Airline Mistake Fares: How I Flew To Italy for $125 Roundtrip
I wandered aimlessly down alleyways so small my shoulders practically touched both sides. I meandered over canals filled with gondolas, amazed that a city could be built in such a way and that it had stood, practically untouched, for so long.
Venice, where getting lost is the ultimate joy.
3 days later, I was staring at Michaelangelo’s David, climbing to the top of one of Europe’s most amazing cathedrals, and eating my body weight in gelato.
Florence, a city where every street corner is filled with unimaginable beauty.
3 days after that, I was standing in the underground tunnels of the Colosseum, imagining the roar of the crowd and the spectacles that once took place there, and spending my nights staring at the perfect symmetry of the Pantheon.
Rome, an entire world worth of history compacted in to one city.
For many people, a trip to Italy is right at the top of their to-do list, and with good reason. It’s an absolutely amazing country.
But for me, the trip happened much more spontaneously.
And much, much more cheaply.
I was able to fly direct, from Newark Airport to Milan, for $125. Roundtrip. With no hidden fees.
Just $125 TOTAL!
How about when I mention that last year, I flew from New York to Madrid for $225 total.
And while I pride myself on my ability to use frequent flyer miles to travel cheaply all over the world, these trips are something that ANYONE can do.
No magic formulas or tricks.
Just something called a mistake fare.
What is a Mistake Fare?
As you probably guessed, a mistake fare is just what the name implies.
It’s an airline ticket that, for various reasons, has popped up and is priced out for MUCH CHEAPER than it should be.
It’s different than a promotion, sale or off-peak ticket in that this is, you guessed it, an actual mistake.
Why Do Mistake Fares Happen?
Mistake fares can happen for a variety of reasons, but the most common is a technical glitch on an airline’s website.
The $125 ticket to Italy happened because a Norwegian website that sells airline tickets wasn’t including the “fuel surcharge” portion of the ticket in the final price, and so everything was showing up as $500-700 less that it should have been.
The $225 ticket to Madrid happened because a Japanese website was inadvertently giving a discount to every ticket purchased on their website, not just the tickets from Japan to Spain like the original promotion called for.
The important point isn’t really WHY it happens (although nerds like me may be interested) but how to find them and what to do when it does happen.
How to Find Mistake Fares
There are two main ways to learn about mistake fares. One is very easy, and the other is a bit more difficult.
The easy way is to follow the amazing folks at The Flight Deal.
Since they’re much smarter than I am, they’ve figured out a way to build some algorithm that constantly spits out good deals on airfares.
I don’t understand it, don’t pretend to understand it, and am just happy they exist!
Each day, they’ll post a bunch of good deals on airfares. It’s important to realize that most of these are NOT mistake fares, just decent prices for regular flights.
However, when a mistake fare does pop up, they are almost always one of the first people to know about it, and they’ll post it to their site.
I’d highly recommend you check their site out regularly, even for good prices on “normal” tickets and follow them on Twitter.
The other way to find mistake fares is through Flyertalk, the largest online forum for mileage
geeks enthusiasts. The “mileage run” forum is where mistake fares are posted.
Warning: It may take a while to understand the “language” of the forum.
If you’re interested, press on. If not, take the easy way.
That way, you’ll never miss a mistake fare again!
What To Do When You Hear About a Mistake Fare
Book first, ask questions later.
Yes, it sounds impulsive, and it certainly is, but that’s how you score these type of deals.
Mistake fares do not last long, and sometimes get pulled within a matter of hours.
Once a website sees a major influx in tickets being booked, they’ll get suspicious, and with just a little bit of snooping, will figure out something is wrong. Then, they’ll correct the situation.
If you sit around figuring things out too long, you’ll miss out.
The $225 ticket to Madrid lasted about 10 hours, as did the $125 ticket to Milan.
Also, most airlines will allow a 24 hour window for cancellations, so you are left with an “escape clause” should you book and figure out that you really can’t take the trip.
So take a few minutes (but just a few), figure out whether you can feasibly take advantage of the mistake fare being offered, and then book.
Will My Mistake Fare Ticket Be Honored?
Ah, the golden question.
In the past, many mistake fares were not honored, and tickets were cancelled. The people who booked the tickets would get upset, but really, there was no real pressure to honor the tickets.
But now, thanks to the world of social media, airlines and websites are under much more scrutiny when it comes to honoring these mistake fares. The backlash is incredible, and now people have an open forum for voicing their displeasure.
Thanks to that, almost all of the mistake fares in the past two years have been honored.
So while it’s impossible to say with certainty that each and every mistake fare will be honored, there is probably a good chance that it will.
What Should I Do After I Book a Mistake Fare?
Wait. Take a few deep breaths. Attempt to temper your excitement (which is easier said than done).
And NEVER book your accommodations or make any other plans for the trip until you’re 100% sure they will be honored.
With mistake fares, it can take awhile to get a confirmed ticket.
For the $125 ticket to Milan, I waited an agonizing 36 hours before I got a confirmation email.
For the $225 trip to Madrid, it was 2 days of Alitalia Airlines saying “no we aren’t honoring these” until they finally relented and confirmed the tickets.
If you’re feeling obsessive, you can constantly refresh the Flyertalk thread about your specific mistake fare and live and die with each new piece of speculation.
Or you can be much more sane, go about your daily life, and just wait to see what happens.
How Will I Know If My Ticket is Confirmed
Each airline is different, but in almost all instances, you’ll receive an email.
If you get an email with an actual ticket number, then you’re probably good to go. Just make sure to double check either by calling the airline or by reading the thread on Flyertalk.
Will I Get Bumped From My Flight Or Be Treated Badly By the Staff Because I Got a Mistake Fare?
No one will be able to tell from your ticket that you got a mistake fare. It’ll be the exact same as anyone who paid for a regular ticket.
So no need to worry about any bad blood with the airline or their staff.
Is Buying a Mistake Fare Illegal?
No, not at all. Buying a mistake fare ticket is perfectly legal. Whether they choose to honor it or not is their choice, but you’ve done nothing wrong.
How Often Do Mistake Fares Happen?
There’s no rhyme or reason to mistake fares, and they can happen at any time.
Because of this, I’d recommend three things:
- Following Extra Pack of Peanuts on Twitter and Facebook
- Following The Flight Deal on Twitter and checking out their website
- Jumping on a deal when it comes up.
Happy (almost free) travels!
What mistake fares have you taken advantage of? What are the craziest ones you’ve heard? Let us know in the comments below.
[bluebox]To read more about our trip to Italy, and our best cheap travel tricks, check out these posts:
- The Top 10 Ways to Save Money in Italy
- GowithOh, My Secret Weapon for Finding Accommodations in Europe
- GowithOh Apartment- Venice
- GowithOh Apartment- Florence
- GowithOh Apartment- Rome
- Postcards from Italy- Our 14 Best Photos