A case for why mistake fares aren’t always that obvious…

Whenever there’s an airline or hotel mistake fare/rate and they don’t end up honoring it, you’ll see people argue “well you should have known it was a mistake, get over the fact that they won’t honor it.” Perhaps that’s sometimes the case, though in this age of online/viral media, it’s not out of the question that an airline or hotel would offer a $0.01 rate as a promotion, especially if those seats or hotel rooms would otherwise go empty. After all, there’s a lot of potential for ancillary revenue, be it bag fees with an airline or dining/spa spend at a hotel.

But that’s not the point of this post. Rather I want to point out how absolutely absurd airline pricing is, even when it’s not a mistake. If you know a lot about cheap first and business class tickets, you probably know just how much cheaper some airports are to fly out of than others.

Colombo, Sri Lanka, is well known for having very cheap first and business class tickets. I just stumbled upon the start of a trip report by BrewerSEA on FlyerTalk, whereby he flew an award ticket to Colombo and returned on a cheap, paid first class ticket. For example, take a look at the cost of a first class ticket from Colombo to Los Angeles:

No, that’s not a typo. That’s three segments in Emirates first class (including one on the Airbus 380), one segment in British Airways first class, and one segment in American Flagship Service first class, all for ~$2,450.

Here’s what’s crazier. The cheapest fare for that routing is actually in business class for ~$1,800:

Anyone wanna guess what the cheapest fare is on the same routing going from Los Angeles to Colombo in first class?

Yep, over $12,000.

You’ve gotta love the airlines…

Filed Under: Advice, Travel
  1. That’s the market at work!

    We Australians feel the pain all the more so when we look at fares from Europe or North America.

  2. @ anat0l — Market at work indeed, though it amazes me they voluntarily price something so low that it must be a money-lower. Five international first class segments for under $2,500 means it’s under $500 per segment. Surely for international first class that’s not break even.

  3. Ooh! You are tempting me with those cheap fares–this is looking like a better way to fly home from the Madlives then burning BA points…

  4. Second time I’ve done it this year 😀

    It’s really an incredible deal using 67.5k AA miles to get to Colombo mostly in first.

  5. What a pile of disingenuous baloney. When you see an actual mistake fare you know damn well what it is.

    Just because “someone” “could” think a mistake fare is real doesn’t mean YOU truly think it is.

    There’s more to life than lying to oneself to justify exploiting other people’s mistakes.

  6. @BrewerSEA who did you actually book the fare with though? How could be under a single ticket when it’s both EK and AA?

  7. I used a travel agent for one and Travelocity for the other. I couldn’t get Expedia to proceed to purchase on this fare.

  8. Ah okay. I need to get from Asia to the US next summer anyway, so I was thinking of taking advantage of this fare. Dunno if it’s justifiable though, since by my count (I’m not elite for any airline) I’d only earn 16400 tier miles for EK and about 10300 RDM for AA (I threw JFK-MIA-LAX in there)…….

  9. @Sean You can fly on Oneworld for the entire trip if you’d like (CX/QF/BA/AA), though I would certainly take EK to SIN over in F than CX regional J, even if losing a few miles.

    @toomanybooks Due to some bonuses and my status I earned 63,913 RDM.

    @Max Jones I still see it for all dates.

    @Dan I didn’t fly any AA, I flew the BA nonstop to SEA booked as the AA codeshare.

  10. Flew SQ/OZ/UA CMB-SIN-ICN-JFK-SFO-LAX-SAN in F back in the day for about the $2500 in F. Already BD Gold, so got 600% COS and 25% elite bonus, about 180,000 RDMs on BD for ONE round trip. I hired a few folks to fly that routing….wasn’t had to find take flying F!!!!

  11. “What a pile of disingenuous baloney. When you see an actual mistake fare you know damn well what it is.”

    An 8-cent villa in the South Pacific, sure.

    But it gets harder all the time to tell what is a mistake, what is a promo, what is a deal, what is an incredible deal, what is a loss-leader, and so on, especially with Facebook and Twitter, and in this economy.

    AA has $99 fares ORD-SFO/LAX for $99 right now, with triple EQM for IL/CA/TX residents. $89 with a a discount code and ~$80 bought with a Costco AA gift card.

    Two months ago, might one have said that looked like a mistake? Two years EXP and $4000 in miles/upgrades for less than $1600 if booked perfectly?

    What if the non-discount price for that flight shows up as $79 tomorrow? Will that “obviously” be a mistake? How about $69? Where is the line?

  12. Thanks for the writeup. Seems like more and more carriers are now pricing one way awards as “half of round trip” so there are some interesting plays here. As you said, it might make sense to book award fare in one direction, and pay for the other direction.

  13. “a better way to fly home from the Madlives then burning BA points…”


    Great Freudian slip!

  14. Are you so desperate for content in your blog that you have to post this, thus ensuring its speedy demise. You do not have the ability or talent to ferret out good deals, only to copy them from other places to boost the readership of your blog. Shame.

  15. Was able to obtain fare of US$4,500 for first class and US$3,300 for business class, round trip between CMB/DXB/LHR/JFK/LAX or SFO, and return on orbitz.com. No need to do a multi-city itinerary on orbitz, just CMB/LAX/CMB roundtrip with preferred airlines Emirates and AA. I was able to price this out for June/July 2012 dates.

  16. Lame, Lame, Lame. are you frucking bloggers are becoming REAL USELESS and a damn SHAME. Stop posting shit like this outside of our forums…seriously!

  17. This makes total sense to me, people in LAX make way more than people in Colombo and fares are priced accordingly. This is often why people use positioning for MR or will schedule a regional Asia ticket ex-Asia, interleaved itineraries, use hidden cities and the like.

    Airlines calculate loads knowing that some people are outbound and some are on the return. If they know they can’t fill a plane at LA prices, they’ll tap into the Colombo demand to visit Hollywood. I’m sure the same itinerary ex-SIN would be a lot more b/c the cost of living in SIN over COL is drastically higher

    Lucky, did the individual segments price out for far more? I imagine they did. This is why

  18. I am looking to do this below. Is there a way to fly on AF on the A380 from CDG to NYC ? Using any of these combinations of flying from CMB to CDG and CDG onwards on AF

    1 EK 349 A 04MAR S CMB DXB 0255A 0555A
    1 EK 1 A 04MAR S DXB LHR 0745A 1135A
    2 BA 177 A 07MAR W LHR JFK 0110P 0400P

    Cost = $2537.90

  19. @ Gillian — Have you looked at any of the fares yet? If you let me know what you’ve found I’d be happy to provide some thoughts/ideas.

  20. @ Bobby

    Yes, how dare the rest of us try to take advantage of such deal that should only be available to people on forums!

  21. Lucky, did CX dropped F to SIN exCMB?

    Also, reading the fare rules (American AA AOWISC CMB to MIA)

    Stopover restrictions


  22. @ Chris — They haven’t had first class to Colombo for a long time.

    As far as stopovers go, they’re permitted in Europe, though that’s the only place I’ve been able to get them to price.

  23. I’m having trouble getting it to let me tack on JFK-DCA/IAD. 4500 Avios at the end wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I’d like it to be wrapped up into the fare. Thoughts?

  24. I actually just booked this trip, going MLE(UL Y)-CMB(CX J)-SIN(EK F)-DXB(QF F)-LHR(BA F)-JFK for next year. Cost pp was a smidge under $2,800 a/i.

    Neither Expedia nor any other OTA could price it out, but over the phone both AmexPlatinum Travel and ChaseUR Travel were able to price it out the same as the ITA matrix did. I ended up using ChaseUR so as to meet the minimum spend on my new Ink Plus card. The only thing I would say is that when calling either place you have to be patient and put aside about 40mins from start-to-finish!

    For the 90min flight we chose Y from MLE-CMB, as that knocked-off about $250 from the final price.

    My S.O. thinks we are (well, I am) completely mad, but I am sure once she tries the EK A380 Shower, and the QF A380 bedding, she will begin to realise that this hobby has it’s perks hehe

    Btw, just reading back at some of the vitriol here, it goes to show you how many critics are a bunch of pollyannas and wailing cassandras. Thanks for highlighting this fare for the rest of us so that we too can enjoy once-in-a-lifetime type of travel for within-reach fares!

  25. @DL

    i booked similar itinerary on travelocity.com without problems. instead of qantas i flew 2 segments on emirates (that was my preference). you have to do multi-segment search and specify each segment, then select first class and non-stop only. works like a charm. 😉

    and yes, you will love emirates showers on a380… they are awesome!

  26. @Lantean

    I tried doing that on TC, but they were not offering all the options alas 🙁

    I admit I was torn between doing two EKs or EK/QF, but the chance at trying two diff A380s in F was too good to pass up!

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