Photo by author

I like getting deals on airfares around the continent or around the world and have jumped on a number of airline mistake fares over the last fifteen years from a $120 roundtrip flight to  New York City to a $400 hop to Hong Kong over Chinese New Year but recently have seen novices make major errors in their rush to grab the deal so will share some tips to avoid possible problems.

Mistake fares are airfares that are incorrectly priced when made available for sale to the public  or “published” whether through online sales channels or travel agent global distribution system (GDS) . It could be a missed decimal point that makes a $5,000 fare into a $500 fare, one-way fares inadvertently loaded as round-trip fares or hefty fuel surcharges excluded dropping a fare by hundreds of dollars.  These mistake fares are different animals than airline special one-day sales or deeply discounted seat sales although at times it can be hard to tell the difference.

As the error fares are usually spotted quickly and promoted widely by a growing number of websites and blogs their lifespan can be as short as a few hours to as much as one day so there is a degree of urgency for those eager to grab a deal before it is withdrawn or corrected. That urgency however shouldn’t prevent consumers from doing a little due diligence to educate themselves on exactly what it is they are purchasing because by the Latin maxim ‘caveat emptor’ it’s a case of let the buyer beware. Here are a few tips to avoid possible pitfalls:

  • research the airline or airlines(s) to find out whether there are checked bag or advance seat assignment fees as these can easily add up to $100 per person
  • check the airline and type of economy seat. One recent deal from Edmonton to Osaka to Nagoya for $668 round-trip with taxes included the trans-Pacific flight from Vancouver on Air Canada Rouge which is a charter airline-like airline division of Air Canada with fewer in-flight comforts and tighter seat pitch than other airlines which could make the 11-hour flight uncomfortable for an unsuspecting flyer
  • ensure you book the ticket in the exactly the same way you name is shown on your passport. It may sound elementary to know your own name however once recently I heard from someone who hadn’t taken the time to check how their name was shown on their passport and confirmed the ticket as Mike instead of their given name of Michael which turned out to be an $400 lesson as the ticket became useless since the airline and security would not allow the passenger to board due the name error and no changes on the very restrictive ticket were possible
  • once you have a ticket-in-hand don’t go too far planning expensive add-ons such as hotels, tours, concerts or shows because while fare errors are the airline’s fault and are usually honoured there have been cases where they aren’t and the tickets cancelled and the amount paid refunded
  • don’t expect to be able to make changes to a ticket issued on an mistake fare as either changes aren’t permitted or if they are the airline will charge you both a change fee which can as much as  $200 plus the difference in fare between your new travel date and your original ticket which since it was stupendously low could also cost several hundreds of dollars or more. Where there are problems is when flyers buy error fares 10 months in advance, for example, and find down the road the date confirmed conflicts with other plans but I would suggest thinking of these as one-shot deals not easily or cheaply changed. Sometimes the prices are so low, like my $120 roundtrip to New York, that the not using the ticket as planned isn’t a huge financial penalty but when the amount is several times higher it makes throwing it away unused much harder
  • if you have a relationship with an experienced travel agent it can’t hurt to get their input and if possible have them issue the ticket to take the onus for entry errors off you. Even if there’s a small service fee applied to issue the ticket the travel agent may point out things you weren’t aware of or didn’t appreciate so isn’t that small cost worth the piece of mind knowing you’ve covered all your bases? There could even by a chance the agent may spot concerns and recommend against going ahead with the error fare ticket purchase saving you not only money but a possible horrible holiday
  • weigh time vs. money as cost and convenience rarely come together so ask yourself if an inconvenient set of flights is really worth the cost. For example, just because the scenic route on the air deal back from Glasgow via the U.S. is the lowest price is 6 hours longer and enduring U.S. Customs really worth $60 over a shorter and more direct routing that avoids a U.S. connection? Time literally is money and within reason I’ll trade the latter for the former.

These are some things to consider when browsing for air deals as you want to ensure you are getting a deal and not an ordeal. Do you have stories about flying or buying mistake airfares or outrageous airlines airfares? If so please post your comments as I’m always interested in hearing feedback from others.