If you’re passionate about affordable travel, you’ve learned how to use miles and points to travel for free (or really cheap). But did you know sometimes the best deals for flights are paid tickets?
On occasion, airlines will mess up and publish low or mistake fares which are hundreds or even thousands of dollars below the normal cost of a ticket. And sometimes, they’ll purposely release a small number of ultra-low fares as a promotion or to win new business. This can often start a fare war between airlines as they try to match or beat the lowest fare on a certain route.
The trick to getting these low fares is knowing where to look. And because they don’t often last for very long (sometimes for a few hours!) you’ll need to book quickly before the fare disappears.
It’s much more common to find low fares or fare wars than mistake fares. And you have to be flexible with your travel dates and destinations. But we’ll show you how to find and book them.
What is a mistake fare?
Low or mistake fares are often the result of data entry errors or miscalculations of fuel surcharges, discounts, or promotional fares.
The airline will eventually discover their mistake and correct the error. Which is why they usually don’t last long. And it’s also why you don’t want to alert the airline about the mistake fare.
Your best bet is to book your tickets immediately. And, of course, tell your friends and family about it. The more the merrier!
That can be difficult for those who like to plan and organize everything before booking, but because these deals do not last long, if you wait you’ll likely lose the opportunity. Mistake fares tend to only last hours — sometimes even less than that.
Even if you’re not 100% sure you can travel, it’s usually best to book anyway. Most major airlines allow you to cancel a ticket within 24 hours without penalty if you change your mind. Take a look at our guide to cancellation policies for major U.S. airlines.
Some low or mistake fares can be booked directly on the airline’s website, while others require you to book through an online travel agency like Orbitz or Expedia. Like some airlines, both Orbitz and Expedia offer a courtesy cancellation for a full refund within a short time span from the time you made your booking.
How to find mistake fares
The trick to finding low fares is knowing where to look and always being on the lookout. You’ll have to do some online research to find low fares. Websites like The Flight Deal, Airfarewatchdog, Scott’s Cheap Flights and Secret Flying publish deals daily. If you don’t like having to check their websites periodically, subscribe to their emails and fare alerts to be notified of good deals.
Follow sites on social media and sign up for alerts
Because many of these fares only last for a few hours, a better method is to follow these sites on social media. You’ll have to “like” or follow them to get automatic updates in your Facebook or Twitter feed.
Another way to find low fares is to frequently search the Flyertalk Mileage Run forum. Here you’ll have to do some digging, and sometimes the posts are geared towards folks who just book low fares to earn frequent flyer miles and elite status (mileage running). But it’s a very good place to find mistake fares!
Drawbacks and things to look out for with mistake fares
The main drawback of booking a mistake fare is that the airline may or may not honor your ticket. If you’ve booked your ticket with an overseas airline, you’re not protected by U.S. Department of Transportation rules. So it’s hit and miss as to whether the fare will be honored (depending on the rules for each country).
For this reason, if you book a low or mistake fare, don’t book any other non-refundable plans, like hotel rooms, cars, or activities. You should wait until you have a confirmed e-ticket, and even then, we’d suggest waiting a while after that just to be sure the airline doesn’t change their mind.
Alternatives to mistake fares
Airlines will sometimes run promotions or seat sales with ultra-low fares between certain cities. Sometimes it’s because they’re promoting a new route or trying to win business away from another airline.
For example, United Airlines recently had a seat sale with deeply-discounted fares from Chicago to various U.S. cities. You could fly from Chicago to Cleveland or Pittsburgh for as low as $49 one-way.
Discount airlines, like Spirit and Frontier, are well-known for their ultra-low fare promotions.
These aren’t mistake fares, so they will be honored. And it’s okay to call the airline if you need to. You can book these fares directly on the airline’s website. But often these fares are limited, so again you might need to book quickly before the fare disappears!
Sometimes two airlines serving the same airport will engage in a “fare war,” where each basically tries to out-do the other in offering the lowest fare on a certain route.
Perhaps one airline is expanding into another airline’s hub and wants to promote their new services. Or occasionally, there’s just some ill will between two airlines and they battle for the lowest fare.
Either way, you can benefit from fare wars because sometimes tickets can get really cheap!
You can get incredible deals by booking mistake fares (which are uncommon) and ultra-low fares, or by taking advantage of fare wars between airlines.
To learn about these fares, consider signing up for alerts from various airfare deal websites, or following these sites on social media.
Mistake fares don’t last long and, if they’re with an overseas airline, might not be honored. But it’s worth booking quickly anyway because in many cases you can get a refund if you cancel within a short time frame. Just remember: Don’t call the airline!
Ultra-low fares and fare wars are legitimate fares, but also may not last long depending on the demand for seats.
Even if you can’t score a mistake fare, you can always use the miles and points earned from the top travel rewards cards to help offset the cost of your vacation.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
Why we like it
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of our top credit cards for both beginners and frequent travelers. It comes with a huge welcome bonus, solid ongoing points earning on bonus categories and some great travel perks. The travel perks like delayed baggage and flight insurance will easily cover the already reasonable annual fee of $95. It earns valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards points which is one of the best flexible points currencies: you can transfer to a number of travel partners like Hyatt and United, easily redeem for any type of travel through the Chase portal where you’ll get 25% bonus or even earn straight cash back.
Who is it best for?
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is great for just about anyone. It’s large welcome bonus makes it easy to get immediate value and you’ll easily rack up points with its broad bonus categories, earning double points on all travel and dining purchases. Chase points allow for easy redemptions made through the Chase Travel Portal, which allows you to book any sort of travel with no blackout dates, and you’ll get better value from your points compared to other bank’s travel portals.
Credit Score Recommended
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO® Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.
Good to Excellent
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. Plus earn up to $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases within your first year of account opening.
- Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash’s subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
- Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
- Valuable sign up bonus
- Flexible points
- Unique transfer partners like Hyatt and United
- Great travel and trip delay insurance
- $95 annual fee
- Ongoing points earning is lower compared to other cards
- 2X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel.
- 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
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