In the world of cheap travel, there’s a hierarchy of flight pricing. At the bottom is the peak summer fare. Then there’s standard pricing. Fare wars between competing airlines are where things start to get interesting.
But the gold standard, the undisputed king of flight deals is the mistake fare. Want to save hundreds, if not thousands, on your plane ticket? It’s a mistake fare you’re looking for, the ridiculously cheap fares that pop up when – you guessed it – the airline mistakenly sells a fare for cheap. Sometimes, unbelievably cheap. And these fares aren’t for travel next week – no one should be traveling right now. Often, they’re for many months in advance.
After roughly a year without seeing many of these eye-popping fares, we’ve seen a handful of mistake fares as airlines struggle to cope with coronavirus. That includes $200 round-trip fares Santiago de Chile (SCL) and round-trip tickets to Australia for $350 and change.
Those two examples underscore an important principle about these fares: Airlines don’t have to honor them. In this case, airlines decided to honor the flights to Chile … but eventually canceled the cheap fares to Australia.
What’s behind these ultra-cheap flights, and how can you get in on the next one? Read on.
What is a Mistake Fare?
These fares are just what they sound like. For one reason or another, airlines sell tickets at a cheaper price than they intended. If you see a plane ticket that looks too good to be true, it’s probably a mistake fare.
These often involve an error in converting different currencies. Sometimes, it can be as simple as an employee hitting the wrong number or missing a zero as they enter a fare.
Airlines have gotten better and better at detecting their mistakes quickly – or catching them before they’re published. They’re also one of the few ways to snag a barnburner deal on business or first class plane tickets. Competition for top-dollar customers is so tight and so motivated by big money, airlines rarely sell those seats at huge discounts.
How Do I Find Mistake Fares?
By their very nature, mistake fares are unpredictable. You could scour the internet for hours on end every day and not find one of these insanely cheap mistake fares.
Let us do the work for you. Thrifty Traveler Premium subscribers get the first scoop on these mistake fares. We send out alerts for mistake fares within minutes of finding them, and round up other mistake fares making the rounds on the internet.
Thrifty Traveler Premium members got the first crack at booking a $13,500 first class ticket from Vietnam to the U.S and back last year. Sign up for Premium and don’t miss the next mistake fare!
How Do I Book Mistake Fares?
One word: Quickly.
There’s no telling how long a mistakenly discounted fare will be on sale before it’s pulled. It varies by how good the deal is – and how long the airline takes to catch its mistake. If you want to get the best deal, act fast!
We’ve seen some of the best mistake fares disappear within minutes of going on sale. A mistake fare from Miami (MIA) to Fortaleza, Brazil (FOR) for an astounding $132 disappeared less than 30 minutes after we first saw it. Others have lasted close to an entire day or longer. Long story short, you can’t count on that insane flight deal sticking around for long.
So if you see a great mistake fare here or elsewhere on the internet, book now and ask questions later. If it turns out you can’t use the cheap ticket you just bought, you have 24 hours to cancel it for a full refund. The U.S. government requires this refund policy, so use it.
But there’s also a chance the airline won’t even honor the fare (more on this in a bit). So just as important as booking the fare fast is to not book anything else. Don’t pay for any hotels, tours, excursions, rental cars, or other pieces of your vacation until you know your ticket is confirmed. It can take anywhere from a day to two weeks or more for airlines to notify ticket holders whether their ticket is confirmed.
It may seem counterintuitive, but after buying your ticket on impulse, be patient.
Will the Airline Honor These Fares?
Unfortunately, it’s a mixed bag. The U.S. government no longer requires airlines to honor the mistake tickets they sell if they can prove the pricing was offered due to an error. Airlines can cancel the fare so long as they fully refund the cost of the ticket.
Ultimately, it’s largely the airline’s choice whether to honor these fares. And that’s never a sure thing. The best mistake fares we’ve seen in the last few years show it’s unpredictable.
Two of our favorite crazy flight deals from 2018 were mistake fares that the airlines chose to honor. The $238 round-trip tickets from the U.S. to Croatia took the internet by storm, and we found it first. And amazingly, American Airlines opted to honor the fare that normally sells for $1200 or more. We know plenty of Thrifty Traveler Premium members got in on this deal and scored an insane deal to go explore Croatian wonders like Dubrovnik, Split, and Plitvice Lakes.
But it got even better. In what would have been the mistake fare of the year, Hong Kong Airlines sold $560 round-trip tickets in business class from Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO) to Bangkok (BKK), Shanghai (PVG), and Ho Chi Minh (SGN). These tickets normally cost close to $6,000 or more. And yet the airline decided to honor the tickets.
So about that 600 USD business class transpacific fare 😳….we did it, we will honour it, and perhaps a few people will get to travel on our news business class product being introduced in September to LA. What’s not to like?✈️
— Hong Kong Airlines (@hkairlines) August 18, 2018
One of our favorite mistake fares of 2019 was a business class mistake fare to both Australia and New Zealand. For just $1,491 (a standard price of an economy flight to Australia), you could have gotten lounge access, and a business class seat including priority boarding, champagne, and lie-flat seats. The cost of this luxury experience is typically over $7,000.
But other would-be mistake fare flyers weren’t so lucky. Those crazy fares from Miami to Brazil for $132 were canceled shortly after booking. Air New Zealand published an insane deal for $328 to fly round-trip from the U.S. to New Zealand – flights that normally cost $1,100 and up. But the airline canceled all those tickets, scrapping traveler’s dreams of a cheap way to explore New Zealand.
That’s the life of a mistake fare flyer. The only thing you can do is wait and see – and hope.
Trying to work out when a mistake fare will pop up – and whether the airline will honor it – is nearly impossible. Do what you can to get in on these deals: Book fast, be patient, and wait with bated breath to see whether your ticket is confirmed.