Getting 'Mistake' Airfares for a Song

PHOTO: Ricks Seaney, CEO of FareCompare offers five tips to keep in mind when it comes to grabbing your own impossible airfare.

Ever bump into a Kardashian at Kmart? They sell clothes at sister-store Sears so it could happen, and so can "mistake" airfares.

Mistake airfares are impossible-priced airline tickets that come along once in a blue moon. One of those extraordinary events occurred Aug. 6 when El Al offered flights to Israel worth up to $1,600 for as little as 300+ bucks. Blame computer glitches and/or human error. Either way, it's not supposed to happen but when it does, wow.

Here are five things to keep in mind when it comes to grabbing your own impossible airfare:

For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

1. Use technology

You have to hear about airfare mistakes in order to take advantage of them but the airlines sure as heck aren't going to splash them all over their Facebook pages, not if they're true mistakes. What to do? Use technology: sign up for airfare alerts that'll catch these anomalies. My site offers this and so do many others.

Also check with that savvy group of travelers over at FlyerTalk; when mistake airfares appear, they spread the word because their whole raison d'etre is attaining (and keeping) elite status in miles programs via the cheapest way possible so they can enjoy first class perks. FlyerTalkers are the gold medal Olympians of the mistake airfare world.

2. Act quickly

Back in 2007, the now defunct airline ATA offered airfares from Orlando to Maui - flights that normally sold for $1,118 each-way - at the bargain basement price of just $118. As you can see, someone forgot to add the extra "1" to the price. You better believe those seats went fast and when you hear about such deals you do have to pounce.

Remember, even legitimate airfare sales do not cover an entire planeload; only about 10 percent of any flight's seats are marked down to the lowest prices, and they always go quickly. When they're sold out, that's it - the sale is over. With mistake fares, you have two things working against you: the limited quantity of seats and the fact that once the airline figures out they've screwed up, they'll make these wonderful fares disappear. Again, act fast. 3. Be flexible

Mistake fares do not always appear at convenient times. Example: a couple of years ago, Lufthansa offered flights from Chicago to Frankfurt with 'mistake pricing' - either a computer or a human neglected to input a fuel surcharge - and the result was round-trip tickets for $300+ in May. That's worth moving summer vacation plans forward and begging the boss for the time off.

On the other hand, sometimes the airlines make it easy. In 2010, American Airlines erroneously offered its "this coming weekend only" deals - but on weekends throughout the summer. Sharp-eyed bargain hunters enjoyed some very nice getaways.

4. Be socially (media) conscious

Sometimes airlines do not wish to honor mistake fares. Okay, at no time do airlines wish to honor mistake fares - but often they do (though don't skip #5 below). A little social media publicity doesn't hurt or so it seems according to anecdotal evidence.

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