Düsseldorf. The other goes via Sharm El Sheikh, Brussels, and Dublin (available for Portugal).

Flights Agoda Website English

Conclusion

Booking a plane ticket in times of the corona crisis can be a real struggle. Not only are many flights being cancelled, major booking sites also don’t always show the same flights to different people. By changing the region at Skyscanner and Agoda, a different flight offer might be presented. In some cases, a flight might suddenly become unavailable when switching to a different version of the site. In others, this has a big impact on the price paid for a ticket as well as the travel time to get from one place to another.

Especially in times of crisis when people might want to go home or get away from a certain area quickly, finding the right flight is very important. During our investigation, the use of a VPN didn’t appear to influence the flight offer at all. Instead manually modifying the regional version of Skyscanner or Agoda was sufficient.

Note: Reproducing our exact results will proof virtually impossible since availability and pricing of airline tickets are two factors which evolve contstantly, especially when the departure date is near. Still, our general findings and advice hold true; by checking the different versions of booking sites more favourable flight options might become available to you.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cyber security analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Interested in the "digital identity" phenomenon, with special attention to the right to privacy and protection of personal data.

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