From time to time airlines (and their contractors) advertise airline tickets priced so low, they appear too good to be true.
Known as mistake airfares (or ‘fat-finger’ discounts), they’re typically the result of a typo or data-entry blunder.
Recent examples have included a first-class return ticket from NYC to Hong Kong for $43 on United (normally $11,000) and a round trip from the USA to Israel for $330 on EL AL Israel Airlines (normally $1,300).
Once on an online booking system, a mistake airfare is available for purchase by any flier lucky enough to find it.
Every case is unique – some airlines have honored mistake fares, while others haven’t.
Where tickets haven’t been honored, carriers have offered customers either a full refund (including fees) and reimbursed expenses or the chance to pay the balance for a full price ticket.
This is despite a Department of Transportation ruling in January 2012 (section 8) which asserts an airline cannot increase the price of a ticket once the consumer has received confirmation of his/her purchase (e.g. in the form of an email or entry on their credit card statement).
The ethics of capitalizing on an error has prompted heated debate, as these Time Magazine and Huffington Post articles and their comments prove. We will leave it to you to decide which side of it you fall on.
How to snag a mistake airfare in three steps:
1) Become a part of the frequent flier community
A mistake airfare is like a needle in a haystack – your chances of finding it are incredibly small. There is however an online community working together to find and share them. Seek out the relevant discussions on flyertalk.com.
2) Prime your social media
Where possible increase your chances of being alerted to mistake airfares by connecting with leading members of that community on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.
3) Buy immediately
A mistake airfare generates unusual activity alerting an airline quickly to their error. You’ll have to act lightening fast to get in before they correct it. Needless to say, being flexible to departure dates is a prerequisite. Oh, and hold off making other bookings (like hotels) in association with that flight to see how the airline chooses to handle its mistake.
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