Zach Dischner / Flickr

The Basic Rules of Buying Airline Mistake Fares

Because if you can’t get with the program, don’t even bother.

Get too hung up on the details, and a good deal will be gone before you blink. Mentally preparing for a mistake fare is half the battle, finding them is the second half. The thing is mistake fares aren’t truly that hard to find, it’s that most people simply don’t act fast enough to take advantage of an amazing deal. 

One Mile at a Time recently posted an amazing deal for Hong Kong Airlines business class tickets from Los Angeles to various Asia cities for around $600 roundtrip (typically $2,000+). This was a true mistake fare, considering that normal tickets from Los Angeles to Asia are already typically that price in economy.

In order to catch a deal like this, most people don’t simply understand that it’s important to buy first and think later (you already thought too much).

The interesting part about this particular business flight was that it had wide availability over the next nine months, and live for several hours. It took us 30 minutes to hunt down a deal that would work for a few family members and to text the booking link over. 

But 23 minutes from the initial text, the deal was dead, because they *had taken the time*—cue the heart attack—to Google $600 competing flights in economy. Economy! (you already thought too much)

If you can’t wrap your head around the following ground rules, then true, real-deal mistake fares are not worthy of that wallet. 

The Ground Rules

  1. Don’t be super picky about dates and timeframe. You plan *and move* things around the fare, not the other way around.
  2. Don’t call the airline, asking if it is a “real” deal, causing them to pull the deal.
  3. Do not make nonrefundable reservations until at least a week has passed. The airline has the option of not honoring the deal. Most typically do, but they are within their right not to honor it.
  4. Call (do not text) interested parties. Depending on how close you are to the person, it’s worth even booking the ticket for them first without asking for their permission.
  5. Some are so good that even if it means you’d have to find another way to get to the origin airport, do it. In this case, the interested parties would have had to find their way from Houston to Los Angeles, but for sitting 20 hours in business for less than some economy fares, it was completely worth it. Never mind that they would have been forced to connect through Los Angeles anyways.
  6. Business- and first- class tickets are typically refundable, and *any flight* departing from the U.S. Flights departing from the U.S. fall under the DOT’s 24-hour refund protection policy, even if it is a foreign airline. If in doubt, Priceline, Expedia and other bookings offer this protection. This is probably the only time where it’s not preferable to book direct with an airline.
  7. Take it or leave it. (you already thought too much)
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Not unlike Fight Club. (The Federalist)

The best mistake fares are typically gone within hours, if not minutes, depending on how great the deal is.

Remember, by the time a mistake fare has reached Thrillist, Conde Nast Traveler or whatever big media outlet it is, it’s really not that great of a deal. (It takes time to go through the news cycle, and great deals don’t typically live long enough and/or its already dead by the time its been reported.)

Everything is also heading into the shoulder season when airfare typically drops to ridiculous levels of cheapery, so “sales” are often simply the normal price for this season.

(the flight is already gone)

The Basic Rules of Buying Airline Mistake Fares via @maphappy
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