Everything you need to know about mistake fares

20 November 2021
Everything you need to know about mistake fares

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:

  • Human error (this is the most common cause) – for example, a flight from NYC to Milan that should have cost $1,300 gets coded as $130 instead.
  • Technical glitches – the airlines use complex algorithms to determine route prices and sometimes the calculations go wonky.
  • Currency problems – sometimes currencies experience significant and sudden devaluations, causing deep discounts in fares.

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:

List of mistake fares

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.

Mistake fare risks

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.

Finding mistake fares

There are two ways to find mistake fares:

  1. You can set price alerts for specific routes using Google Flights and get notifications, or
  2. You can sign up for a service that will do the work for you.

Some of the best resources for finding mistake fares are:

  • Scotts Cheap Flights is a subscription service, especially worth it for US-based flyers.
  • The Flight Deal is another subscription service that will give you real-time deals.
  • Secret Flying clearly identifies error fares when it finds them. It has a good track record with past error fare notifications.
  • Airfarewatchdog.com offers a similar service to notify on flight deals, including error fares.

Booking mistake fares

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.

Bottom line

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.

Other interesting news

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7 places that are even better in person than in pictures according to travel writers.

New service class – American Airlines launches a new class of cabin service aimed at business travelers.

While they’re young – the best places to travel with kids of any age according Travel+Leisure.

Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.