The Checkout

Cookie Monsters

Years ago, my youngest daughter's favorite expression was "Toss Your Cookies." I'm not sure what prompted her to say that phrase again and again--and why we always laughed when she did.

But earlier this week, I was reminded of that phrase when I tried to sign up for a Wall Street Journal subscription. As a result, "toss your cookies" has now become one of my favorite mottos, at least for online shopping.

Here's why: A month ago, I decided I wanted to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal. I went online and found I could buy the print and online edition for $99 a year. Since I was going on vacation, I decided I wouldn't order the paper until I returned. Earlier this week, I went to place my order. This time, the price was $125. Had I been too late and missed out on the $99 deal? Perhaps. But then I remembered some of my experiences in ordering airline tickets online, especially Independence Air tickets (may Flyi rest in peace).

I know that often, when I am considering flights, I browse the schedule and fares of several airlines before I make a final decision on what flight I want. Then, when I go back to buy a ticket, that initial fare has gone up, sometimes a little ($25 or so), sometimes a lot ($100 plus). That was always the case with Flyi and often the situation with others as well. One aviation expert suggested I clean out my computer's cookies if that happens and see if I get the lower fare. (A computer cookie is a code that contains a unique ID tag that's put on your computer by a Web site. That Web site can then track you--or rather your computer--when you revisit it).

I followed the expert's advice and more often the not, after I cleaned my cookies, I got the initial lower fare offer. The airlines denied they were tracking my cookies when I asked them about this. They all said the fluctuating prices simply reflected the number of seats available on a flight at the particular time I was trying to buy a ticket.

Which brings me back to the Wall Street Journal. Remembering my experiences with the airlines, I cleaned my cookies, and then signed up for the paper again. This time the price was $99. I didn't tempt fate; I signed up immediately. But I also asked the Journal about my experience. Here's the e-mail response from Christine Mohan, director of public relations for Dow Jones & Co.: "In the same way that direct mail uses offers that "expire" or that give different offers to different people, we test different subscription offers from time to time, in order to determine the price point that is most compelling for consumers while still driving revenue to run our business profitably.

We would certainly honor the lower offer seen on the site for new subscriptions, when consumers call into our customer service center."

You can do that--or you, too, can "toss your cookies."

By  |  September 8, 2006; 6:48 AM ET Consumer Tips
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Comments

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I love news I can USE. The information shared in this column is something new I can bring into my life today. Now I'm off to find the expert that can explain how to remove those pesky cookies. Thank you.

Posted by: Kellie | September 8, 2006 7:36 AM

Caroline -- you did miss to inform the readers on "how to". So here is my two cents -- in your internet browser, go to Tools menu, go to Internet Options. In the window that pops, find section "Temporary internet files" and hit "delete cookies". The computer will ask to verify that you want to delete the cookies, - hit OK. Depending on how many cookies you have, it might take a while. Then just click OK to get out of there.

Posted by: how to remove | September 8, 2006 9:31 AM

Of course, if you clean out all the cookies, you will lose all your log in information on other websites.

Posted by: ah | September 8, 2006 9:53 AM

Ooh - that is a most excellent tip. (I think security people say it's a good idea to throw out all the cookies sometimes anyway.)

Posted by: h3 | September 8, 2006 10:24 AM

"ah" is right -- if you clean out your cookies, you'll lose your automatic log=in to sites like WashingtonPost.com. So, unless you remember your usernames and passwords for all the sites that you WANT to retain access to, be VERY careful about deleting your cookies using the "how to remove" advice above.

Posted by: WARNING! | September 8, 2006 11:03 AM

And in Firefox, to clear cookies, you go to Tools - Clear Private Data. Or Tools - Options - Privacy, then look at the Cookies tab.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 8, 2006 11:08 AM

Actually, you can export your cookies - in Internet Explorer, go to "File", "Import and Export", and select "Export Cookies". That will create a file containing your cookies which you can later re-import, restoring your Post and other logins, etc.

Export the cookies, delete all cookies as described above, make your purchase, and then import your cookies again.

It's not a bad idea to export your cookies every so often anyway, if there's a chance that you might forget one of your logins or passwords. At the same time, it's very wise to practice safe computing; install good spyware and adware programs, update and run them at least weekly. They'll detect malicious cookies and remove them.

You can also selectively delete the cookies for the site in question (if you're able to recognize them), rather than deleting and restoring ALL cookies.

To delete a specific cookie with Internet Explorer, go to Tools and click Internet Options.

On the General tab, click Settings, and then click View files.

Select the cookie you want to delete, and then, on the File menu, click Delete.

Another option is to disallow ALL cookies for the site(s) in question - that's a privacy setting under Internet Tools. But that can lead to login problems.

Thanks for the information, by the way. I had no idea. There's no end to the ways that computers can be abused to screw consumers, I guess!

Posted by: Peter Maranci | September 8, 2006 11:48 AM

Or if you use the Opera browser like I do you can clear just the cookies that you want to clear while keeping your other important ones (like WashPost login, etc). Go to Tools, Advanced, Cookies from the menu bar. A box will appear listing all of your cookies organized by web server. You can use the search box at the top to narrow down the list. The just tag and delete the cookies that you want to be rid of.

Posted by: mharvey | September 8, 2006 12:29 PM

Thank you so much! I did not know how to do that. And hurray for Firefox!

Posted by: Thank you! | September 8, 2006 3:40 PM

Amazon.com has a similar practice whereby prices can increase when you simply add the item to your shopping cart. I played with the site for 5 minutes once adding and removing, then re-adding several times before I figured out just the right steps to get the lower price when I went to continue my purchase.

Posted by: Austin, TX | September 8, 2006 5:24 PM

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