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Airlines Occasionally Post Super-Cheap Fares by Accident. Here's How to Find Them

The airline industry makes mistakes, too. They're human just like us, after all. Mistake fares are simply when airlines publish incorrect ticket prices that vary from their usual expensive fares. Insanely discounted fares like a $267 roundtrip from San Francisco to London qualify as a mistake. They're great for us, but not so much for the airlines.

Before we move on, you should know that there have been a few occurrences where crazy mistake fares like these have not been honored by the airlines. If you take a few precautions, you can mitigate that risk and visit your dream destinations for cheap. Here's all you need to know about mistake fares:

Why Do Mistake Fares Happen?

Mistake fares can happen for a few reasons. Overall, airlines and Online Travel Agents (OTAs) operate on a very complex backend booking system, so errors are inevitable now and again. While some are technical glitches, others are simply human error.

  • Human Error: It very well may be that a $1,308 round-trip flight from Boston to Cape Town was actually priced at $130 round trip. People sometimes omit or add a number in error when entering a flight price, and that can result in a significantly reduced ticket until the airline finds the error and corrects it.

  • OTA Glitches / Omitting Fuel Surcharges and Fees: Online Travel Agencies (OTA) are often behind these mistake fares. Missing fuel surcharges are often why you'll see such reduced prices. Fuel surcharges are in place to prevent frequent flyer programs from allowing people to book 100-percent-free tickets using miles, as even then you still have to pay these additional fees. Every now and then, though, these charges may be dropped by mistake. Fuel surcharges can be hundreds of dollars on some airlines, so when they're absent, you reap the reward.

  • Currency Conversion Errors: When you're working with such complex systems, moving from currency to currency can get tricky. For example, a $4,000 United Airlines flight was available for around $79 recently. This specific mistake fare occurred due to a miscalculation between the Danish Kroner and the British Pound.

Some of the Best Mistake Fares We've Ever Seen:

  • San Francisco to New Zealand for $260 round trip.
  • New York City to Ivory Coast for $318 round trip.
  • Houston to Melbourne for $184 round trip.
  • Business Class from U.S. cities to Lima, Peru for $450 round trip.
  • East & West Coast U.S. to India for $244 round trip.

How to Find a Mistake Fare

Keep an eye on Google Flights and Momondo daily to see if prices fluctuate significantly. If you'd rather not spend those hours, sign up for cheap flight finding services like Dollar Flight Club, who do all the searching for you and send deals right to your inbox or text you as soon as they happen.

Book the flight as soon as possible! Mistake fares can last less than a few hours before the airline corrects the error.

Wait a week or so before you book other travel plans, like hotels and tourist activities, until the airline confirms your ticket. Airlines are no longer required to honor mistake fares like they were required to in the past. That being said, 90 percent of mistake fares are honored. Airlines don't want any bad PR by rescinding flights from customers.

Finally, enjoy your trip and brag about it on Instagram.

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Written by Jesse Neugarten August 14, 2018

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