I’ve been in the points and miles game for a few years now and one thing I’ve never gotten lucky enough to catch is a mistake fare. Mistake fares are too good to be true prices on certain routes. For example, a few years ago American Airlines sold Washington DC to Beijing for $450 in business class. I was all over that deal thanks to a friend, but didn’t get lucky enough to fly.
Since then I’ve seen countless “mistake fares” and none have them have been worth pursuing. Also, thanks to radical improvements in technology, mistake fares don’t last very long. In the past it took several hours for airlines to “push” airfares. Airline’s systems used to only update once or twice a day, but now update nearly every hour. On top of that, it seem most large established carriers are simply making fewer mistakes. As time goes on it gets harder and harder to find mistake fares, let alone book them. Below you’ll find a few of the tips I’ve learned over the years to book a mistake fare that you can actually fly.
Pay Immediately, Do Not Put Mistake Fares On Hold
Usually mistake airfares happen fast. From the time they go live to the time they die may only be a couple of hours. In that time you have to make several rapid fire decisions. Where are you going? What dates work? Should I buy two and go back to back? Can I afford to go? Can I afford not to go? All of those questions need answers in a very short period of time. Even worse, thanks to sites blogs, twitter, and email alerts mistake fares become public fast. Someone else could book the last available seat on the flights you’ve selected before you have a chance to pay.
Since there is so much going on in such a short period of time the logical thing to do is hold many of these flights all at once. It makes sense, a hold is essentially a 24+ hour guarantee. You’ve probably put other flights on hold in the past so why would a mistake be any different? Well, mistake fares are very different.
With mistake fares the airline typically erases your held airfare within the 24 hour hold window. You think you’ll go to bed and sleep in the mistake fare and when you wake up it’s gone. Likewise even if you decided to purchase the mistake prior to the airline deleting it if the fare is since pulled you probably won’t receive a ticket.
That’s why it’s important to follow the old adage of “book now, think later” when dealing with mistake fares.
Do NOT Call The Airline
This rule applies for almost anything relating to incorrectly priced airfare. It’s especially true for fuel dumping, hidden city ticketing, or otherwise tricked tickets, but definitely applies to mistake airfare. Even if you only suspect the fare is a mistake you should still wait at least 24 to 48 hours to call. Calling the airline usually kills the deal instantly and if it is a mistake you won’t receive a ticket anyway. When dealing with a mistake fare it’s best to complete all interactions with the airline online.
The do not call the airline rule also applies for the days immediately after booking a mistake fare. If the airline does call the fare a mistake and cancels booked tickets, but somehow misses yours, calling the airline may cost you your ticket. You should avoid calling the airline for seat assignments, travel related questions, and any itinerary changes. The goal is to avoid a human who understands the mistake from looking at your reservation. In the hours immediately following a mistake fare it isn’t clear what the airline is going to do. Calling the airline is the fasted way to kill the deal before you know the outcome.
Do Not Make Non-refundable Travel Plans
After booking a mistake fare many travelers are tempted to book positioning flights (if necessary), book hotels, or book other travel arrangements. This is a huge mistake as you still don’t know if the airline is going to honor the fare. You can book a refundable hotel stay if you want, but even so I’d avoid doing so. In the days following a mistake fare you just don’t know what will happen. There’s no telling if the airline will honor the fare, award miles, or allow you to fly in the cabin purchased. Whenever dealing with mistake airfare it’s always a good idea to wait at least a week or two for the dust to settle before making additional travel plans.
Use A Credit Card To Purchase Tickets
As with any other travel purchases, using a credit card offers a variety of protections not offered by a debit card. If for example the airline changes the cabin or choses not to award miles for a mistake fare, you can dispute the charges. I always use a credit card when booking airfare because of the various travel protection benefits offered from the card.
Another reason why I always use a credit card when booking airfare is a little more simple. The points. Booking airfare with the American Express Platinum card for example earns 5X points on airfare. There’s no point in missing out on valuable points just because you’re booking a mistake fare.
Understand The Fare Rules And Visa Requirements
It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into when booking a mistake fare. You might think it’s a great idea to jump on a fare immediately without thinking, but some airlines add a ton of fees to their fares. Cancellation fees, change fees, and even no-show fees. It’s tempting to book flights in the future with little intention of flying, but you may end up paying a lot of money for not showing up for your flight! Although it’s tempting to book immediately, it’s always a good idea to understand the fare rules before submitting payment.
The same is true for a country’s visa requirements. Some countries require tourists to apply for a visa prior to traveling. Other countries allow you to purchase a visa at the airport prior to traveling and some countries allow you to purchase a visa upon arrival. Many countries don’t have any visa requirements whatsoever. All in all it’s important to understand a country’s visa requirements prior to booking and especially prior to traveling.
Mistake fares are what points and miles hobbyists live for. You may think it’s the lie-flat bed, the premium alcohol in the lounge, or the car service to the plane. In reality it’s mistake fares. They come around every so often and when they do it’s better than Christmas. Finding and booking a mistake airfare is one of the most exciting things about the hobby. Especially if the fare is one you can use.
That being said, when booking a mistake fare it’s important to understand what you’re getting yourself into. Booking too soon could cause a ton of headache later on, while waiting too long could cost you the deal. Either way I hope the above helps if you ever find yourself on the payment page of a mistake fare wondering if you should pull the trigger.
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