Americans traveling abroad find it's a common practice: Locals are quoted prices that are cheaper than what tourists are charged. You'd think that the Web's transparency would have democratized prices somewhat, but you'd be wrong.

The Spanish national rail company, RENFE has been discovered to have two sets of prices: one for people booking in English, and one for those who use Spanish. The Web site Upgrade: Travel Better reports that booking the popular AVE high-speed rail line between Barcelona and Madrid costs €44 ($60) if it was done in Spanish (the "tarifa Web"), but if the user switches to the English version of the site, the price zooms to €110 ($150).

The reporter, Mark Ashley, noted that he was able to use his high school Spanish to buy the ticket and have it sent to his American address, so the Web site's discrimination isn't based on country of origin, IP address, or credit card issuer -- only his language.
American visitors to the Taj Mahal or Cairo's Great Pyramids usually notice that they paid a foreigner's premium, but after the poverty on display on their way to the ticket booth, that disparity seems only fair. But Spain is a modern, wealthy country. In fact, the high speed train in question is more advanced than even anything we've got in America. It's not like the Spanish need the leg up.

Another reporter, Darren Cronian of Travel-Rants.com, tried the multi-lingual tack on the national German (DB Bahn) and French (SCNF) sites and found the prices there were the same. Which, given those countries' reputations for unappealing nationalism, is a shocker.

The lesson here is to always try to use the local language of any Web site. Most have forms that are simple enough to figure out even with the most rudimentary (or non-existent) language skills, and most of the words you encounter can easily be deciphered using a free Web site such as Google Translate.

Ashley also noted that Rail Europe, the American public face of the European national rail systems, charged the most obscene price of all: $254. That could be the most discriminatory rate of all: You'd pay times four times what you have to just to book in English from an American firm. It all goes back to the same travel lesson, which repeats across the years and across the globe: When it comes to savings, always go local.

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