Just in time for Christmas, a mistake fare made the rounds on Twitter this Wednesday, courtesy of The Flight Deal: Roundtrip fares between various US cities and Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways were selling for as low as $187, including taxes and fees. The fares were good for travel between February – May and various dates in the fall. The cheapest fare of $187 was between New York (JFK) and Abu Dhabi (AUH), while Chicago fares cost around $200 and West Coast fares were a bit less of a bargain at $450. People on Twitter were going nuts spreading the news, planning trips around these fares and reporting slightly higher (but still incredibly cheap) fares to cities in South Africa and India.
So why didn’t I blog about it? Most of the time, mistake fares appear and disappear in a flash. By the time a post is published, it may already be gone. However, to ensure you do not miss out on future mistake fares, I recommend you do the following:
1. Check your Twitter feed constantly. Whether they originate on Flyertalk, Airfare Watchdog or the Flight Deal, news of mistake fares are often most rapidly spread on Twitter. Everyone wants to share the good news with their followers and there’s no quicker way than to hit retweet. The most obvious people to follow on Twitter are @airfarewatchdog, @TheFlightDeal, @PointChaser (shameless plug, I know), along with some of the more established bloggers that will likely pick it up from their networks and retweet the information.
Be sure to check your Twitter feed often. Step away from your phone for 2-3 hours and you may miss out on $150 fares to Europe or $25 hotel rates. Some of you might be upset that I didn’t blog about the Etihad mistake fare. Mistake fares typically die quickly, so blogging isn’t the most efficient way to spread time sensitive news. If you’ve held out on joining Twitter because you think it’s useless, this proves it’s not.
2. Sign up to receive alerts. If you don’t like being that person at social gatherings who is constantly checking their phone like they’re completing six figure stock trades, then simply sign up to receive notifications from The Flight Deal and Airfare Watchdog. Chances are, they are the first ones to find out about mistakes fare and before they tweet about it, they will write a post outlining the details and send an alert to their subscribers.
3. Stay on alert on weekends and holidays. I was not at all surprised to see the $187 Etihad fares show up on a holiday. Mistake fares tend to pop up on days when nobody in the IT department is paying attention. Last Year’s $250 RT mistake fares between the West Coast and Dubai went on for well over 24 hours before the booking site caught onto it, for this very reason (though there are theories out there about this “glitch” being intentional). So keep an eye out on weekends and holidays because historically, that is when mistake fares are most likely to appear.
4. Book now, think later. Is that country safe to visit? How long should I stay? Can I get those dates off? What is there to do in Abu Dhabi? If the fares are low enough, ignore these questions and just book your flights. You’ll figure everything out later, and more importantly – if the trip ends up being terrible, you only paid a fraction of the normal cost.
5. Book with a site that allows cancellations, if possible. In the case of the Wideroe mistake fares of 2013, there was only one place to book the fare. However, if a mistake fare can be booked on a multitude of booking sites, make sure you pick one that has a generous cancellation policy. This way, if you heed advice #4 and the dates don’t work or you start hyperventilating at the thought of a 14-hour flight in coach, you can cancel without losing out on any cash.
On a similar note, don’t make any nonrefundable travel bookings until the airline or booking site publicly honors the booking. As we’ve learned in recent years, a confirmation number is not a guarantee that your booking is actually confirmed. The last thing you want is for an airline to cancel your ticket and leave you on the hook for hundreds of dollars in non-refundable hotel bookings.
Follow these tips, make sure your passport is always valid for at least 6 months, and the next time a mistake fare pops up, you could be on your way to Abu Dhabi for less than the cost of a regional flight.