The Top Ten Rules of Mistake Fares, Error Fares, and Flight Deals

When a deal comes along like the $250 Business Class flights this week, there are a million things that go through your head. When should I go? How should I get there? Should I call my family? What about other cities? 

Mistake fares, error fares, fat finger mistakes, deals, sales, however you describe them… they come and go within a matter of hours and sometimes a matter of minutes.

Many airlines honor these fares in the end, so learning the rules of the road (or the air, if you will) is essential for taking advantage of all the deals.

Never Call the Airline

The primordial rule of any deal that sounds “too good to be true” is that it probably is. Never call the airline to clue them into what’s going on. If you can’t book it online, try, try again.

Try OTAs

OTAs, also known as Online Travel Agencies, are one of the best kept secrets of error fares. You don’t have to buy directly with the airline. You can often buy from one of these online travel agencies and the ticket will be issued right away.

Many times, the actual mistake is because one of these travel agencies screwed something up.

a screenshot of a screenshot of a website

Book Now, ask Permission Later

These deals are only around for hours at a time, not days. Don’t take those precious hours trying to wrangle the entire family into a Group FaceTime to see if Rome sounds good in September. 

Have all of your family’s pertinent information at the ready (a file on your phone or computer) so you can book the flights for them. Then, you can call them later in the evening and tell them the good news… that you scored an amazing deal!

24 hour Cancellation Rules

Worried that your friends or family won’t be able to get the time off of work or that they want to head to a different place? Perhaps they don’t have a passport after all?

Don’t worry! Every flight that touches the United States comes with a 24 hour cancellation policy, so you can book with confidence. Book away, and then break the news over the dinner table.

a man looking at a bridge

Limited Destinations

Like yesterday’s flight deal, not every European destination was on the map. The list included Dublin, Rome, Vienna, and Amsterdam. There were secondary deals to Prague, Paris, and London, but not every European city.

Limited Travel Times

Chances are that the deal isn’t going to be for any day of the week, any month, or any year. You might find that the departures are only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and the return might come with a 19 hour layover in Lisbon.

It’s all part of the fun! These deals aren’t going to be absolute perfection (at least not usually). They’re gonna require a little bit of flexibility, perhaps an overnight stay in a new city, and maybe you’ll have to change up a day or two.

But then again, for $250 in business class, who cares?

Extras Come Later

Time is of the essence, so just get the ticket booked and move on. Remember, you can add in your frequent flier number, choose seats, and pick special meals things later. All of those can be added after the fact, but they take precious time away from the booking.

Focus on the booking. Focus on getting a ticket number and a confirmation number first. Then, once you’ve got the confirmation, you can make any updates later on.

a desk with a computer and a chair in the back

Book Hotels Later

The airline might decide to cancel the deal, even up to a week or more later. Don’t go making hotel reservations, especially if they’re non-refundable, until you know for sure that your flight isn’t going to be cancelled.

Use the right Credit Card

If you’re booking directly through the airline, make sure that your credit card earns multiple points per dollar when buying with the airline. Not every credit card gives you bonus points for online travel agencies, especially if the card only gives you miles for bookings “directly with airlines.”

I put the charge on my American Express Gold card which earns an airline bonus, but since it was through an OTA, I only got 1 membership reward point per dollar.

Chase Sapphire and Citi Premier/Prestige should do the trick!

a coffee cup and a credit card

Think outside the Deal

One of the biggest complaints that we hear about these deals is that they don’t go to the places that you want to go. This is where low-cost carriers can come to the rescue. 

The hardest part of these deals is getting across the pond. Once you’re in Europe, you can snag a low-cost carrier, or even a train, to go to where you want.

On our recent deal, we snagged a flight to Dublin. Want to head to Madrid? A quick $20 flight on Aer Lingus can get you there, even if the flight wasn’t originally to Madrid.



Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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  1. The other point under the current circumstances is that you need to make sure you can actually do something useful with the ticket. Buying a $250 RT business class ticket to Europe when you’re going to land in a 10-day quarantine isn’t a good deal!

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  2. The problem with using online travel agencies is that if the airline cancels the ticket, at any time up to departure, the passenger’s contract is with the agency, not with the airline. Some of the agencies are based overseas, and have, in their terms and conditions, a clause that says the passenger will submit disputes to arbitration in their country, say, Singapore.

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  3. Exception to the 24 hour rule is Avianca

    I recently tried to change or cancel a Star Alliance Parnter ticket they booked and trying all possible means: phone, WhatApp Chat and (broken) web chat could never reach a human within 24 hours. I sat on hold for 6 hours.

    Contrary to their false claim you can do nothing on a Star Alliance Partner Award Ticket on thier website

    By time I reached a human two days later the day/flight I wanted was gone

    I took what I could get

    Two days later Swiss had a schedule change

    No rebook attempt by Avianca.

    Currently Avianca says they have to any Business seat award tickets entire month of June for SFO-CDG

    Would not matter as all my points are limbo

    Avianca claims it takes a week to 10 days to redeposit but the real kicker is the claim that 5-8 months for refund of fees is “industry practice” (what BS)

    Yes, the redemption rates are good but never transfer your flexible credit card points to this inept and unethical airline. You may well find yourself at the airport with no valid ticket and unable to reach Avianca

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