What is a mistake fare and how to use it to travel with your Family

Mistake fares can make your family travel money go further and help you travel to those exotic destinations across the globe! There is a lot of jargon that gets thrown around in the frequent flyer game and our goal as travelers is to utilize every tool available to us to get our family to the far flung places across the globe.  One tool we have been able to use with great success is the concept known as a “mistake fare”.  This is a hot button word and rarely do true “mistake fares” come around but if you have travel goals and don’t mind monitoring the internet you can use some low cost mistake fares to accomplish your goals.

What is a mistake fare?

Mistake fares come up for a very short period of time when the pricing algorithm gets an error and prices normally much more expensive flights for much cheaper.  Most extreme mistake fares are cancelled as you are paying pennies on the dollar and per the Department of Transportation (DOT) US carriers do NOT have to honor obviously mismatched fares.  But we have had some luck with higher cost mistake fares being honored.  With any possible mistake fare you do not immediately want to make additional reservations for hotels, cars, ect until you feel confident your fare will not get cancelled (typically if they get cancelled it happens within a week).

How do you find mistake fares?

Luckily for all of us travelers there are plenty of websites out there who do most of the hard work for you.  Our favorite hands down is Secret Flying.  They have a great email subscription program which can send you flight alerts, and if you are a Facebook user you can like them and have their posts come up first on your feed. Other options include Fly4Free and AirfareWatchdog.
In our family we have a standing list of places we want to travel that I am constantly searching for, if a mistake fare comes up for one of those we go ahead and try to book.  Fares are often for travel within a few months of the posting so you need to be flexible and prepared to travel on alternate dates.
Lastly, unless you live in hub cities (San Fransisco, LA, Seattle, Washington DC, Miami, Atlanta, New York, and Dallas) you will likely need to “position” to get your flights.  That means you will need to travel to an alternate airport (one of the airports that has the mistake fare) from your home airport.  For example, we fly out of Boise, ID (BOI).  So we are always looking for flight departing from SEA and SFO as both of those cities we can easily drive to or fly on cheaper regional airlines.

How do you confirm your mistake fares?

So you found and booked your fare?! How long do you wait till you make additional travel accommodations? I always wait 2 weeks after I get a confirmation email with confirmed seats.  After the two weeks I actually call into the airlines call center and ask for help changing seats and confirming my flight.  If that all goes through with out a hitch then I have always felt confident enough to make additional travel reservations.


Amazing beaches!

One of the many AMAZING beaches of Australia.

One of our greatest mistake fares came about last fall.  We had been wanting to travel back to Australia because the family loved the place and it has a great slalom kayak course (site of the 2000 Olympic Games).  Flight costs were quite high for a family of 5 and the cheapest we could find for the family was around $1800pp.  During my coffee hour one morning I got my email alert from Secret Flying showing tickets from LAX-SYD-SFO for $370pp!  Without even asking my wife I booked the entire family for a 7 week trip to SYD for the fall.  I waited a week and called the airline to change seats and confirm my flights.  They confirmed, moved our seats and we were good to go!

Have you had a mistake fare for your family? Tell us below!

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  1. Pingback: Travel Hack: the power of flight alerts - Family Frequent FlyerFamily Frequent Flyer

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