What Are Error Fares And How Do You Find Them?

Everyone loves a bargain, and when it comes to air travel error fares are about as low as you can find. These are usually mistakes and may not be upheld.  If they are, you can get some luxurious flights for much less than normal. This article takes a look at why error fares happen and where to look for them.

Emirates Airbus A380
Fly further and cheaper with an error fare. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | JFKJets.com

What is an error fare?

As the name suggests, these are fares that usually occur due to some error in posting or processing by an airline. This is important as the airline may choose not to honor them, so you should always wait before making further travel plans.

There can be several ways errors appear, including:

  • A mistake in loading the fare. Fares could be input into the airline ticketing system manually or automatically, such as a base fare of 1 instead of 1000.
  • Currency conversion problems. Fares or taxes could be attached to the wrong currency, lowering the fare sold (think what happens if you sell a US Dollar fare using Indonesian Rupiah, for example).
  • Tickets sold in the wrong class.
  • Technical errors, communication problems, or website glitches.
  • Sometimes what appears as an error fare may, in fact, be a promotion or ”flash deal.”

Many of the best value error fares are in premium cabins, business, or first class. This is simply due to the already low pricing of economy tickets. With error fares, you are often paying a significantly lower base fare, but still the full taxes and other surcharges. With the lowest-priced economy class tickets, most of the fare is often such taxes and charges, so there is little benefit in erroneous base fares.

Singapore Airlines First on the 777
Error fares are most often in top cabins, a great way to fly in luxury for less. Photo: Singapore Airlines

Where to find error fares

You are unlikely to find error fares yourself by searching airline or flight booking websites. Although, setting up a price alert (with Skyscanner or Google Flights, for example) is an excellent way to keep an eye on particular routes of interest. Also, once you have found a fare, knowing how to search flexibility on these sites will help you book it quickly and easily.

Error fares usually do not last long. The best way to find them is to be notified by one of the sources that track them, and then to act quickly when you hear about a deal that you are interested in. Sometimes fares are available for a day or so, but often they are fixed, or possibly sold out, within hours.

Some of the best sources include:

  • Secret Flying is one of the best sites, and clearly identifies error fares when it finds them. It has a good track record with past error fare notifications.
  • Airfarewatchdog.com offers a similar service to notify on flight deals, including error fares.
  • Scotts Cheap Flights is a subscription service, especially worth it for US-based flyers.
Secret Flying error fare
Error fares are highlighted by websites such as Secret Flying, but usually don’t last long. Image: Secret Flying

Will an error fare be honored?

This is a good question, and there is no guarantee that it will. If the fare is a genuine mistake by the airline or a third party website, the airline may cancel the tickets booked (or just never issue them) once the error is discovered. If this is going to happen, it usually does so within 24 hours, or at most a few days, of booking. Although, in theory, it could be canceled much closer to departure. For this reason, never treat a fare as guaranteed until confirmed so by the airline.

If the reservation is canceled before the ticket is issued, there is very little you can do about it. When an airline cancels an issued ticket you may be able to appeal it legally. There are several cases of this happening, with mixed success. If the flight is still operating, it will likely come down to proving (either way) that the fare offered was an error and not a reasonable commercial fare.

Eticket voucher
Once an e-ticket is issued, error fares are usually honored. Photo: Getty Images

Most fares are, however, honored. Airlines will get bad press, and dissatisfied customers, if they cancel. Website Scott’s Cheap Flights estimates that only around 10% of error fares are canceled by airlines.

First class for $700

Some examples of recent great value error fares include:

  • In November 2019, Finnair offered flights from Germany or Italy to Guangzhou or Hong Kong for around €520.
  • Cathay Pacific sold first-class flights from Vietnam to the US (via Hong Kong) for around $675, a ticket usually costing over $16,000. These were sold for a few hours on New Years Day 2019 and confirmed as an error fare but honored by the airline.
Cathay Pacific’s first class seats
Cathay Pacific’s first class was offered for $700 in an error fare in 2019. Photo: Cathay Pacific

Fewer error fares in the future?

If you want to take advantage of an error fare, do it sooner rather than later. As Simple Flying looked at previously, there is now new technology that helps airlines avoid error fares.

In 2019, ATPCO (Airline Tariff Publishing Company), which distributes 90% of airfares, implemented new features to allow airlines to cancel error fares much faster. Previously fares were only updated around four times a day; airlines can now override this.  It remains to be seen if this will eliminate, or just lessen, error fares going forward.

Have you ever booked an error fare? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.