United isn’t honoring the tickets. But there have been many amazing deals that airlines and hotels have chosen to make good on in the past.
- I traveled on those Alitalia $33+tax business class fare to Larnaca, Cyprus with Italy stopovers
- I stayed in the $33 per night The Le Meridien Khao Lak Oceanfront Villa
- And the $3 Hilton Tokyo (Executive Floor)
- I booked the Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort $120 Overwater Bungalow with Breakfast and Dinner, but wound up cancelling in favor of the 50 euro a night deal at the Prince de Galles Paris
- …to name just a few
Naturally several readers wanted to know, but how do you find these?
Why It’s Hard to Find Mistake Fares
Two things to understand in your quest for fat finger discounts (leaving out digits on a fare or rate), currency conversion errors, and other special opportunities.
- There aren’t as many airline airfare mistakes as there used to be. Airlines have better tools, especially for international fares, to catch mistakes before they’re actually published. Those tools began rolling out in 2009, and now it’s mostly international airlines that haven’t really learned to use them that wind up publishing international mistakes. (This refers to price mistakes, but other kinds of mistakes like routing rules still persist.)
- People don’t share as openly as they used to. Over time I found most of the best deals on Flyertalk in the Mileage Run forum. Most of the best deals wound up posted by new members. Why? Because that’s who most of the members were. And deals were found by having large numbers of people searching for their own travels, and then posting when they came across something fishy. Now most of the discussions of these sorts of deals happen behind closed doors, amongst smaller groups of people, but that comes at the cost of having fewer people searching and participating and even potentially fewer deals found.
Much of the discussion of mistake deals, and mileage strategy, takes place outside of public view — in private forums (I can think of at least three that are active) and private email lists (I can think of at least two active ones).
Those private forums and lists, though, don’t have all of the deals because deals are found often by accident by large numbers of people. I’m fortunate to have tens of thousands of readers, many of whom email me, and their input doesn’t wind up in those private places generally. When they offer something useful, and don’t ask that the information not be shared, I’ll post it here. Sometimes posting a mistake deal will anger folks who might have known about it otherwise, and who want to keep it for themselves.
Should People Jump on These Deals?
Sometimes having lots of people in on a deal helps get it honored (because people are exchanging information, and the publicity costs for failing to do so are higher). And sometimes having lots of people in on a deal raises its costs and so it’s harder for a travel provider to honor.
And many people won’t partake at all, finding it unethical to book something at a price that a travel provider didn’t intend to offer it. Sometimes great deals are intentional and we may not even know (Independence Air once purposely loaded a mistake fare in the middle of the night, waited for a handful of people to book it, and then called the Washington Post to let them know, “you never know when you’ll find an amazing deal on our website!” was their refrain). But sometimes we do know.
Department of Transportation rules generally require ‘mistake’ airfares to be honored for travel that begins or ends in the US. There are clear rules against post-purchase price increases (which includes just cancelling tickets, which would mean consumers re-purchasing travel at a higher price if they wanted the trip). DOT hates that obvious, totally predictable, ‘unintended consequences’ of requiring mistake fares to be honored and is looking for ways to change their rules to make airlines honor prices only when they think airlines should.
My general take is that if a deal isn’t honored, and it isn’t honored promptly and transparently, I’m ok with that — any Department of Transportation rules on this notwithstanding, even. But if a travel provider is going to offer me once in a lifetime type deals, and hono them, I’d like to be one of the people who gets to go.
How to Be “In The Know”
With much of the talk of mistakes gone underground, my suggestions are as follows.
- Follow blogs like mine. I do occasionally write about these opportunities when they arise.
- Follow The Flight Deal, there’s no better source for short-term airfare deals.
- Subscribe to the Premium Fare Deals forum on Flyertalk. Lots of the better deals do get posted there, but you have to wade through a lot of noise to notice them.
- Meet people. I’m fortunate to have so many readers, but I find that the best deals do make it out fairly broadly at least via email — the people you know send them out to their friends and acquaintances by email (sometimes possibly just wanting to look ‘in the know’). Sometimes private forum deals leak out this way. So go to gatherings of frequent flyers, build your own networks, and people will start sharing these things.
- Where Have All the Mistake Fares Gone?
- “Do Not Call” the Airline or Hotel During a Mistake Fare, and Is There Strength in Numbers or Best to Keep a Deal Quiet?
- The Best Airline and Hotel Mistake Deals — and What to Do When You Find One