While saving for travel is a great way to make travel a financial priority in your life, my strategy for affording travel would be incomplete if I didn’t mention flight deals and airline error fares. In fact, most of the 26 countries I’ve visited so far have been because I found discounted flights and some trips only happened because I randomly found an error fare (a.k.a mistake fare). So where exactly am I finding all of these unbelievable flight deals? And more importantly, how can you find them too? Well I’m glad you asked.
Everything You Need to Know About Airline Error Fares
Finding flight deals is my specialty and sharing ways to make travel more affordable is something I’m extremly passionate about and can chat about endlessly. Have you listened to my podcast yet? Find The Thought Card Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn.
While searching for flight deals may sound like it takes a lot of work, there are plenty of websites who specialize in this sort of thing. If you’re looking for cheap flights and don’t have a specific destination in mind, error fares are the creme de la creme of flight deals and something every financially savvy traveler should know about.
If you want to know how I booked a round-trip flight from New York City to Lisbon, Portugal for less than $350, here’s how to find airline mistake fares and how it can save you a lot of money on your next trip.
Read Next: How Much Does a Trip to Lisbon Cost?
What is an error fare?
An error fare or a mistake fare is an airfare pricing mistake by an airline or a third-party website like Expedia. Error fares can also apply to hotel stays and resorts.
These errors can happen for a variety of reasons including human error (fat finger discount) – forgetting an extra zero, miscalculating currency conversion rates, fuel dumps, and system glitches.
Error fares are rare but happen more often than you may think. They are unpredictable and can disappear at any time. Since you have no idea how long the glitch will last, you have to act fast before it sells out or the airline corrects the mistake. Mistake fares can last a few minutes or a few hours, but most never last 24 hours. Book your tickets as soon as possible to avoid missing out.
For those who find these deals, there’s nothing like booking a ridiculously cheap flight especially when you know you should be paying a lot more for it.
Some examples of mistake fares include $143 round-trip flights to Stockholm and Copenhagen and the Ethiad deal to South Africa for $150 round-trip.
Read Next: Things to Do in Stockholm in Winter
How to find error fares?
Some of the most popular sites for finding mistake fares include Secret Flying and The Flight Deal. I recommend signing up for each newsletter (free) as well as following them on Twitter and Facebook. This increases the likelihood that you’ll see a mistake fare as soon as it pops up.
Unlike Secret Flying deals and The Flight Deal who share error fares for free, Thrifty Traveler Premium and Scott’s Cheap Flights offer free and paid subscription services with access to exclusive error fares reserved only for paid members.
All of these websites will let you know the price, departure cities and the best dates to travel.
A few years ago while checking Secret Flying, I saw a flight deal to Portugal and Spain. However, after comparing prices, looking for availability and coordinating with my friends, the cheapest seats to Barcelona and Madrid sold out. Every time I refreshed the page, prices soared higher and higher. Luckily I managed to book round-trip tickets to Lisbon instead for $333 which wasn’t that bad. This error fare saved me $627!
Unsure if you can travel, should you still book?
U.S. airlines give you 24 hours to cancel your flight, penalty free. With this grace period, you have nothing to lose. Worse case scenario, you book a flight, realize you can’t go and cancel a day later. Nevertheless, always read the fine print and double-check the airline cancellation policy before booking.
To help you save money for your next trip, here’s $5 to get started saving with Digit.
About Cancelled Flights
I hate to be the bearer of bad news but airlines do not have to honor error fares.
Generally, airlines cancel error fare flights via email within 3 days to 2 weeks of booking. If the airline cancels your flight, you’ll get a full refund.
A few years ago I found an error fare from New York City to Bangkok, Thailand via Ethiopian Airlines for $304. Ethiopian Airlines later canceled my flight but they gave me a full refund.
Helpful Tip: Book error fares directly with the airline. Also use a credit card so it’s easier to get your money back.
Should I confirm with the airline?
Absolutely, not. Do not contact the airline.
After booking your glitch fare, hang tight and wait a couple weeks before booking any non-refundable tours or hotel stays because the airline may cancel your flight. Airlines usually cancel 72 hours after booking but to be on the safe side give yourself some more time. Once you get an e-ticket number for your reservation, you’re all set.
Is paying for flight deal alert services worth it?
Earlier I mentioned that I paid for flight deal services and even though it might seem counter intuitive, these paid services are absolutely worth it.
Flight deal alert services search the web day and night and as soon as they find a flight deal or error fare, they immediately notify you via email or text message.
Since these glitches are unpredictable and pop up randomly, it’s really important to be among the first to book your flights. Flight deal alert services like Thrifty Traveler Premium and Dollar Flight Club can help you do just that. These services have saved me countless research hours and since deals are sent daily, I can easily decide if I want to book or not.
Mistake Fare Pros
- Pricing mistakes can apply to airfare, hotel stays and resorts
- Can save you hundreds if not thousands on airfare.
- Plenty of websites to send you alerts for free (but I recommend supplementing with paid services).
- Can cancel within 24 hours with U.S. airlines.
- Pricing mistakes for all classes of airfare, including business and first class.
Mistake Fare Cons
- Unpredictable and can disappear anytime.
- Have to book quickly before it sells out or the airline realizes error.
- Airlines may cancel the flight.
Danielle is a travel finance strategist, author, speaker and podcaster. She paid off $63,000 of student loan debt in 4 years, bought a house at 27 and has traveled to 26 countries. She refuses to let her financial responsibilities hold her back from living life on her own terms.