Mistake fares are one of my favorite travel secrets as the savings are huge, the adrenaline rush is fast and furious, and you never know when one will show up. They happen for both airfares and hotel rates.
Imagine some new hire, bored employee sitting in front of a computer screen all day entering data: LGA to DEN $200 base fare, $12.62 airport tax, $.89 recovery fee, $4.36 security fee, M-Th only, round-trip only, season January 4 to May 8, with exception of May 1, 2 and 3.
Imagine them doing this hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Mistakes will be made. The resulting mistake fares will end up being offered to the public. Airlines publish hundreds of fares between city pairs every day. The odds of mistakes happening are very high. I’m amazed more don’t surface, but when they do, good things can happen for you.
When a mistake fare or incorrect hotel rate is published, the vendor offering the fare or rate has two choices: honor the mistake fare or refuse to honor the error. In all cases, the vendor runs the show and I will go along with their decision. In many cases, in the name of good public relations, the vendor will honor the fare and chalk it up to the cost of doing business. I like when that happens, and I give them future business as well for honoring their mistake. Really, it is no different than a mismarked item in a grocery store — just bigger numbers.
I’m not going to judge your moral position on taking advantage of a mistake fare. Every one of us has to make his or her own decision, just as the vendor has to make his decision to honor the fare or not.
Here are some notable mistake fares:
- British Airways: $20 +tax U.S. to Europe
- San Jose to Paris: $27.88
- Chicago to Puerto Vallarta: $150 in business class
- Watertown, NY to anywhere in the U.S. for: $1.86+ tax
- Los Angeles to Fiji: $51
- Calgary to Spain: $130
- Toronto to Bucharest: $235 Canadian
- Atlanta to Honolulu: $152.50
- Atlanta to Acapulco: $0 + taxes
- Charlotte to Barbados: $28 + taxes
- West Coast to Hawaii with 2 nights hotel: $141 total
- Baltimore to Iceland: $64 round trip
And here are a few examples of hotel mistake rates:
- La Quinta Resort and Spa: $40 per night
- Tokyo Hilton: £1
- W Hotel in NYC: $20 per night
- Phuket, Thailand Holiday Inn: .01 Bahts
- Portland, Maine Sheraton: $19 per night
- Amerisuites Charlotte: $1 per night
The Tokyo Hilton mistake was picked up by some kids on college campuses and spread around the Internet so fast that every Hilton in Japan was booked for the entire summer at the mistake rate. Obviously, neither Hilton nor Travelocity could swallow that big a hit, so they those with reservations a $100 travel voucher for a future booking on Travelocity.
There are many more examples. But from these you can see the huge savings involved in finding and participating in a mistake fare. Some of our most memorable vacations were the result of these mistakes. How can you pass up these rates?
The mistakes all seem to fall in three categories:
- Dancing Decimal — A business class fare to New Zealand was loaded as $1,438.08 instead of $14,380.80.
- Currency Conversion Error — The Conrad Bangkok Hotel Presidential Suite went for 1,935 Thai Bahts instead of the correct rate of $1,935 U.S. dollars per night. People paid only $51 for the 2,300-square-foot suite per night.
- Forgot a Fare Component — Cheaptickets loaded the fare to Iceland, but forgot the actual fare. They just loaded the taxes and surcharges. We flew for $64 round trip!
When you find a mistake fare it really doesn’t matter what type it is. What is important is that you study the info you have available about the fare. Then:
1. Act Quickly
These fares can disappear in minutes. Not all mistake fares are honored so do not make other travel arrangements immediately. Give the vendor the opportunity to decide if they will be honoring the fare or not. And if not, what type of compensation they may give you instead of honoring the fare. Other people are trying to make their bookings at the same time. Minutes matter.
Your trip should be within all the mistake fare ground rules, i.e., dates of travel, starting city, fare class, class of service, minimum stays, booking agent and routings. No exceptions.
Read everything you can online about the mistake fare before attempting a booking.
2. Do NOT call the Airline or Hotel for clarification until the deal is DEAD.
Preferably never call. Ask other travelers or knowledgeable friends questions by phone, instant message or email BeforeYouBook. You’ll hear about mistakes fares from the same websites that post about Fare Wars, but these last typically a very, very short time. Look for fares mistakes at the airline websites, Airfarewatchdog.com, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, Orbitz.com
There is a particular forum on FlyerTalk called the Mileage Run forum that lists really good fares and is a place to find mistake fares. But as the FlyerTalk network grows, and more rookies make the mistake of calling the vendor while the fare is still available, the less likely it is that a mistake fare will be published.
The more people that get involved in a mistake fare, the faster it seems to disappear. Having a network of likeminded friends certainly helps. Two set of eyes is better than one and the bigger network you have, the better your chances of finding a mistake fare before it disappears. Sometimes, they last only minutes. Again, act quickly and be aware if the fare is non-refundable or not.