90% Off Flights: Real Thing. Here’s How to Find Them.

The who, what, why and where of “blooper fares”

April 27, 2016 9:00 am

Blooper — aka mistake — fares are the Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket of air travel, and the tried and true method for consistently knocking a zero (or two) off the price of your next global flyabout.

Herein: some background on these rarest of travel unicorns, which can mean traveling to faraway places for up to 90 percent off.

What, exactly, is a blooper fare?
Blooper fares are what result when events — a data entryist, a person, a computer, a software program, a burst of wind — conspire to create a situation in which an airline’s fare is entered incorrectly. Ergo, a $1,260 round-trip American flight between New York and Honolulu goes for $126.

That sounds made up.
It happens — not often, but it happens. Your correspondent, in fact, benefited from almost the precise situation above, and flew to Hawaii for less than the cost of a one-night hotel stay. Let us not forget the great Etihad Fare Errors of Christmas 2014, which permitted a frenzy of holiday morning ticket-buying, with round-trips from JFK to Dubai at $177 (including taxes) and to farther-flung destinations (including Manila, Johannesburg and Hong Kong) for under $400. Etihad blamed the problem on “a system filing issue.” Other airlines have been caught with their pricing pants down following fast-moving changes in currency valuations.

Now it sounds too good to be true.
In some ways it is — and in fact, upcoming regulations from the Department of Transportation will likely make it easier for airlines to “retract” mistakes fares after they’ve been issued. Look for those to be announced in June. For now, though, interim rules issued last year require airlines to refund the cost of the ticket within seven days of purchase and cover “out-of-pocket expenses.” (See here for some fine points.)

That’s a bummer.
Most experts expect airlines to proceed on a case-by-case basis, meaning some guys will still get lucky: “My personal belief is that many of them will continue to be honored — a lot were honored before the DOT had any jurisdiction, so we’re really just returning to that era.”

The big question: where do I find them?
Obviously, online. We follow: The Flight Deal, FlyerTalk and Airfare Watchdog. Collectively, they’re the best, and most remunerative, reason to be on Twitter. You’ll see news first there and then on Facebook.

What’s the first rule of mistake fares?
The first rule of mistake fares: do not talk about mistake fares. Seriously — nothing will result in an online pummeling faster than complaining on Flight Deal’s Facebook page that you had to wait 20 minutes before alerting a Delta rep to the existence of the $300 round-trips to Tokyo. If you can’t get your precise booking or you’re not sure about the frequent flyer miles, shut up and deal — you’re in a race against the airline. And as soon as they’re tipped off, the fun stops.


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