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Is the Era of the Airline Mistake Fare Over?

Stella Shon's image
Stella Shon
Stella Shon's image

Stella Shon

News Managing Editor

Countries Visited: 25U.S. States Visited: 22

With a degree in media and journalism, Stella has been in the points and miles game for more than 6 years. She most recently worked as a Corporate Communications Analyst for JetBlue. Find her work in ...
Edited by: Nick Ellis
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Nick Ellis

Editor & Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 35U.S. States Visited: 25

Nick’s passion for points began as a hobby and became a career. He worked for over 5 years at The Points Guy and has contributed to Business Insider and CNN. He has 14 credit cards and continues to le...

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Booking a mistake fare can be more exhilarating than the actual trip itself — until the airline cancels your ticket just days later.

That’s exactly what happened to many hopeful travelers this week, as an Air France business class deal spread like wildfire on the internet. (With fares as low as 1,500 Flying Blue miles, we don’t blame you for jumping on the opportunity.)

Later in the week, all of the mistake fares were canceled, with the exception of those booked by Flying Blue elite status holders.

Similar mistake fares have popped up over the years, and they, too, wound up getting canceled, which begs the question: Is traveling on a mistake fare going the way of the dodo?

The team at Upgraded Points has booked their fair share of mistake fares — here’s what we can say about this hot topic.

What Is a Mistake Fare — And How Do I Find Them?

Mistake fares occur when a ticket is priced significantly lower than intended. These can be sold directly via an airline’s website or an online travel agency (OTA), like Expedia or Kayak.

Of course, there’s no rhyme or reason to finding mistake fares. It can, quite literally, feel like you’re searching for a needle in a haystack, and in reality, they arise from pure happenstance.

Nowadays, many flight deal alert services notify their subscribers of mistake fares. No matter how you found the error deal, the principle remains the same: Drop everything and book the ticket as fast as possible, as there’s no guarantee that availability will still exist even an hour later.

Hot Tip:

If you do book a mistake fare, it’s best to wait days (or even weeks) before booking other travel arrangements, as there’s no guarantee that the airline will honor that ticket.

History of the Mistake Fare

There’s no doubt that mistake fares were much easier to come by in the past. In 2012, the Department of Transportation (DOT) ruled that airlines were required to honor mistake fares, citing a ban on “post-purchase airfare increases.”

Then in 2015, the DOT changed its guidance and began allowing airlines to cancel mistake fares. In turn, airlines were then made responsible for providing full refunds for the ticket and any other reasonable costs incurred.

Ever since, navigating mistake fares has been dicey.

“At least half of the mistake fares I’ve booked over the past decade have been canceled,” said Victoria Walker, Senior Content Contributor. “The ones honored have been the legendary Etihad Abu Dhabi mistake fare for $200 back in 2014 and South African Airways to Johannesburg for $300.”

A few years later at the end of 2018, Cathay Pacific accidentally put first class fares between the U.S. and Vietnam on sale for $600 round-trip. Chris Dong, Editor and Content Contributor, booked 2 of these round-trip tickets from Da Nang to New York-JFK.

Cathay Pacific 777 first class cabin
Cathay Pacific 777 first class is phenomenal and typically has the price tag to match. Image Credit: Stephen Au

“Cathay Pacific honored this as the best mistake fare of all time and made a bit of a PR campaign around it with the season of giving,” said Stephen Au, Senior Content Contributor, who successfully booked the ticket as well.

Mistake Fares During the Pandemic

Turning the page to more recent years — particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic upended the travel industry — mistake fares have become even more elusive.

In the summer of 2020, when there were almost no travelers taking to the skies, I stumbled across an award flight on TAP Air Portugal’s business class from Newark (EWR) to Casablanca (CMN) via Lisbon (LIS) for just 12,500 EVA Airways Infinity MileageLand miles.

I transferred my Capital One miles to the program — a painfully slow process. It took 2 full business days of waiting for my miles to transfer successfully, but I was able to book the one-way ticket for January 2021.

TAP Air Portugal Business Class A321neo
My most successful mistake fare to date. Image Credit: Stella Shon

The outcome? My ticket was honored — yet I was the only one who booked this mistake fare, to my knowledge.

Compare that to my colleague’s experience, who found out about an Air France La Première deal that was all the rage online also back in 2021.

“I booked a ticket in Air France’s exclusive La Première first class cabin from Algiers, Algeria, to Houston, Texas,” said Nick Ellis, Senior Editor and Content Contributor. “It was a screaming deal at under $1,000 for the one-way journey. Unfortunately, as is the case with so many error fares, Air France didn’t honor these tickets. They did offer an opportunity to move to business class, or a full refund. Given that it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, I took the refund and went back to the drawing board to figure out a way to finally get into the La Première cabin.”

The Best Mistake Fares From 2023

The recent Air France deal aside, 2023 has been a legendary year for mistake fares — honored or not.

This past spring, Japanese airline ANA was selling round-trip first and business class tickets for as little as $300 through an OTA. One man even booked $17,000 worth of tickets — with its “actual” worth north of $250,000, as reported by Bloomberg.

ANA First Class Empty Window Seat
Flying ANA first class for $300? Perhaps too good to be true. Image Credit: Stella Shon

I heard of the deal via a Secret Flying Facebook post, which, unsurprisingly, went viral as well. I managed to book the flight for early 2024, but it was later canceled and refunded a few months later.

So, what gives? With no shortage of blogs and social media accounts that post these types of deals, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before the airline cancels them altogether. And, presumably, airlines learn from these mistakes and implement procedures that would, in theory, reduce the number of error fares that are issued.

The reality is, more often than not, a mistake fare will get canceled by the airline. But not all hope is lost, as there have been some success stories.

“In July 2023, American had a mistake economy fare from NYC to Paris for $240 round-trip,” said Juan Ruiz, Senior Editor and Content Contributor. “It lasted no more than 1 hour, but I was able to book 2 tickets quickly. I waited weeks for a notification that the fare would likely not be honored and to my surprise, American did in fact honor the incredibly low fare. Paris under $250? Yes, please.”

Bottom Line:

At best, you get to fly for a fraction of the normal cost of a ticket — but at worst, you’ll get a full refund for the price you paid for a canceled ticket.

Mistake Fares Also Exist in the Hotel Industry

While most of the buzz surrounding error deals is about airfare, savvy travelers know that you can find epic mistake rates at hotels, too.

“I booked the Hyatt Regency Resorts World JFK mistake rate for $40 in 2022,” said Ryan Smith, Content Contributor. “I booked for 7 nights. They said they would honor a max of 3 nights for anyone who booked it.”

This past May, I booked the Dream South Beach hotel for just $30 a night, thanks to a deal shared by my friend and colleague, Victoria Walker. I had first booked several nights for the day after the deal was first found, and then a 2-week stay for February 2024.

Perhaps the 2-week stay was overly ambitious. However, the stay I had booked for May was honored by the hotel (a part of the World of Hyatt program), while the reservation in February was canceled.

Final Thoughts

However you feel about mistake fares, 1 thing is clear: they’re slowly, but surely, dwindling over time.

That’s not to say that mistake fares are impossible to find, as error deals can happen at any time. But due to the viral nature of mistake fares, airlines (and hotels!) seem less likely to honor them as they may have been in the past.

If you happen to find a mistake fare in the future, it certainly doesn’t hurt to book the deal. The only thing you’re risking is some disappointment, as the chances of it getting honored for the rate you paid are much slimmer than they were just a few years ago.

Stella Shon's image

About Stella Shon

With a degree in media and journalism, Stella has been in the points and miles game for more than 6 years. She most recently worked as a Corporate Communications Analyst for JetBlue. Find her work in The New York Times, USA Today, and more.

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