The Airlines’ ‘Mistake Fares’ Are Your Ticket To Finding a Cheap Flight

Woman walking to airport
Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder.

Traveling is awesome.

But it can also be prohibitively expensive — particularly when you want to explore faraway locales. It becomes imperative to save money anywhere you can, and flights are the place to look first.

Visiting as many corners of the world as you want to starts with learning how to travel on the cheap. The good news is that, with the right approach, it’s entirely possible to do. Sometimes it’s even easy.

To illustrate: What if I told you that you could fly from Houston to Melbourne, Australia, round trip, for $184?

On at least one occasion, my team and I at Dollar Flight Club found that was possible, thanks to a little-known nuance of the travel industry: mistake fares.

Mistakes fares, like the name suggests, occur when airlines accidentally publish incorrect ticket prices.

There are many reasons this might happen:

  • An airline employee might key in the wrong numbers.
  • Online travel agencies might omit fuel surcharges and other fees.
  • There may be a currency conversion error.

One of the tactics our team uses to deliver on this promise is to scour the web all day for mistake fares. Here are some of the best mistake fares we’ve come across:

  • San Francisco to New Zealand: $260 round trip.
  • New York City to Ivory Coast: $318 round trip.
  • Business class from U.S. cities to Lima, Peru: $450 round trip.
  • East and West coast U.S. to India: $244 round trip.

OK, that sounds great. But how exactly can you take advantage of mistake fares?

Generally speaking, you have two options: Do the grunt work yourself or sign up for fare alert services and wait to get alerted to the best deals.

We understand some of you might prefer taking the long route; we’re all trying to save money here. That being the case, here are some tips to keep in mind if you decide to hunt for mistake fares on your own.

Check Sites like Google Flights and Momondo Daily

Man using his laptop
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

If you’re feeling especially proactive, make it a habit to check Google Flights and Momondo periodically throughout the day.

They are the two powerhouses in the flight-search business that you need to be aware of. You never know when you might stumble across a deal that’s too good to pass up. Our team recommends visiting these both when you’re looking to find cheap flights.

Google Flights is the best search engine in the business because it allows you to easily browse the calendar view so you can find the cheapest travel dates for your route. Browse the calendar view up to nine months ahead so you know the cheapest time frame to travel, and then narrow down on the dates you want.

Keep a tab on the price you found and double check those dates with Momondo to make sure you have the absolute cheapest deal. Momondo almost always brings back the cheapest fares — even cheaper than Google Flights 95% of the time — so it’s well worth a few minutes of your time to check.

Book the Flight Right Away

After weeks of searching, you’ve finally found your first mistake fare. Congratulations!

Book it as quickly as possible. Once an airline realizes it’s published a mistake fare, it moves fast to fix it and bump the price back up. In general, these mistake fares are available only for a few hours.

Not sure if you really want to fly to that location? Not a problem. Airlines always have a 24-hour cancellation policy, so you have some extra time to figure out the logistics.

Tell Your Friends About Your Fortune

Depending on how lucky you are, you’ve just saved hundreds or potentially thousands of dollars, thanks to your mistake fare. That’s awesome.

Tell your friends about it. Maybe they’ll end up joining you on your trip.

Wait to Book Your Hotel Until Your Fare is Confirmed

Woman relaxing after travel
Solovyova/Getty Images

It doesn’t happen often. But there have been times when airlines don’t honor mistake fares.

In the past, the U.S. Department of Transportation required airlines to honor mistake fares when consumers purchased tickets directly from the airlines’ websites (rather than from online travel agencies like Expedia or Priceline).

More recently, the government has relaxed slightly on that requirement. However, airlines always want good press, and revoking tickets is not going to enhance their image, so they usually don’t do it.

But if airlines revoke the mistake fare or require you to pay full price, you’ll be able to get a refund. At the end of the day, it’s well worth your time to book the flight.

Don’t book a hotel until your mistake fare is confirmed by the airline. Otherwise, you may end up forfeiting a nonrefundable deposit if you can’t make the trip.

Summing It All Up

Getting cheap airfare can be tricky. But it doesn’t have to be impossible.

Just make sure you keep an eye on Google Flights, Momondo, and cheap flight alert services so you can start seeing more of the world while doing less damage to your wallet.

Good luck, and happy travels!

Jesse Neugarten is the founder of Dollar Flight Club, where he helps 500,000 people find cheap international flights. Originally from South Africa, he now lives in rainy Seattle, Washington. If you ever need help finding cheap flights, he’s your guy!