What is an Error Fare and How Do I Book One?

They're terms you've probably seen on our site before. Error fare. Pricing mistake. What do these phrases mean, and why do people get so excited when they appear?

Basically, an error fare is a glitch or mistake. Due to technical issues, or more often, human error, a product (such as airfare) will turn up online for significantly lower than the regular price. That's what us pirates like to see!

But there are some important things to know about error fares, which is why we've put together this FAQ post for you.

How do error fares happen?

Airlines and online booking sites run on pretty complex systems. With so many moving parts, glitches are bound to occur! Some may be purely technical, others may be human-caused. All it takes is someone forgetting a zero, or typing a one instead of a nine, for us pirates to find some treasure.

How do I book an error fare?

There are four very important steps to follow when booking an error fare:

1. Do NOT contact the airline or booking website. Never ever.

2. Book as soon as possible.

3. Book with a credit card, not a debit card.

4. Do NOT book any other travel arrangements, unless they're fully refundable.

Why shouldn't I contact the airline?

This is extremely important. Airlines don't like pricing mistakes. If you call or email the airline, or otherwise them alert them about the error fare, there is a very high chance that they will correct the mistake, and/or cancel some or all of the bookings.

Why should I book as soon as possible?

Pricing mistakes can last from minutes to days, but there's no way to predict how long they'll last. Book your tickets quickly to avoid the risk that the price will disappear or sell out. If you change your mind, many airlines (all airlines selling tickets from the US must), offer 24-hour free cancellation.

Why should I book with a credit card?

The reason for this is twofold. Using a credit card may help your payments go through quicker. And if the fare is not honored, good travel credit cards offer more support for getting your money back.

Why should I avoid booking other travel arrangements?

We recommend waiting 72 hours to a week to book a hotel, rental car, visa, or other travel arrangements unless they are refundable. Because there is always a chance the airline will not honor the fare, you do not want to be stuck with nonrefundable travel plans.

Important Considerations

What do I do if my booking is cancelled?

If your ticket is cancelled by the airline or ticketing agency, you are entitled to a full refund of all charges paid in the manner of payment (including credit card fees, but excluding any currency fluctuations). Using a credit card may help you get your refund faster.

We've had mild success contacting the airline after receiving communication that the fare would not be honored, but generally this doesn't work. With credit cards, it's easy to get your money back quick when a business isn't willing to offer the service paid for.

Why can't I find this price from my city, or for the dates I want?

Pricing mistakes are random. There's no way to predict what routes will be affected. Some error fares are only available for a few dates–others may have many weeks of availability. Sometimes they pop up across airline alliances, and sometimes they are only on one online booking website. Treat it like finding a $20 bill in the middle of the forest: completely random and not guaranteed, but an awesome stroke of luck. Except nobody has to lose anything for you to fly for free!

Does the airline have to honor the error fare?

Unfortunately, no. While many people are able to happily book and use pricing mistakes, the airline may contact you to cancel or change your ticket (this normally happens within 72 hours, but may take up to a week). If an airline cancels your tickets or asks you to pay a price difference, you have to abide by their ruling.

Types of Error Fares

Are there only error fares for economy class tickets?

Not at all! There can be pricing mistakes for all classes of airfare, including business and first class. Those tend to be a bit rarer, as there are fewer seats to go around. Also, business and first class error fares are less likely to be honored, as they reflect a larger financial loss to the airline.

Are error fares just for plane tickets?

Nope! Pricing mistakes pop up in all sorts of online transactions. We've seen some pretty cool prices for hotel rooms and resort stay too.

How do I check my ticket status?

If you can't call the airline, how do you find out whether your ticket is still valid? There are many tools out there for finding out the status of your ticket, like Check My Trip. The site gives real time access to your ticket information. Just make sure to never share the information from this site with anyone.