Save Big On Airfare: How To Find Mistake Fares Like a Pro – Episode 152

A how-to guide for finding mistake fares and how to super cheap flights.
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Everything you need to know about mistake fares and error fares, where to find them, and how you can save hundreds on your next flight. Although saving for travel is a great way to make travel a financial priority, other ways to afford travel should not be overlooked. One of these ways is to keep an eye out for flight deals, including the occasional airline error fare. Most of the 27 countries I have visited so far have been because I found discounted flights, and some trips only happened because I randomly found an error fare, otherwise known as a mistake fare. If you have found these unicorns, there’s nothing like booking a ridiculously cheap flight, knowing how much more you could have paid for it. Some examples of mistake fares I have taken advantage of include $143 round-trip flights to Stockholm in winter from New York City, as well as the Ethiad deal to South Africa for $150 round-trip.

If you’re wondering where exactly I have found these unbelievable flight deals and, more importantly, how you can find them, too, then you’re in luck. I’ll be happy to share my tips and tricks with you.

We cover:

[4:06] Mistake fare explanation

[4:38] Reasons for mistake fares, including human error and system glitches

[6:36] Duration of mistake fares and their unpredictability

[14:11] Drawbacks and risk of cancellation

Prefer audio? Listen to this podcast episode here or choose from any of the podcast players below.

Listen on Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Amazon Music | iHeart | Any player

Shout out to our episode sponsor, Thrifty Traveler Premium, my go-to resource for finding cheap flights. Use the promo code “TC10” for $10 off your first year.

Everything You Need To Know About Mistake Fares

While searching for flight deals may sound like it takes a lot of work, plenty of websites specialize in this sort of thing. If you’re looking for cheap flight notifications and don’t have a specific destination in mind, flight price errors 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, in the peak summer season for less than $350, here’s how to find airline mistake fares and 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 is also known as a ‘mistake fare’ or ‘airline price glitch.’

Error fares are airfare pricing mistakes that result in a heavily discounted ticket price.

While you’ll often see them associated with airline tickets, they can apply to hotel stays and resorts.

These airfare errors can happen for various reasons, including human error (fat finger discount) – forgetting an extra zero, miscalculating currency conversion rates, committing fuel surcharges and fees, and system glitches.

As you can imagine, airlines run complex systems with intricate algorithms and databases. With so many changing variables like demand, changes in airline routes, and route popularity, flight glitches can lead to significant discounts.

Tired of reading? Listen to this podcast episode on YouTube.

How long do error fares last?

Error fares are rare but happen more often than you may think. That said, they are unpredictable and can disappear at any time. How long a mistake fare lasts depends on how quickly the airline catches on and fixes the mishap.

Since we have no idea how long the glitch will last, we must act fast before it sells out or the airline corrects the mistake. Error flights can last a few minutes or hours, but most never last 24 hours.

Book your tickets immediately to avoid missing out.

I saw a flight error fare to Portugal and Spain a few years ago.

After comparing prices, looking for availability, and coordinating with my friends, the cheapest seats in Barcelona and Madrid (Spain) sold out. Sadly, 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. That mistake saved me $627!

If you’re wondering, here’s how much that trip to Lisbon cost me.

How to find error fares?

My biggest tip for finding error fares is to follow the experts.

Thrifty Traveler Premium is my go-to for finding error fares.

Backed by experts who actively search for and curate flight deals, Thrifty Traveler Premium is a subscription-based flight deal notification service designed to help travelers take advantage of fare sales, mistake fares, and other limited-time promotions to save on travel expenses.

Flight deal subscriptions, like Thrifty Traveler Premium, provide real-time notifications and detailed information about each deal, including the price, departure cities, the best dates to travel, and when the deal will likely disappear.

Thrifty Traveler Premium, which I’ve been a loyal subscriber to since 2017, costs $89 per year (use the promo code “TC10” for $10 off your first year.) Upgrading to Premium includes more domestic and international flights departing from the U.S. and Canada, text message alerts for mistake fares, and the ability to customize your home airport preferences.

Thrifty Traveler - Thrifty Traveler Premium for finding mistake fare, flas sales, and airfare discounted tickets.

Want to know more about Thrifty Traveler Premium? Check out my comprehensive Thrifty Traveler Premium guide and interview with founder Jared Kamrowski!

Unsure if you can travel: should you still book?

Here’s the good news.

Under the 24-Hour Reservation Requirement regulation of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), airlines flying within the U.S. must allow passengers to cancel their reservation within 24 hours without any penalty, provided the reservation was made at least seven days before the flight’s departure. This grace period gives you the freedom to cancel your booking without any repercussions; you have absolutely nothing to lose.

In the worst-case scenario, you book the flight, realize you can’t go, and cancel within 24 hours.

Nevertheless, always read the fine print and double-check the airline cancellation policy before booking.

Mistake Fare Risks: Prepare for Cancellations

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but airlines do not have to honor error fares. Just because you buy a ticket doesn’t mean the airline has to honor that price, although many do to keep us happy.

Generally, airlines cancel error fare flights via email within three days, but it can take upwards of two weeks. If the airline cancels your flight, you’ll get a full refund.

Airlines usually cancel these tickets within 72 hours, but to be safe, wait to receive the e-ticket confirmation before booking non-refundable tours or hotel stays because the airline may cancel your flight.

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, though they fully refunded me.

Helpful Tip: Book error fares directly with the airline. Also, always use a credit card so it’s easier to get your money back if necessary.

Should I confirm with the airline?

Absolutely not! Do not contact the airline. Alerting them may ruin it for other travelers who would like to score the same deal.

After booking your glitch fare, hang tight and wait until you receive an official confirmation number. This can take a couple of minutes or a few weeks. Please be patient.

Listen to this podcast episode on Spotify.

Is paying for flight deal alert services worth it?

Earlier, I mentioned I pay for flight deal services, which have been absolutely worth it.

Staying in the know has been an invaluable gift that has saved me thousands of dollars a year of flights for my family of three. These daily notifications have also helped me become a more knowledgeable, savvy traveler.

In particular, since these glitches are unpredictable and pop up randomly, being among the first to book your flights is essential. Subscriptions like Thrifty Traveler Premium have saved me countless research hours, and since deals are sent daily, I can quickly decide if I want to take advantage of the reduced rates.

Flight deal alert services search the web day and night on my behalf, and as soon as they find a flight deal or error fare, I get an email notification or text message.

Mistake Fare Pros

  • Pricing mistakes can apply to airfare, hotel stays, and resorts, as well as the economy, business, and first class.
  • It can save you hundreds, if not thousands, on airfare.
  • Cancel within 24 hours penalty-free, if needed.

Mistake Fare Cons

  • Unpredictable and can disappear anytime.
  • You must book quickly before it sells out or the airline realizes an error.
  • Airlines may cancel the flight, but you’ll get a full refund.

Other Content You’ll Enjoy

For more travel tips, travel hacks, and my best money-saving strategies. Read my travel books!

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