Savvy-travelling Jack's Flight Club members will have definitely encountered their fair share of error fares (aka mistake fares) landing into their inbox. Error fares can often save you loads on your airfare, so it’s important to know what to do when you see one.
Here I’ll take you through different types of error fares we see, and answer some frequently asked questions about them:
What is an error fare (aka mistake fare)?
An error fare is exactly what it sounds like – an error made somewhere within the complex systems that determine fare pricing for hundreds of airlines. With over 100,000 flights flying per day, and this amount of information exchange, it’s extremely impressive on their part that there aren’t even more errors than there already are.
What types of error fares occur?
OTA Glitch fare – occurs when the price listed by an Online Travel Agency (OTA) vastly differs from the price being offered directly by an airline.
Currency Conversion error – occurs when the price of a fare in one currency is substantially lower than its price in other currencies.
Human Pricing error – self-explanatory, and is the most common type of error fare. Airline employees are human (for now anyway!) and do sometimes make errors when manually entering data.
Fare class error – these occur when an OTA or airline allows you to book a higher class fare at the price of a lower one.
Can error fares be cancelled? What are the risks?
Yes, they can, but only with a full refund. Otherwise, the risks are very minimal when it comes to booking one.
Based on our numbers, around 70% of error fares are honoured by the airlines. Cancelling tickets is troublesome and, more importantly, simply bad PR, so most airlines prefer to avoid doing so if possible. Some countries (though not the UK) even have laws enforcing any listed fares to be honoured. In the scenario that your ticket is cancelled, fear not - you will always be refunded in full. The airline will never charge you more than you agreed without permission or keep your money without providing you with a ticket.
What to do when you spot an error fare?
Book it! - The best error fares rarely last more than a few hours, so if you see one that matches your schedule, it’s important to act quickly.
Check the airline’s cancellation policy - Some airlines and OTAs, especially those based in North America, offer a 24-hour cancellation window for flight tickets. If you need more time to think it through, check to see if the airline/OTA allows this flexibility.
Call the airline or OTA – It’s natural to be unsure when booking an error fare but unfortunately, calling the airline or OTA to ask permission will not lead you to positive results. Alerting the airline or OTA about the error will unlikely lead them to allow you to book it. As you’ve read above, there is simply little downside to booking an error fare, so if you’re keen on the destination, it’s best to just go for it.
Book non-refundable accommodation – If you’ve booked an error fare, give yourself a high five, but hold off from booking the rest of your trip just yet. As you’ve read above, there is some risk that the fare may be refunded, so give it a couple of weeks before you book any non-refundable hotels or activities.
How long do error fares last?
Error fares can stick around for multiple days or be gone within a couple of hours. It really comes down to how fast the error is spotted and corrected by the airline. Unfortunately, this is impossible to predict.
How to better your odds of having an error fare get honoured?
If an error fare is listed on Google Flights and available to book directly via an airline’s website, it’s advisable to book directly. I’ve seen cases where the airline has honoured the tickets booked directly, while asking OTAs to cancel the tickets they’ve sold to their customers for the same flights. If that’s not an option, book any way you can.
Generally, more ‘reasonable’ error prices are more likely to be honoured. A £10 error fare flight to Argentina is less likely to be honoured than a £120 flight to New York City (though there have been exceptions).
What are some error fares that have come up in the past?
Here are a handful of examples of error fares that I’ve sent out to our flight club over the last year:
• London to Havana at £201 return with Air Canada
• Manchester/Scotland to Hawaii at £258 return with Delta Airlines
• Paris/London to Tokyo at £248 return with Aeroflot (over XMAS)
• Amsterdam to Peru at £164 return with AeroMexico
• London to Los Angeles at £39 one-way with Norwegian
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If you still have more questions, feel free to drop me a message on [email protected] and I’ll be happy to help.