Getting 'Mistake' Airfares for a Song

Take El Al's bargain basement prices to Israel earlier this summer which turned into a drama with three acts: first the carrier said, yes, we made a mistake but we will honor the fares. Then they had second thoughts and El Al's execs said they might not honor the fares. Finally, they caved, telling passengers, you win, we will honor your tickets. By then, of course, would-be Israeli travelers had tweeted and Facebooked the deal all over the place and maybe El Al didn't want to look like the bad guy.

Suggestion: If you see a miracle deal, book it first, then talk it up. And it's a nice touch to thank the airline, too. It's been estimated that the El Al will eat about half a million dollars in losses from its mistake fares, but the carrier is also dining on priceless publicity. 5. Brace yourself for disappointment

Sometimes airlines don't honor mistake airfares. Some airlines even put this in writing, including Delta, which notes in its contract of carriage that it "reserves the right to correct any erroneously published fare that Delta did not intend to offer for sale." In other words, you may snag a miracle deal, but you may not get to use it.

Here's something else: While new Dept. of Transportation (DOT) rules say airlines can't raise the price of a fares after they've been purchased - including, it would seem, the mistakes - apparently the airline can cancel the ticket. The DOT is no doubt still looking into all the ramifications of the rule but just know that the mere act of booking a mistake fare is no slam dunk. You still have to see if the airline will actually get you where you want to go.

Suggestion: If you snag a mistake fare but can't get the airline to honor it, send them a polite note explaining the trouble you went to securing this deal and expressing your disappointment at how it turned out. Who knows? The airline may toss a voucher or some miles your way. It never hurts to ask.

The opinions expressed by Rick Seaney are his alone and not those of ABC News.

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