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Mistake Fares: Should You Take Advantage Of Them? Careful, There Are Consequences

Mistake Fares - Should You Buy One?
Mistake Fares – Should You Buy One?

I recently wrote a post about How To Find Affordable Fares Without Going Broke. I purposely did not mention Mistake Fares in any detail as an option as I’m not a fan of these as I believe in paying what’s fair for a ticket. I know this is a sensitive topic as I hear people, even my friends, say its their way of sticking it to the airline. I’ll tell you its the employees that suffer, not the airline on a whole, so you are really sticking it to the employees as they are the ones that will get laid off when the airlines stop making money or go out of business, but I digress.

What Are Mistake Fares?

So far this year, there’s been at least two mistake fares and yes, there will be more. So what are mistake fares? These fares that are obviously blatantly incorrect for whatever reason. System error, incorrectly filed with the fare systems, human error, etc. Typically, you will see a blog post talking about it, a friend will send you an email, you will see it on Facebook, sometimes the news and/or a Website called FlyerTalk or another one called Milepoint.

The last one was December 2014, from Etihad bookable on Priceline.com with some really low fares to get to the Middle East and beyond from their U.S. gateways usually with a stop in Europe, sometimes nonstop. It looks like most of these were honored, but I saw people saying that some of the itineraries were changed from nonstop flights to connecting flights. In full disclosure, I actually bought a ticket on this one from Chicago, IL (ORD) to Abu Dhabi, UAE (AUH) for about $268.90; I figured if they cancelled at worst, I’d get a refund. As it turns out, I had to cancel as the dates conflicted. But if Etihad had contacted me and said they cancelled it, I would not have minded as I get it.

Mistake Fares - Etihad from ORD to AUH
Mistake Fares – Etihad from ORD to AUH


So, this brings me to the point of today’s post. I awoke this morning to a note from a friend at 9:13a that said:

Amazing Business and First Class Fares from $50, UK to NYC! – http://thepointsguy.com/2015/02/amazing-ex-uk-business-and-first-class-from-50-to-nyc/ #ThePointsGuy

Fyi , big pricing error

$50 for a Business class ticket form the U.K. to New York? Really? That does not even pay the APD taxes of $210.48 to the UK govt! The normal price for this ticket is $6,355.85. So how was this even possible? Have the airlines gone mad? Of course not.

It was a mistake fare and you had to go to United.com, change your country to Denmark and then book basically anywhere as long as you left from London (LHR).

Now, this was not just United.com, when I looked at ITA (http://matrix.itasoftware.com), it also showed the crazy fare on all the carriers serving the London to Houston market; it was about 300 DKK or 45.69 USD for the nonstop fare.The current price for this ticket is $4,955.05. Clearly it was an error that was not unique to one airline. I read where people tried to book it on Lufthansa.com and got a fare no longer available error message. At about 10:30a ET, I read where United shut down the Denmark point of sale as that’s where the error was occurring.

Mistake Fares - Current 'normal' fares from LHR to NYC 11 Feb 2015
Mistake Fares – Current ‘normal’ fares from LHR to NYC 11 Feb 2015

I was intrigued as to what was going on, but once I realized how bad it was and the fact that it was not just one airline, but multiple, I figured this one would be weird in the end. My position about this mistake fare is the same that I had about the Hong Kong Mistake Fare Error back in July 2012. Seriously?

Look, I’m all for a good deal, but this one was clearly very bad. It did not even charge the departure tax for leaving the U.K., who did you think would pay that? The airline? I hate that departure tax just like the next guy, but come on folks, let’s be real here.

I figured this one would perhaps not be honored as it was clearly an error and indeed it was not as a friend of mine told me tonight that his ticket was cancelled when he viewed it online on United.com and he got this message in an email.

We have discovered an error with a vendor’s currency exchange rates that temporarily allowed customers to book reservations through the Danish version of united.com at prices that were incorrect, despite United having filed the fares properly. We have suspended sales from our Danish website until the issue is corrected.

You purchased a ticket through the Danish version of united.com during the time when the prices were incorrect. As a result, we are not able to honor your ticket at the price that you paid. We have voided your reservation and will not process your payment.

Confirmation number: XXXXXX

If you would like to book your travel at the correct price, please visit united.com.

So here’s my tip for mistake fares; buyer beware, If you think you should buy it, go ahead, but just know that it may not be honored at some point after you purchase it. So be prepared to deal with the ramifications that may come with that. If you booked a hotel or other travel-related items in conjunction with that ticket, the other vendors may not be sympathetic at all. Maybe travel insurance is a good consideration, which you should get with any trip anyway.

Good luck out there. What say you? Please leave a note below. Do you think the airlines should honor these mistake fares? If so, why, if not, why not? I want to hear from you.



2 thoughts on “Mistake Fares: Should You Take Advantage Of Them? Careful, There Are Consequences

  1. I think airlines should honor mistake fares. Seems to me that any company that makes a pricing mistake would be obliged to do the same thing. If Target tags a $500 item as $50, and I take that to the register, I imagine they need to honor that price, no?

    Another point- if I book a flight with a return on Wed Apr 10 when I meant Wed Apr 17, realize my mistake, and ask the airline to overlook my mistake, they will charge me to change my ticket. I’m still doing business with them. I’m not trying to skirt any rule. I just clicked the wrong date. If I get penalized for making a mistake with booking, how come the airlines get a free pass?

    1. Points taken Lake; but when the error is so blatant and you know there is an error regardless of the company, I think its unnecessary. Karma is a hell of a thing. But its O.K. if we differ on this one :-).

      On point two. You typically have 24 hours in which to make the change without a charge. As a matter of fact you can usually get a full refund within 24 hours from the airline or the online agency (Travelocity is an example). Also, its the approach with the agent to whom you speak; knowing that you always have a good approach. Yes, you will get the agent who will say no. This is where loyalty comes in as they can look at your value to the company and your travel pattern and use that to make an exception.

      There is a lot of fraud in the business as I know you are aware, this is why there is little trust from the side of the airline at the outset; i.e. you have to show proof of whatever you are claiming as the reason for the change. Sad, but its the reality.

      Now, this will get tricky as time goes on as if the same fare is no longer available, then supervisor’s approval has to be made and the whole “simple” change is not a complex change.


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