Here’s How to Find Airline and Hotel Mistake Deals

Earlier in the week I write about the very best airline and hotel mistake deals that we’ve seen.

Naturally several readers wanted to know, but how do you find these?

And that’s a subject of an entirely different post. This one.

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.

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.

Of course, 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. And 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.

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 Good Deal Premium Fares thread 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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @nic – both those were domestic errors (The UA international one was Wideroe’s fault, not United’s) so presumably the controls in place aren’t as robust as they are for international deals

  2. Keep in mind that hotel mistakes are almost never worth bothering. The last 5 hotel errors I booked all got cancelled with the chain showing the middle finger.

  3. Are you serious? Don’t you realize that there are posts in FlyerTalk that ask readers not to repost, thus by correlation absurdum, *any* link to FlyerTalk by a blog is verboten?

    Gary, by educating your readers, and informing them how to find “special” fares, you are spoiling everything for me and my cronies!

  4. Thanks for posting this gary, but I find it next to impossible to get on any lists. I’ve been to a few of the seminars, spoke to people and no one ever mentions anything. Maybe I’ve just met the wrong people, but I find it a tough nut to crack. Any advice on getting in the know so I can hear about some of these deals?


  5. @andy – I am not sure it was Wideroe’s fault, they were pretty happy selling the tickets. Dubai was great :).

    Between mistake fares and flash fares there are plenty of places to go.

  6. Both site linked to look pretty worthless. Flight Deals does not even list Turkish Air flights as it does not give airline mileage credits outside of its own program on come flights. Who knows what other personal limitations it does. There are better sites. Certainly seems a waste of time to be looking at these sites unless your time is not valuable.

  7. The title of this thread is misleading. It should be titled ‘How to learn about mistake fares that somebody else has already found.’

    Finding mistake fares is hard. Luck comes to mind. It’s not accurate to imply that you can teach someone how to do the primary research.

    I’m curious Gary — have you ever actually FOUND any mistakes on your own? What were they? How did you find them? Who did you tell?

  8. The only time I’ve found mistake fares is by chance/luck. I was looking to fly to the west coast back in late December and that’s when I found the Delta fare mistake.

  9. This week Gol priced all its international flights wrong, there was an issue with the exchange rate and flights to or from Brazil the US were about 200-300 usd roundtrip all year round.
    As Gol only flies to Miami and Orlando, all international flights were done by Delta. The mistake fare lasted from 3 am to 9 am and a lot of people bought it. Major error and major lost, but Gol is going to honour the tickets.
    That was the biggest fare mistake I’ve ever saw, too bad business class wasn’t priced wrong as Gol dont sell Delta Business tickets in its website

  10. To me it’s just dumb luck actually finding mistakes, and I often don’t have enough flexibility to jump quickly on mistakes found by others. And I do think in the case of a true mistake rate, the company should have the right to cancel the booking, if done promptly. I have no problem with people booking a mistake speculatively on the chance it may be honored, and I have indeed run into what I thought must be mistakes, but which were special promos I just lucked into. I do have little enthusiasm for those who go whining to DOT or the courts to try to force the honoring of a mistake. I think in the long run these people are harmful to everybody.

    I did find and book a room at what seems to be a nice hotel in Norway for 5 euros a night this summer. I have to think that was a mistake.

  11. @hobo13 in the last post on mistake fares, I pointed to a Flyertalk thread I posted that then became a monster thread on a mistake fare back in 2005.

    Some fares there’s something identified by someone they may not realize the implications or opportunities and they’re built on by others.

    If you look at the monster Flyertalk thread on round 3 of the ex-RGN F fares, you’ll see that the first post links to this blog. As does the monster Flyertalk thread on the 4 mile UA HKG award fares.

    The ex-PPT currency conversion fare I happened to find when I was searching for PPT-BOB Tahitian domestic flights on Travelocity.

    I’ve also found a few that I didn’t share broadly, because my bet was that they wouldn’t be honored if heavily booked, a suite at one of the luxury hotels in DC, a suite in Seattle to name a few.

    I’ve also been fortunate to have lots of readers that have shared things with me…

  12. I’m not doubting you Gary. I was just curious as to how you would answer the question — what mistakes would you generally take credit for personally. Myself? None that I remember. I think the best I’ve done is found some improved routings, dates, or the like on known mistakes.

    I agree — most mistake fares are a collaborative effort. That’s why it’s sad to see just about everything go underground these days.

  13. Also, just because you published it first (which I do recall those instances) doesn’t mean you found it — but rather you were tipped to it, maybe expanded upon it, and chose to share it. So in those cases, I would say you were a contributor and your blog was a distribution channel. Both of which are separate categories.

    I was really curious as to how often a guy like yourself who probably spends more time booking travel than almost anyone else really finds stuff on your own.

    My observations are that much of the mistake activity has actually turned into Trick-It style fares. And those tend to be closely guarded.

  14. @hobo13- maybe I misunderstood your question, and I was purposely dividing it up into the sorts of categories you mentioned. As i say, I found a couple of whales myself like the ex-PPT foreign currency conversion fare. Most of the things I’ve found on my own have been pretty narrow in their applicability, though, and the answer to your question is “not often.”

  15. In the old days, errors were meant to be shared. That was when Flyertalk had 5000 – 25,000 members that were smart enough not to blab it to the world. There was a heated debate about this too.
    These days, with so many blogs out there, it’s hard to keep a secret. And when that error comes ie the Delta $60 R/T fare to the westcoast, you’d better be sitting at your computer to pounce on it. 😉

    The funny thing is, while you could say those were the good old days, that’s how we’ll refer to 2014 down the road in 2017.

  16. Yep, as an wise old man once told me:

    ‘Son, THESE are your good ole days….’

  17. @dhammer53 for what it’s worth most mistake fares went underground long before the proliferation of blogs, that was a reaction to Flyertalkers posting that they were calling the airline…

  18. Luck and crowd sourcing are certainly involved, but there are ways to increase your luck with minimal effort. I have Google Flights set up as a one click option and adjust as necessary to check all cheap 7 day roundtrips 3 weeks out from my home airport, and then move the days incrementally forward through the next Saturday/Saturday combination. I then repeat for all 7 day roundtrips on a Wednesday during the next low season. This takes maybe 5 minutes once you get used to it and usually picks up most of the really valuable ‘mistakes’, the ones where you do not have to reposition. If I know that there is a ongoing low fare or market share battle going on I repeat for the the cities involved focusing on certain routes – for example, I’ve been monitoring Vancouver to Hong Kong and RSW/FLL/SNA/SFO to Scandinavia over the last few months. If I strike paydirt I try to improve using ITA or certain buggy OTAs. I also know that there are certain airlines with sloppy IT that on a serial basis permit YQ/YR dumping on open jaws, or maybe have just added a new alliance partner to their routing rules, so I’ll check once a week for new ‘opportunities’ if time permits. Finally, if one airline is boldly nudging another’s hub, its worthwhile to check a couple of times during the day to see if a even more massive retaliation at the first airline’s hubs is taking place. These often only last a couple of hours and quite often the first wave of retaliation will have unusually loose routing rules that are quickly adjusted back in the airline’s favor.

  19. @Chris above: Have patience and work hard at meeting people. It took me 7 years on FlyerTalk and meeting 300 people before I got invited to my first (and still only) mistake-fare list.

  20. 5.Sebastian I got a US$28 hotel in Norway for two night that should have gone for $240 a night. But I kept my mouth SHUT. When I checked out the clerk thought the rate was different but he processed it though my credit card. I kept all my emails and confirmations just in case I had to fight it out with the hotel — I could please currency conversion stupidity!!!

  21. Translation:
    1. Businesses don’t inadvertently leave their doors unlocked as often as they used to.
    2. People don’t share theft opportunities as openly as they used to.

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