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In an era of devalued airline loyalty programs and glitches in IT systems, avid travellers are always looking for an opportunity to travel in luxury while paying minimal out-of-pocket. Reflecting upon my travel experiences in recent years, it became evident that my most memorable trips were made possible by discovering and booking error fares honoured by the airlines. In this article, we will delve into the realm of error fares, exploring what they are, their legal implications, actions to take after booking one, and how they compare to traditional flight award redemptions.
What are Error Fares
Error fares are essentially airline pricing mistakes due to human or technical errors. These errors can result in unbelievably low fares to various destinations. Whether it’s a misplaced decimal point, currency conversion glitch, Global Distribution System (GDS) pricing issue, or other unintended mishaps, error fares allow travellers to seize incredible, unimaginable deals. For example, the round-the-world One World ticket for $4000 in business class, the $500 Air France first-class ticket from Africa to North America, or the more recent ANA First Class tickets from Asia to North America for $800.
Finding Error Fares
This used to be the tricky part. But now, several services and apps make it easy to know about the latest premium cabin deals, including error fares. If you like a ‘do-it-yourself’ approach, learning the FlyerTalk Premium Cain fares jargon is the best way forward. The community shares their findings, and you can be alerted to the error fare threads.
If you prefer to simply be notified when a deal or an error fare comes around, I would advise looking into the following premium services;
- Next Departure (best for Canadian gateways YYZ, YVR, YUL, YOW, YYC, YEG)
- Secret Flying (worldwide)
- Thrifty Traveler Premium (US leaning)
Do’s and Don’ts of Booking an Error Fare
Once you’ve successfully secured an error fare, it’s crucial to take appropriate actions to protect your booking and ensure a smooth travel experience. Here are some recommended steps to follow:
- The book first, think later: When you come across a fare that looks unusually low priced, book right away, as timing is critical. Error fares especially get fixed or snapped up within a couple of hours. Most airlines offer a 24-hour cancellation and refund policy if you decide to withdraw from your purchase.
- Do not call the airline: Calling the airline can lead to an automatic ticket cancellation and alerts them for a fix. This may seem obvious advice, but many reach the airline “to be 100% sure of their purchase.” Don’t do it.
- Hold off on additional plans: Avoid making non-refundable hotel or car rental reservations until the error fare booking is confirmed. You don’t want to be caught off-guard if the airline decides not to honour the bookings – the usual timeframe of confirmation from an airline is 2-5 business days.
- Monitor communication channels: Stay vigilant for any updates or notifications from the airline regarding your booking. Check your email regularly and follow the airline’s social media accounts for timely updates.
Error Fares – Legal Recourse and Ethical Considerations
While error fares may seem like an ethical grey area, they are generally considered valid and legal purchases. Owing to consumer protection laws and regulations, airlines often honour these mistakenly priced tickets. However, each situation can differ. Airlines reserve the right to cancel error fare bookings or request additional payment as they see fit. As a responsible traveller, you must know the legal implications and potential risks of booking an error fare. The most recent “incident” of an error fare attracted attention from the mainstream media, which may have caused All Nippon Airways (ANA) to cancel most of the tickets. While a few posters on Flyertalk are looking to submit claims to the Department of Transportation (DOT), based on my experience and conversations I had with legal experts, ANA is within its rights to cancel the tickets, and those who seek legal actions may not have a high chance of winning their claims.
Error Fares Vs Flight Awards
If saving money is the goal, error fares and flight awards offer unique opportunities and challenges. Let’s compare the benefits, limitations, and overall value;
Perfect flight awards are equally hard to come by, and thanks to dynamic pricing, the overall cost is not predictable anymore. For example, a one-way domestic flight from Toronto to Vancouver for 200,000 miles in business class throws value out the window.
On the other hand, error fares and premium cabin fare deals have become readily available in the past decade. With error fares, you can book anything within the available date range. Although it may not seem as flexible as award flights, error fares offer more flexibility to book further ahead and eliminate concerns about airlines’ pricing strategies or partner award availability.
Ease of Booking
Flight award booking often requires a lot of time spent on the phone to confirm a booking. Think Aeroplan or British Airways call center to book a multi-carrier flight or when flight changes occur. I aspire not to spend my time playing Hang-Up-Call-Again (HUCA) games.
With error fares, you simply book directly on the website with a credit card that protects you from unforeseen circumstances. It usually takes me less than half the time to find and book the flights I want.
The actual cost of an award flight is complex and often ‘hidden.’ The cost of acquiring points, diminishing sweet spots, dynamic pricing, and annual credit card fees are all hidden costs of award redemption.
The cost for an error fare is straightforward. You decide if the travel dates work and pay the price listed. Done.
Error Fares – Wrapping up
By staying informed, acting responsibly, and making good decisions about points utilization, you can navigate the ever-changing world of points travel and ensure that your adventures remain unforgettable and affordable. So, gear up and embrace the allure of error fares as you embark on a new era of cost-effective travel.