Frequent flier and points expert Gilbert Ott knows a thing or two about finding a good flight deal.
As owner of air miles site God Save the Points, he spends his time travelling the globe in first class, writing about the latest hacks in the travel industry. He even once bagged a free ride on a private jet.
But while the power of air miles is widely recognised, Ott says there’s another, largely unacknowledged way to bag a sweet deal.
In a blog post, he shares how to take advantage of “error fares” – the mistakes airlines and travel companies make where they make a flight available for much cheaper than intended.
Using a mistake fare, Ott booked a business class flight with Qatar Airways from Amsterdam to Tokyo – via Doha – for just $640 (£473) roundtrip.
“That felt like the best deal I’d ever seen, and then ANA just went and offered $630 (£466) roundtrip business class between Vancouver and Sydney!” he wrote in his blog post. “Yes, Australia in business class for less than people pay for coach. These are just two examples of the insane deals you want to tune in for – error fares.”
So how do error fares happen?
“Unlike the old days, airlines file airfares constantly,” Ott wrote. “Often, they involve humans or computers, both of which are known to make mistakes, or fail!”
“An error fare could be someone forgetting a digit, like $700 (£517) instead of $7000 (£5,178) (whoops), or offering a deal to unintended cities, amongst many others. These days however, airlines love tempting us into booking extra trips – just because – so some fares that seem too good to be true may not even be an error at all. Just a super limited time deal.”
Ott said there are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with error fares.
1. Firstly, you need to know where to find them.
“If this was easy, everyone would do it,” Ott wrote.
He suggests following the God Save The Points Facebook page for updates on flight deals, as well as forums where most deals originate first: The Flyertalk Premium Fare Deal forum, “the place for business class deals,” and the Mileage Run forum, “where most economy deals can be found.”
Business Insider has also written about DealRay, a members-only travel app that sends real-time alerts and push notifications whenever it detects massive price drops, error fares, or flash sales.
2. Set up alerts that come to you.
“Why incessantly click around all day, when you could just have deals pushed to you?” Ott wrote.
“Our Google Flights tricks show you how to set alerts for all your favorite bucket list flights, so you may even beat ‘the blogs’ to finding an incredible deal.”
You can also choose to get notifications from God Save The Points’ Facebook page. “You can do the same for other great deal sites, and also get email alerts when new fares pop up in the two Flyertalk forums we mentioned. Sure, this requires some legwork, but how much is an unimaginably luxurious trip – without the price tag – worth?”
- Gilbert Ott
3. Act fast, because fares don’t last.
“These are the fares of peoples dreams, and they happen in all cabins,” he wrote. “Whether it’s $100 round the world economy tickets or $600 for 40+ hours in flat bed business class, people want in! As such, when word spreads, they don’t last. Most fares last mere hours, if that. The key is getting in early, getting in fast, and asking questions later – oh, and don’t call the airline.”
4. Book directly through the airline, where possible.
“Do you think a travel company wants to be holding the bag when the airline wants all the money from the digit they left out? Yeah… no.
“Airlines and hotels are far more likely to honor any mistake fares booked directly through them – rather than those booked through online travel agencies. They also issue tickets for direct booking faster – which can be a decider in whether the deal is allowed or not.
“So, yeah, do your best to go directly to whoever the operator of the deal is, despite what any blogs say (they make money from the sites they promote).”
- Gilbert Ott
5. Wait at least 24 hours after booking to contact the airline.
“If you’d love friends or family to join and they don’t get back to you quickly, you gotta cut em’ loose. Available dates dry up in seconds, and it really is a race against time. Find something you believe works, do your best to make it work and book ASAP. Once you’ve booked, don’t call the airline or hotel to ask if it is going to be honored. At least not for 24 hours, until others have a chance to book as well, and until the dust settles.”
6. Know that it may not work.
“Our biggest fear in publicising error fares, versus just great deals, is that error fares are not always honored,” Ott wrote. “That can mean a purchase you made will take up to 14 days to be refunded. For some, that can be quite a game changer.
Back in 2015, travellers went into an online buying frenzy after finding a way to get return flights with United Airlines from London to Newark for as little as £50 (about $75).
United Airlines suspended sales from its Denmark website where the issue originated, but not before thousands of people purchased tickets for a bargain price. However, the airline said it would not honour the tickets due to a software error.
“Know that when you book an error fare, you shouldn’t book any other travel plans for at least a few days, until the airline or hotel agrees to honor the deal or not. If you can’t afford to potentially have the money waiting in limbo, you may want to opt out, but if they don’t honor, you’ll always receive a refund. For sure.”