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What are error fares?

Error fares are simply price errors. The term is used primarily in a travel context - usually in relation to flights, all-inclusive deals, bus journeys, cruises and train journeys, although increasingly also for hotels.

At ErrorFareAlerts.com, we focus on finding price errors for travel.

In principle, such errors can occur in both directions - that is, they can make the price cheaper or more expensive than normal. Naturally, though, we are only interested in those that are significantly cheaper.



How do error fares come about?

There are two dimensions to this answer.

The first dimension: Where do such errors originate?

  1. With the airline or provider itself

    When the error is generated by the airline itself, it is generally published incorrectly on all channels that pull data from the airline. This means that the error may potentially be passed from the airline to multiple global distribution systems and, from there, to hundreds of connected travel bureaus and travel platforms. Thanks to the sheer number of oppportuntities for the error to be discovered, it is highly probable that someone will find it.

  2. With an intermediary, also known as a GDS (Global Distribution System)

    A GDS is a system that acts as an intermediary between flight providers and travel bureaus/platforms such as ITA, Hitchhiker, Amadeus etc. An error that is generated by the GDS will be forwarded to all connected bureaus and platforms. A similarly serious mistake, but the error is published fewer times.

  3. With a travel bureau or travel platform

    In such cases, it is very unlikely that the error will be discovered, since it only pertains to a single provider.


The second dimension: Why do such errors occur?

  1. "Fat finger" errors

    As the name suggests: An employee makes a typing error or leaves off a zero. Such an error can occur anywhere in the chain.

  2. Currency conversion error

    Currency exchange rates change from one second to the next. Often, prices must be converted to other currencies via multiple external sources - with international flights, in particular, there is plenty of room for error.

  3. System errors related to price setting

    A flight price is compiled from a number of other prices (taxes, fuel surcharges, airport fees etc.). It can happen that a program involved in this process is incorrectly coded, or an error in the code results in particular price components being missed out.

  4. By design

    It is rumoured that airlines issue error fares in limited numbers on purpose. Why would they do this? There are a number of good reasons:

    • To get rid of unsold seats (better than flying half full - at least you earn something!)
    • Marketing/branding, to win coverage for the airline in relevant blogs and travel forums
    • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): The more is written about an airline online (and, ideally, the more times the URL of the airline is linked), the better the airline`s position in Google search results



How do I find error fares?

Finding error fares manually is a laborious process. Despite the fact that error fares occur very frequently, they`re still something of a needle in a haystack. Why? Well, there are an unbelievably high number of flights / flight combinations on offer.

An example calculation from ITA:

  • Boston (BOS: Boston Logan airport) - San Francisco (SFO: San Francisco International airport)
  • Outward flight on 15.10.2010
  • Return flight on 22.10.2010
  • Possibilities for this combination: 3.604.439.023

So, over three million connections - and for only one route! Of course, as a rule, only a small number of these possibilities are displayed to the searcher. For those wishing to learn more, this German-language article on the unbelievable number and cost of flight searches comes highly recommended (thanks, Florian!):

Warum eine einzige Flugsuche Millionen kostet ("Why a Single Flight Search Costs Millions"): http://www.flocutus.de/flugsuche-teuer/

When we consider the above, it`s all too evident why searching manually for error fares is an incredibly difficult task.

Error fares are usually found by accident. Of course, one can speed up the process by being well informed! I recommend the following for all error fare newbies:

For those who want to try it manually, there`s a good guide here: http://thriftynomads.com/airline-error-mistake-fares-cheap-flights/



I`ve found an error fare - what now?

Disclaimer: All of the following legal tips are correct to the best of our knowledge, but are not based on specialist legal knowlegde. In doubt, it`s always best to seek the advice of a legal expert! We assume no liability for any losses!

  1. Book as quickly as possible!

    Even if you`re not sure whether you have time or not – just book! Under currently applicable law, you can cancel any booking within 24 hours without problems. We have put this to the test several times. Furthermore, you don`t have to worry that you`ll be required to pay additional charges at a later date: if the provider contacts you with a request of this nature, you can simply cancel the booking.

  2. NEVER call the airline / provider

    Inquiries by telephone are a bad idea, because the provider will notice the error and quickly correct it. For this reason, avoid making bookings over the phone!

  3. If possible, book via an online booking portal, not directly with the airline

    Cancelling bookings is significantly more complicated for the airline, which makes it more likely that the error fare will be allowed to go through.

  4. Pay by credit card

    This guarantees that your payment will be received immediately. The quicker the payment is received, the quicker you`ll receive your e-tickets.

  5. Wait for e-tickets

    If the booking reaches the stage that the e-tickets are sent, it significantly increases the probability that the error fare will be honoured - that is, that it will not be cancelled by the provider. According to a German study: From a purely legal perspective, the date the tickets are issued is also the decisive date for the conclusion of a legally valid contract. The prices we see online are not binding. The booking represents an declaration of intent by the buyer (that is, by you). The seller, in turn, makes their declaration of intent by confirming the booking or issuing the tickets. Only at this point have the two requisite declarations of intent for a purchase contract been made.

  6. Wait >2 weeks before booking hotels, rental vehicles etc.

    Since there is always the possibility that error fares will be cancelled, you should, where possible, wait a couple of weeks before booking a hotel and other things at your destination - or simply book when you get there. If the trip is last minute and you simply must book in advance, pay attention to the cancellation terms. If possible, book accommodation with a provider who doesn`t charge cancellation fees at all (this is often an option on Booking.com, for example).

    TIP: Some types of travel insurance will refund cancellation fees for you.



What are the chances of an error fare actually going through?

As we`ve already mentioned: The more time passes without a cancellation, the higher the chances that the booking will go through. The level of certainty is increased significantly when you receive the e-tickets.

A rough estimation (based on our experience, and what we were able to find out):

Economy ClassBusiness / First Class
Cancellation within 48h / Before tickets are received by the buyer˜50%˜75%
Cancellation after receipt of tickets˜10%˜30%
Cancellation after receipt of tickets + 2 weeks<5%<10%

Of course, likelihood of cancellation varies dramatically according to the type and amount of the error fare; for example, Business and First Class are cancelled much more frequently. The number of times the error fare has been booked also comes into play. If only one booking has been made, the probability of a cancellation is rather small; if many bookings have been made, the probablity is significantly higher.

Ultimately, for each error fare that is brought to the airline`s attention, it is a matter of balancing the costs and money saved by cancellation:

  • how much will it cost to let the booking go through, as compared to
  • how much will it cost to cancel it, which involves
    • direct costs (cancellation costs, employee salaries, time, opportunity costs)
    • and indirect costs (image, branding) – customers are not happy to suffer cancellations and may well speak badly of the airline, which can lead to sales losses at a later date. Frequent fliers and bloggers, in particular, are highly influential, and airlines have a vested interest in keeping them happy



What to do if my booking is cancelled?

The best thing to do is nothing, since your chances of success are vanishingly small in the event that you (e.g.) lodge a complaint. Wait for the next error fare, and be happy if it goes through!


What should I do if the price on my booking confirmation is higher than the initial price?

First things first: Stay calm. It can happen that the travel agency notices the mistake and lists a higher price on the booking confirmation.

No worries - from a legal perspective, this constitutes a new offer from the travel provider and as such, you can choose to accept or reject it. What`s more: Object to such an email being sent. Travel vendors often try this tactic, and customers who don`t know better sometimes agree to the higher price without question.

See the following (German-language) link for information on the legal facts: http://www.sparbote.de/sparbote-informiert/rechtslage-bei-error-fares/



Golden Rules in Brief

Here`s a roundup of the key things to remember when you discover an error fare:

  1. Book as quickly as possible!
  2. Don`t call the provider!
  3. If possible, book via an online booking portal!
  4. Pay by credit card!
  5. Wait for your e-tickets!
  6. Wait >2 weeks before booking hotels, rental vehicles etc.
  7. Stay calm in the event of a cancellation
  8. Don`t agree to pay more if requested to do so

If you`re successful – congratulations on your error fare! We`d love it if you told us about your experience: [email protected]