Tuesday, February 21, 2012

the algorithms are restless

How is this even possible?

Yesterday I booked a rental car for an upcoming trip. I used the same rental company I have been using for years to book a compact car for four days over a weekend, an exact replica of many previous rental bookings.

Imagine my surprise when the reservation quote came back at $692.00. I can take a hell of a lot of cabs for that amount.

So I tried again, using a different link on the same coupon, but keeping all the other parameters exactly the same, and the price magically dropped to $341.00.

One more try brought the final price to $293.00, which was more in line with what I normally pay.

Perhaps I should have just kept trying. Eventually I was bound to get to a point where they would be paying me to rent the car.

I would love to see MythBusters investigate the rental car conundrum, the seemingly random generation of rates. After seeing them overwhelmingly prove the Monty Hall Paradox*, I am confident they have the mad math skills needed to explain it.

* The Monty Hall Paradox is really cool, a double whammy of psychological and mathematical oddities. Contestants on Let's Make a Deal almost always chose to stick with their original choice rather than switch doors, after the third door is opened to reveal nothing. Psychologically, people prefer to stay with their initial gut instinct. Yet, switching one's choice actually increases the odds of winning from 1 in 3 to 2 in 3. MythBusters proved it!

12 comments:

LesleyG said...

This post reminds me of this: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/

Except, less scandalous.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Isn't that creepy, Lesley? And oddly enough, I was JUST listening to an article on the radio about data mining done by bricks and mortar stores, especially Target.

John Mutford said...

And have them explain airline seat prices while they're at it.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

We really need to book the MythBusters for a good six weeks, John, because there's a lot going on in this world that needs 'splainin'.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Kelly, it's so weird, I am getting email notifications of your comments, but no comments. I don't know what's going on, but I am not blocking you. At least not yet!

I haven't read the Malcolm Gladwell book. Is that the one about doing this instinctively? I prefer to ponder all the options instead of going with my instincts, personally.

Allison said...

Apparently airline prices always change on Wednesday night. Not sure what the logic behind it is.

Glad you were able to book the car without any further hassles!

vicomtesse said...

My husband books flights and rental cars frequently for work travel. I shall have to get the skinny from him. He is a bottom dollar shopper.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I didn't know that, Al. Do they increase or decrease or do they just get scrambled every which way?

I would love to pick your husband's brain about rental car shopping, Vicomtesse. I am sure he could teach me a few things.

Allison said...

They are lower. I usually book flights then, opposed to the weekend.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Good to know, Al. I'll remember that next time I book a flight not using points.

mister anchovy said...

good to know...practical even beyond those days when you find yourself on Let's Make a Deal

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's information you can use on an almost daily basis, Mr Anchovy.