Here’s a term that may be new to you: a mistake fare is a ticket that is sold for significantly less than intended. Essentially, the fare is a mistake.
It’s also cause for celebration if you get one because mistake fares can save you anywhere from 50% to 95% off the normal fare price. Think $249 roundtrip on business class to Europe (it happened).
Mistake fares can happen for a number of reasons such as:
Sometimes referred to as error or glitch fares, mistake fares are not super common. According to Scott’s Cheap Flights, they happen about every four to six weeks on average. Here are some examples:
Mistake fare most often happen in higher class tickets and they don’t last long. Typically they get corrected within a few hours at most.
There’s some gray area around mistake fares too. Sometimes a low fare is just a good deal (which the airline can’t back out on) and sometimes it’s a mistake (which they can).If the ticket was purchased through a travel agency, the airline might not honor it. The traveler is usually notified within 72 hours though.
Airlines know that canceling travelers’ tickets generally causes terrible press, so they usually prefer to eat the loss rather than cancel the flight. Still, it can happen.
There are two ways to find mistake fares:
Some of the best resources for finding mistake fares are:
If you think you might be booking a mistake fare, make the purchase directly with the airline—quickly, before the carrier catches on.
Booking directly with the airline gives you a 24-hour grace period, which you can use to cancel and get a full refund if you have second thoughts.
If you buy a crazy low-priced ticket, hold off making any other non-refundable plans like hotel reservations or tours just in case the airline or agency cancels the ticket.
Give it a week if you can.
Ultimately, booking a mistake fare can be a little like hitting the lottery. It’s a risk you’ll have to assess for yourself, but if the trip is honored you can literally save thousands of dollars. You could also potentially find yourself headed to an exotic location in a premium cabin seat.
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Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.