What Are Mistake Fares?
“Mistake fares?” – they used to be rather elusive. Previously one had to pay close attention to message boards such FlyerTalk, hope friends kept them in the loop, or be a part of “private” message boards, chat rooms or email lists. This post is not meant to be a conclusive look at how to find airfare deals, but rather a blueprint and some concepts about how one can research and act on these potential offers.
What is a “Mistake fare?” – Simplistically it is a fare that has been mis-filed by an airline. Thousands of fares are updated on a regular basis, and the process is not as accurate as one might imagine. Some mistakes can be quite apparent, such as the American Airlines business class $450 mistake fares to China. Once you are aware of a fare, you still need to find availability on dates you are interested in traveling. In addition, you need to analyze the cost involved to position yourself for the flight. For example, if the “mistake fare” departs ex-DCA (from Washington, DC) you need to figure the costs and time involved in traveling to and from Washington, DC to begin and end your trip.
How To Find Mistake Fares
Keeping things simple, here is my general list of how to find, target and book a mistake fare :
- Subscribe to sites like The Flight Deal and Secret Flying. One of my other tips is to perhaps setup alerts in FaceBook to avoid extra emails. This, of course, assumes you use a site like FaceBook on a regular basis. Just make sure that you not only LIKE the FaceBook page, but also request notifications. In addition, following deals on Twitter can also be effective for many people, or subscribing to a site’s RSS feed. When “hunting” deals, you need to find a mechanism of notification that works best as part of your daily routine. You also need to be prepared to act fast, once you find out about a deal. Most deals disappear quite quickly. We rarely mention specific “mistake fares” on TravelZork, but will sometimes share deals on the TravelZork FaceBook Page.
- Find dates that work. Often the deals will give some insight with regard to potential available dates. Google Flights is quite effective for helping you pinpoint dates once you know the city pairs and airline deal you are targeting.
- Book your ticket. This sounds easy, but is often the most difficult part of the equation. Optimally, if you can book directly with the operating carrier, that tends to be safest. If you book an American Airlines “mistake” on the American Airlines website you are more likely to have success with them honoring the mistake. This is a very general statement, but I would always check the operating carrier first. Otherwise, you can try to book with online travel agents; preferably one that you are familiar with. Some deals, require they be booked by a specific agency. In many cases, if the “mistake” is not showing up in many places (i.e. an isolated online travel agency mistake) you will have less success in getting the fare ticketed.
- Once you book your ticket, you will receive a confirmation from the airline (or online travel agency). This does NOT mean you have a ticket and are ready to travel. This is just a confirmation. Airline confirmations need to officially “ticket” (produce an e-ticket and e-ticket number), which can occur within minutes or days of confirming a reservation. In some cases, a confirmation will not ticket if there is a problem with the credit card or other confirmation details. This is the most difficult part of booking “mistake fares,” waiting to see if it tickets. When a deal is “live” it is best to NOT call (or contact) the travel agency or airline; since this can bring deals to an end rather abruptly. In addition, once an airline becomes aware of their error, confirmations that have not been ticketed will often be cancelled.
Since most deals are short lived, it is probably best to keep an organized list of travel dates that work for you and your family. This way, when a deal does surface, you can quickly determine if the overall dates work. In many cases, taking advantage of “fare mistakes” and deals requires a very fast reaction time and high level of flexibility. This does not work for a lot of people, and can be even more complicated when you are dealing with a family or multiple people traveling together. In addition, you need to have a rather high tolerance for spending time on something and then having the tickets never issued or cancelled. Luckily, in almost all instances if the airline does ticket (produce an e-ticket) which you can verify online you are usually good to go. Some might say they prefer to wait an additional week or two to book other components of their trip and positioning flights to be 100% certain the e-ticket will be honored. (Also, not a bad idea to also wait for the charges to appear on your credit card statement, correlated to the e-ticket number(s).) In some cases, such as the United Airline Danish currency pricing error United cancelled e-tickets after they were issued. In a general sense, you are much safer with isolated fare route errors as opposed to global currency or website pricing errors. It is important that folks realize “chasing mistakes” can be time consuming and frustrating. For further insight, Lionell just recently published his thoughts and methodology. While the success stories are quite exciting, be aware that a lot of time and effort often is involved in successful implementation of many of these deals.