5 Things to Know about Finding Mistake Airfares

Looking for a cheap getaway this fall or anytime? If you're a gambler, keep your eyes open for mistake airfares which are impossibly cheap deals that crop up now and again due to human or computer error.

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A recent example of a mistake airfare involved flights to Israel on El Al that normally go for as much as $1,600 but were mistakenly listed for $300+. The airline honored these incredible deals.

Here's what you need to know.

1. Stay connected to find mistake fares

It's almost easier for mistake fares to find you rather than the other way around, so sign up for airfare alerts and let technology do the work for you. When incredible prices appear, you'll hear about them. And check with the folks at FlyerTalk – when mistake fares happen, they seem to hear first.

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2. Book mistake fares immediately

Airlines would really rather you not find (and book) their mistakes, so they work quickly to correct these errors. Back in 2007 when the now defunct airline ATA offered deals from Orlando to Maui for just $118 each-way, you better believe they disappeared quickly – especially since the real price back then was $1,118 each-way. You have two things working against you: the airlines fixing mistakes, and the naturally short life span of any sale seats. You don't have time to say, gosh, I wonder if I could find a friend to travel with me – unless your friend is sitting right there with you – you only have time to book the tickets.

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3. Be ready to take off

Flexibility is key, not so much for grabbing a mistake fare, but for actually using it. Say you're locked into a July vacation; you wouldn't have been able to enjoy those May Lufthansa flights of a couple of years back – Chicago to Frankfurt for about $300.

That said, in 2010, American Airlines erroneously promoted a deal good for a single weekend that wound up being valid for dozens of weekends throughout the year.

4. Be socially media conscious

Back to those El Al deals – for a while there, it didn't appear that the airline was going to honor those cheap mistake airfares, but what may have changed things was an onslaught of publicity from tweets and Facebook as excited travelers found out about the deals. It's the kind of publicity you just can't buy, and some airlines love that. On the other hand, there are airlines that don't mind terrible publicity, as long as it saves them some money.

5. Don't count your chickens

Sometimes, airlines say no to mistake airfares. In Delta's contract of carriage, for example, it states it won't honor these fares. And while the Department of Transportation says the price of purchased fares cannot be raised, it appears they can be canceled and there are several cases of airlines not honoring these fares. About all you can do is book and hope for the best.

More from Rick Seaney:

Getting Mistake Airfares for a Song

Rick Seaney
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