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What is Mistake Airfare or Error Fare and How to Find them?

Ever heard of “mistake fares”? Such fares do exist, especially when finding flight tickets, whether on an airline’s website or sites like those of online travel agencies (OTAs), etc. But, these airfares are obviously not special discounts that airlines are willing to offer you.

In this travel guide, we will give you an insight on what mistake fares are, and how you can find one when booking a flight to your destination city.

What are Mistake Fares?

Generally speaking, mistake fares are actually error fares (human error, of course). You may also call it a glitch in an airfare, where the original price of a flight ticket is way too less than what was initially intended (normal pricing).

A mistake airfare, as the name suggests, is an accidentally issued fare for a flight ticket, and is usually caused due to human error or system filing issue. Many people stumble upon such airfares and purchase tickets immediately, as there is also an opportunity for huge savings.

The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Mistaken Fare Policy Statement provides a footnote after the requirement that an airline “demonstrates that the fare was a mistaken fare.” This footnote says as follows:

The burden rests with the airline or seller of air transportation to prove to the Enforcement Office that an advertised fare and the resulting ticket sales constitutes a mistaken fare situation. If a sale does not qualify as a mistaken fare situation, the carrier or other seller of air transportation is bound by provision 399.88.

If an airline carrier or a third-party travel booking company is not careful when issuing airfares for the respective flights, such errors can become common.

How Do I Know Which Airfare is a Mistake Fare?

You can easily identify a mistake fare by looking at the price. If the price of the flight ticket is way too less to be true, bingo! Many travellers take these airfares to their advantage – it’s a steal deal. Although, this is quite rare, but possible. However, also keep in mind that an airline can cancel your ticket, if they come to know of it in time.

For example, when searching for a flight from San Francisco to New York City, either on an airline carrier’s website, or via an OTA’s site, the airfare offered is, say $45. Now, we know that this price cannot be true or there must be a huge discount offered for some reason. It may also happen during currency conversion, or if one or more digits are unknowingly omitted.

The airline carrier or the OTA is also unaware of the fare which they had offered for the flight on their respective websites. Thus, unless they correct the fare, if you purchase the flight ticket for that fare ASAP, you could make great savings.

How Long are Mistake Airfares Available?

Like everything else, good things do not last for long. Similarly, in the case of mistake airfares, these fares are available for a very short time only i.e., for just a few hours. So, if you come across a mistake fare, your best chance would be to purchase the flight ticket within a 24-hour period.

In case you are not sure about the route or dates, you can also cancel a mistake fare, if you have purchased one. There is no penalty for cancelling your flight ticket within 24 hours of booking. However, also note that mistake fares appear temporarily, and you might not find it again later after cancelling your ticket on the site.

Since these fares are caused to appear due to an error in miscalculation, the airliner or OTA will quickly rectify the price, if it comes to their notice. The airfares will then be made unavailable and their original prices will be updated instead.

Why Do Mistake Fares Occur?

Mistake fares can happen for many reasons. As already mentioned above, one of the reasons is human error. However, mistakes are inevitable and can occur due to other factors as well.

Updating cost of flight tickets in the database of airline carriers requires human intervention. Thus, chances of missing out digit(s) in airfares can easily go unnoticed. For example, a flight from New York City to Milan costs $1,300. However, because someone had not been careful, the price of the flight ticket appeared to be $130 only.

However, we should not blame humans always. Sometimes, technology can make mistakes, too. In the present day, the use of technology is ubiquitous. Airline companies also make use of technologies and algorithms that play a key role in determining prices of flight tickets. But, if an airline’s IT system is old or their algorithm fails to correspond to current data, things can go wrong, too.

Another common factor that may affect mistake fares are foreign currencies. Airline carriers that serve international destinations daily may accidentally cause devaluation in another country’s currency. Because the value of a currency in one country is different from that of another country, the airline may misprint the price of a flight ticket.

Aside from airline carriers showing incorrect prices of flight tickets, the same can happen with online travel agencies as well. OTAs use a system called the Global Distribution System (GDS) that allow them to query and fetch data from various airline carriers’ database and other sources, too. However, even a small misinformation or communication between the system and the sources, for example, on the flight’s route or travel class may cause an OTA to display incorrect airfares on its website.

How to Find a Mistake Fare for a Flight?

Most of the time, mistake fares accidentally appear on various flight search and online travel websites. Sites like Google Flights, Skyscanner, Kayak, and several other travel booking sites.

But, searching for mistake fares on these and similar websites is time-consuming, too. Frequent flyers that spend a lot of time looking for flights on Google Flights, Expedia, Kayak, Skyscanner, Priceline, etc., will find at least one.

There is another way to hit on mistake fares. You can sign up for price alerts on these OTA websites and flight search engines. You may also include specific routes or pick flexible routes for which you wish to receive price alerts to narrow down your objective.


Mistake fares can be honoured by airlines or they may simply cancel your ticket. Therefore, it is important that you hold off on making immediate travel plans until your flight has been ticketed. This includes booking hotel reservations and rental cars, too.

You will have more chances of scoring a mistake fare if you are comfortable with flexible travel plans.

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