The Ten Commandments of Error Fares

You just got a notification (or saw a post on here) that round trip tickets to Asia are selling for $600. Cool, you think. It’s a good deal, but the thought of spending 20+ hours in coach sounds rough. But wait – you look a little closer and realize it’s for business class, not economy.

You feel your heart begin to race, your knees are weak, your palms are sweaty.

(Ok sorry, I’ll stop.)

Congratulations, you’ve either come across an incredible sale or an error fare. What do you do next? What pitfalls do you need to avoid? We’ve put together our Ten Commandments of Error Fares to help you prepare for the next time you spot one.

Cathay Pacific, from

Cathay Pacific, from


1. Book first, ask later

Mistake fares are typically gone within hours, if not minutes. As nice as it would be to coordinate with your family, friends, and loved ones, the fare can disappear while you’re waiting on a response. Get your credit card out and book it. If the flight touches US soil, the DOT requires airlines to allow risk-free cancellations within 24 hours. Book the ticket first and then use that time to coordinate plans. Note that this rule does not apply for flights outside the US. If booking through an online travel agency (OTA) or foreign airline, be sure to check their cancellation policy first.

2. Book directly through the airline if possible

In addition to the above point, OTAs have their own discretion on whether or not to honor these fares. Booking directly through the airline allows your ticket to be ticketed sooner and reduces the number of avenues that can result in your ticket being cancelled.

3. Take screenshots

While going through the booking process, make sure to grab some screenshots. These can come in handy if the airline tries to dispute your booking or move you to a different class of service.

Aeromexico mistake fare

4. Do not call the airline

Nothing good will ever come from calling the airline. If anything, it will only hurt you. Contacting the airline has the potential to get the fare pulled earlier or get your reservation cancelled. While we’re at it, don’t email, DM, send a raven, or contact the airline by any other means either.

5. Wait before making non-refundable plans

Even after your reservation has been ticketed, there’s still a chance the airline may get seller’s remorse and decide not to honor the deal. While airlines usually decide whether or not to honor the fare within 48 hours, it’s best to wait at least a week before booking any other non-refundable plans. If you do make non-refundable plans and the flight touches US soil, the DOT requires airlines to reimburse all reasonable expenses.

6. Be patient

Continuing from number five, airlines typically decide whether they will honor the fare within 48 hours. In some cases, they may take up to a week. Don’t panic. Chances are, sitting back and relaxing for a week won’t ruin you. Go outside, see a movie, binge a series on Netflix, enjoy some time with family. Nothing you can do will make the airline decide to honor it any sooner.

7. Don’t get upset if the ticket isn’t honored

These prices are significantly lower than what they would normally be. If the airline decides not to honor the tickets, you’re no worse off than you were before you booked them.


Say it with me: Do. Not. Call. The. Airline. Seriously, I can’t emphasize this one enough.

9. Don’t call them “error fares” or “mistake fares”

Yes, we’re guilty of this as well, but this is a bit of an unwritten rule. However, when talking about the fares online, don’t refer to them as errors or mistakes. Instead, refer to them as deals or sales. Airlines have used blog posts and social media to justify not honoring fares. As consumers, it’s hard to differentiate between an error and great deal, so better safe than sorry.

10. Have fun!

Booking a mistake fare can be a thrilling experience. Think of it like going to a casino, but without the downside. You pushed out $500 in chips on that business class ticket to Asia. Your adrenaline is pumping, your heart is racing. If you win, congratulations! You just got a business class ticket to Asia for 10% of the normal price. If you lose, it’s still a push and you get your money back. Enjoy the ride and hope for the best.

Follow the Commandments and you could end up enjoying these views too!


Did we leave anything off? Let us know in the comments!

Author: Stephen Hoechst

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  1. Well…..other than the obvious “don’t blog about it” 🙂

    Alternatives in some “special sale” situations is to book and fly it before it get’s pulled. Over the years you will likely see “special sale” fares where it can be flown the same day, next day, etc. if you can book it and start the trip before they pull it back then you are good. Won’t work for everyone but it does happen.

    If you ever plan to book with friends in the future. Make sure to have their legal names, DOB, FF#’s etc. in order to book the tickets. It is hard to impossible after the fact.

    Oh and DON’T EVER, EVER, EVER call the airline to ask ANYTHING about these “Special Sales” (Ruin it for the rest of us).

    Post a Reply
    • Good point on making sure you have your friends, family, s/o’s info on hand for whenever these come up. Keeping a shared calendar online can be a big help too.

      Post a Reply
  2. I always wondered about where to book direct or through OTA. I have booked through OTAs in the past because in some cases OTAs compensated me in case airlines were unreasonable. But also, refund takes forever if you book with OTAs and it makes it hard to sort things out because you have a layer who cannot do anything but call the airline and ask about what is goig on with refund and they will tell you it is coming but OTA agents just take the word and not work for you

    Post a Reply
    • Yep, sometimes they’re your only option for a deal though. In that case, you just have to hope it’s honored. If not, the refund process can be slow and painful but better late than never.

      Post a Reply
  3. Guilty as charged, Officer. I’ve now pinned this to my Travel Do’s and Don’ts. Thanks.

    Post a Reply
    • We’ve all had to learn from making these mistakes in the past. Hopefully this helps avoid one or two in the future 🙂

      Post a Reply
  4. Your article deals with the Cathay Pacific errors on their website. Well done.

    My personal experience was with United. They sent me an email advertising a BUSINESS CLASS round-trip from San Francisco to Singapore for $680. I immediately called the airline to book 2 tickets – there was no other way to book them at that price. United refused to sell the tickets claiming it was an error. I supplied United with copies of the email and proof that I attempted to buy the tickets 24 hours PRIOR to the publication of a retraction, all to no avail.

    United advertised a fare and then would not honor it. Blatant false advertising.

    Post a Reply


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