A new airfare analyzer, named Hamlet, could save big bucks by advising travelers when to buy tickets, according to the University of Washington.
It's a classic dilemma for air travelers in today's world of wildly varying ticket prices -- should you purchase now if the rate seems reasonable, or wait for a better deal and take the risk that the price will go up?
Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Southern California appear to have taken out some of the uncertainty with a new computer program that approaches a 90 percent score in saving money by predicting air fares.
If you're on an airplane and look around at your fellow passengers, probably every single person on that plane has paid a different price," said Oren Etzioni, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering in the UW's College of Engineering. "It's the same product, but people are paying radically different prices," he said. "So 'to buy or not to buy' is the question -- that's why we named our program 'Hamlet.'"
Let's look at some results.
During a 41-day pilot run, the algorithm saved 607 simulated passengers a total of $283,904 on airline fares by advising when to buy and when to postpone purchases. If one could predict the future and had perfect knowledge of how the ticket prices would vary, the greatest possible savings was $320,572. That means Hamlet's savings were 88.6 percent of optimal.
Sounds good, isn't?
In examining how the fares behaved, they found that the price of particular flights changed as often as seven times a day. Over time, the range in prices could be extreme -- for one flight on the LA to Boston route, for example, the high was $2,524 for a round trip ticket, compared to a brief low of $275. The high from Seattle to Washington, D.C., was $1,668 compared to a low of $281.
Too good to be true? I think you're right.
Oren Etzioni is really an associate professor at the University of Washington. But none of his papers or his interests links to some airfare analyzer.
Moreover, this page tells us that Hamlet stands for "Heuristics Acquisition Method by Learning from sEarch Trees," and links to the works of Borrajo and Veloso, back in 1994.
Finally, the News section of the University of Washington doesn't contain anything related to this research.
Too bad it's only an April Fool's Day joke!
Source: "University of Washington," through EurekAlert News, April 1, 2003
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