5 Tips To Help You Book The Next Airline Mistake Fare

Filed Under: Advice, Mileage Runs

As you may have heard, ANA had an amazing fare sale — or possibly a mistake fare — with roundtrip business class tickets from Vancouver to Sydney going for about $700 USD. Either way — and to me, the reason doesn’t much matter– a few folks were able to get a great deal.

The fare was bookable for a few hours roughly around lunchtime yesterday in the US, though availability was fleeting. You needed to start in Vancouver and connect in Tokyo before continuing on to Sydney. There was also a 7-day minimum stay requirement, which a few purists out there would argue makes this not a mileage run.

We didn’t a have a chance to cover it here on the blog. I saw it come across my feed pretty quickly, but was out building wooden toy trucks at Home Depot Kid’s Workshop. So I sent a quick text to my wife and told her to do her best. She managed to find availability for all five of us, book the ticket, and get it issued before the music stopped. I reckon I just might have the most amazing wife ever. (We probably won’t actually get to go, but more on that in a bit.)

The deal is now long since dead, but here are some tips on how you can be ready for the next one.

Subscribe to a few key blogs and network

We do a lot of things really really well here at OMAAT, and we certainly like to cover ephemeral mistake fares if we can, but the truth is that this isn’t our bread and butter. So just as with politics, you shouldn’t get all your news from one source.

The Flight Deal and Secret Flying are always among the first to broadcast mistake fares, as well as other really good deals. I saw this ANA mistake first on Secret Flying. I also saw it quickly on Frequent Miler and View from the Wing, though I’m sure others covered it as well.

The low tech way to find out about deals is to make friends in this space. Within minutes of this deal becoming public, I had multiple messages pouring in about it. You can meet people by attending some local meetups, Frequent Traveler University events, and whatnot.

Have your calendar online, updated, and shared

Mistake fares don’t last long. In this case, I think it was a few hours, though the pickings got slim real quick. The fact that it occurred over the weekend probably helped as usually there are fewer corporate eyes on the screen during this time.

The point is, you have to act fast. There’s no time to ask your wife when her sister’s wedding is. You don’t have time to run over to the fridge and look at the school calendar. Time is of the essence.

So make sure your calendar is always up-to-date and shared with your spouse or other key decision makers.

My wife and I have used Google calendar for years. It has all of our work schedules, appointments, and previously scheduled trips in it, so that either of us can quickly identify the white spots on the calendar.

Book now, ask questions later

This is not the time to map out your ideal trip. When a mistake fare hits, your first objective is to just get something to ticket. Don’t try to optimize the routing, the carrier, or the dates. Pick something that you think will work and book it. Or try to book it.

I say try, because it might fail the first time. So try different online travel agencies, different portals, different airline websites. Get creative and be relentless.

As long as you are booking on a US carrier website or a US online travel agency, you’ll have 24 hours to cancel the reservation. So get one booked first, then tell your spouse about it. If they don’t agree that it’s amazing, you can cancel it later.

Once you have your first itinerary booked — don’t worry about whether it’s ticketed yet — you can go back and try to work on a better one. This time you can be a little picky. Maybe you want to fool around with putting a stopover in Tokyo (just $100 more on this Sydney deal), or route back through San Francisco so you can get off the plane and go home. That’s great, but it takes time to figure all that out, so save it for your second, third, or fourth itineraries.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good

In my case, my wife used Google Flights to find dates that worked and then clicked the direct link to book at United.com. And it worked, which was great.

But it wasn’t perfect.

That’s because for those of us wanting to credit these flights to United, having United issue them means we’d only earn award miles based on the price of the ticket. Specifically, as a Premier 1K, I’d earn 11 miles per dollar spent, or about 5,000 miles.

But if ANA had issued the ticket, United would award miles based on the distance flown with a 50% class of service bonus since it was in business class. Since the trip is 20,000 miles, we’d earn 30,000 award miles per person.

That’s right, the exact same itinerary would earn either 5,000 miles or 30,000 miles depending on where it was booked! Crazy, eh?

So yeah, my heart kind of sank when I realized where my wife booked the tickets. But then a little voice in my head said “Your wife just booked a mistake fare while you were out of the house!!!! Do you know how many guys in this world wish they had a spouse like that???”

Don’t call the airline

No post about mistake fares would be complete without a reminder to not call the airline. You can pretty much do whatever you want with a computer, but as soon as you get a person looking at your fare, there’s a chance they’ll sound the alarm and the deal will get killed faster.

And remember, just because you may have your tickets in hand, there’s hundreds of folks out there just like you frantically entering their credit card numbers, or watching a spinning hourglass, hoping they aren’t too late.

There’s almost always time to sort things out like seating, upgrades, or whatever, after the dust settles.

Bottom Line

If you were one of the lucky few who booked business class tickets on ANA from Vancouver to Sydney, congratulations. I’ve been flying on mistake fares for a long time — including United’s $1,500 CNZ business class mistake fare to Auckland and Sydney in 2007 — and my gut says this one is going to get honored. If you missed it, don’t worry, there will always be another.

And when, not if, that mistake fare comes along, hopefully you’ll be ready.

Oh, I almost forgot. My wife actually booked our trip on top of another commitment — apparently she knew it, but those were the only dates available for five people, so she figured we’d talk it over. We’ll be cancelling our tickets. Bummer. 

Did you get in on the ANA Sydney deal?

  1. Did after a bit of searching to find the fare with a stopover in Tokyo – but forgot that I would need to pick up my bags during transit in the USA so routed via SEA (shorter – well now to short with under 90 minutes) instead of SFO (where I could catch a flight back to Europe).

  2. Your wife scored the deal with all the other stuff going on!! You’re one lucky person!

    Great write up and credits to other blogs.

    Thank you and keep up the good work 🙂

  3. which app do you use for google calendar in iphone. I have been struggling since I moved from android to ios

  4. @Seamus: Are you happy with that calendar.. To me it is just bare bones specially if you move from android or maybe it is just me

  5. @Travis You’re right. I got the tickets because I went with good, not perfect. If I had had time to think clearly, I would’ve booked through a different site, gotten a better layover and maybe even better dates. All in all though, I’m going to Australia in Z on the cheap!

    @caveman We use google calendar to coordinate with each other in the native iOS calendar function. We each have our own calendars, but subscribe to each other’s so it shows everything. Works great!

  6. @caveman I find iOS versions of Google apps to be near-identical to their Android counterparts, so I’m not exactly sure. Switch to iCal if you need to.

  7. I have a family of five. Want to change the names on the ticket 🙂 we are Australian living in Chicago. I saw the deal on view from the wing but couldn’t see it went I searched Google flights. WHAT a deal!

  8. My wife and I would be willing to take all the tickets off your hand 🙂 and pay extra. Let me know please.

  9. But did you actually WANT to go to Australia or would you be going simply for the sake of it? That’s the thing about mistake fares. Taking a family of 5 away for a week really isn’t a mileage run – it’s an actual family holiday which most people tend to plan in advance.

  10. Is United the best program to credit these miles to? Booked via ANA website into Z Booking Class. No status with any *A programs.

  11. @Travis: I love all your posts! This one is particularly great, and it is wonderful that you appreciated your wife’s hard work in booking this fare so quickly “on your behalf”. Do keep up the great work!

  12. Sean – I think I had an error. Believe award miles are 150% of flown miles (not 200%) for Z on ANA so would be 30,000 per person. Or 150,000 total for the five of us. PQM’s would be 40,000 per person.

  13. Jon — There are various schools of thought on this. With United, you get 150% of flown miles, so you’ll earn 30,000 award miles. But in terms of number of miles, Aegean would give you 200%, so then you’d the 40,000 miles. I believe that SAS Eurobonus is also 200% for Z on ANA.

    You should also consider that you can get silver status (and maybe gold) based on the number of qualifying miles from this trip. With Aegean, you’ll have silver status. With Turkish you’ll get Gold, just based on this flight. That can be really valuable.

    So there’s a lot to think about here. If you already have some United miles, you might want to credit there just so you have them all in one account. But you’ll get more award miles if you credit to other carriers, possibly including status.

  14. Daniel B — Thanks for the kind words. I got into this hobby almost 15 years ago by chasing mistake fares, so they are probably my favorite topic to write about. I figure if I can’t fly on one, the next best thing I can do is write about it!

  15. Is there a way to subscribe to these flight deal websites but only be notified about mistake business fares (as opposed to every flight deal)?

  16. Booked it through an agency (clicked through on momondo) but then ANA canceled the rez. Should I have booked it through a different source?

  17. @ Robert – You could start your own blog… Mistake Business Fares Only. Seriously, if you can’t be bothered to read through a few posts each day, you’re probably not cut out for this hobby.

  18. TP: The problem was that your agency didn’t get the ticket issued in time. They “booked” the reservation, but it didn’t ticket yet, and you weren’t yet charged. In other words, your reservation was basically just on hold. So ANA and most airlines will easily cancel those bookings because there was the contract was not consummated. (I’m not a lawyer, but I can sound like one once in a while.)

    So had you booked through United or ANA, it would have ticketed quickly and your reservation would be good to go.

    That said, there are times when booking through an agency is better. Sometimes the fare isn’t available directly from the airline because of the combination of carriers, so you have to go through an OTA. So there’s no single right answer as to where to book. Which is why I advise to try everything.

  19. Robert — The problem with your idea of just having a notifier for mistake fares is that it can be difficult to separate mistakes from really good fare sales. $700 RT to OZ in J seems like a sure mistake, fair enough. But what if it was $1500? Or $2500? Where do you draw the line?

  20. Re calendar on iOS: second what has been said about using native Apple Calendar app for Google calendars. Just add the account as a Google account, and if you don’t care about that account’s mail, contacts, etc, turn off those switches when it shows them while adding the account.

    I also have a couple of clients (I’m a Mac consultant — I go by IvanExpert) who swear by Fantastical, and a couple of others who really like BusyCal. They’re both mature and well supported products, and I think offer free trials.

    A few people do use Google’s own calendar app, though I’ve never heard anyone proclaim any great love for it, and some find it confusing.

  21. Travis and all, I’m a OW, ST guy mostly so not to familiar with *A and UA. How many EQD’s would this give you if you credited it to UA please?

    Not sure if it matters but I’m doing the YVR – SFO – NRT/HND – SYD – HND – YVR route.


  22. ANA routed you from Vancouver to Haneda via Seattle. Odd because ANA fly non-stop from Vancouver to Haneda.

    I guess for a cheap fare they have to mess with you some.

  23. Rusty — Congrats on booking the deal! You will get about 40,000 premier qualifying miles (PQM) if you credit to United. But in terms of premier qualifying dollars (PQD), which I think you are asking about, it’s about $442. And that’s only if it was ticketed by United. If you ticketed it through ANA, you won’t get any PQD from United. Does that make sense?

  24. I worked for AA in the 90s The system is : PYMS or price yield management system and is the one that runs all of the prices, and they are entered on a routinely basis by the models they workout accoring to condition.

    These are run and executed and sometimes QA ( quality assurance) misses the correct test prior to final load. Hence the price defect. Usually a small subset of the batch.

    How often does it change? this is a cartel and they catch up to one another constantly.

  25. “As long as you are booking on a US carrier website”

    Does “US carrier website” mean website of US carrier of US website of any carrier?

    Thank you.

  26. I book US domestic flights all the time figuring I can cancel within 24 hours, but haven’t been 100% sure that you can also cancel international flights on domestic carriers. Thanks for mentioning that.

    Given that you have to cancel the ticket, aren’t you glad your spouse booked on United rather than on ANA?

  27. @AR the purchase must be from a website (foreign or domestic carrier) marketed to US consumers (this generally means making sure the ticketing country is the US). For example, buying through ANA in USD would likely be covered, while buying from UA in DKR would likely not.

  28. I managed to snap up this deal, got the PNR but it still says it is Purchased/Not Ticketed.

    I booked with ANA, did anyone get an e-ticket number?

  29. “Did you get in on the ANA Sydney deal?”

    Yes, to my considerable (but happy!) surprise. I booked my ticket via ANA’s website, and I was apparently one of the last to do so, given that fares had returned to their usual level literally within five minutes of my booking. The problem: my booking was listed online as “Purchased/Not Ticketed,” and the only thing I received from ANA about it (via email) was a change notice that the departure time for my YVR-SFO outbound connecting flight (on United) would be 15 minutes later than originally scheduled. As such I assumed, as you did, that:

    “ANA and most airlines will easily cancel those bookings because there was the contract was not consummated.”

    You may not be a lawyer, but I am 🙂 and I know the airlines are under no legal obligation to honor error fares. So: I figured my ticket was a no-go, and this morning I checked ANA’s website again only to see that my booking was still listed as “Purchased/Not Ticketed.” Since they’d put a hold on my credit card for the purchase amount that I wanted released, I called their reservations number to inquire.

    This is where the “considerable surprise” part of the story comes in, and also why I mentioned the connecting UA flight to SFO: ANA’s service rep told me my ticket hadn’t been issued only because they needed my formal approval to do so due to the UA-flight time change (!!). Obviously I approved it, and was then told that it could take “up to 24 hours” for ANA to issue my e-ticket … at which point I again assumed I was screwed. WRONG! The e-ticket confirmation arrived less than 10 minutes later!! While my Tokyo connections in each direction are less than ideal — on the outbound leg I land at NRT but depart from HND seven hours later, and on the return I have a 14-hour layover (at HND) — I nevertheless have a business class ticket to Sydney that cost US$636!!

    A few points of note:

    1. This was certainly an exception to the normal rule about not calling the airline with regard to error fares, but in general the rule still applies most of the time.

    2. Another rule exception here is that ANA lets you cancel tickets booked on their website within the first 24 hours even if you’re NOT departing from a U.S. city or paying in USD. (Also, it’s a 24-hour cancellation window from the time the *ticket* is issued, not from when it’s *booked*, so I could still cancel for free if I had any inclination to do so.)

    3. In response to this question: “Is there a way to subscribe to these flight deal websites but only be notified about mistake business fares (as opposed to every flight deal)?” Yes. (Sort of.) If you’re not already familiar with it, check out IFTTT. It’s an “automatic notifier” of sorts, with applets you can program to notify you instantly if, as in my case, someone posts a new thread on an online forum you follow. I have it set up to auto-notify me anytime a new thread goes up on FlyerTalk’s Premium Fare Deals board:


    That’s how I found out about this error fare btw. I’m also signed up to receive texts every time Secret Flying posts anything on its Twitter account, but in this case the news first “broke” on FT. That said, the board includes *all* business/first class deals — of which there are many — and I can’t think of any way to subscribe solely to error fares. Still, I knew as soon as I got pinged that it *had* to be an error fare, if only because the odds of any airline offering $600 business-class fares from North America to Australia are close to zero.

    4. “Booked it through an agency (clicked through on momondo) but then ANA canceled the rez. Should I have booked it through a different source?” I agree with Travis that it varies, but OTOH I’d say the answer is “yes” about 95% of the time: you should always try to book error fares through an airline’s own website if possible.

    The slightly more complicated explanation is that not even the *airlines* have real-time ticketing ability, or at least they don’t on their websites. While yes, they usually issue web-purchased tickets quickly, their core reservation systems are for the most part still tied to the borderline-geriatric global reservation network: the one formerly used (in the pre-internet era, and as far back as the 1970s) solely by licensed travel agents and the airlines’s call-in reservation centers. Real-life travel agents *still* use the system, and all of the OTAs have basically jerry-rigged connections to it, but the airlines have what I guess can be best described as “priority access” to it, for both their call-in centers and bookings via their websites.

    Finally, the biggest problem in this regard is that “OTA glitches” — error fares on Momondo’s or Expedia’s end, but NOT an airline’s doing — are both routine and routinely cancelled. I’d say this applies to the vast majority of reported Secret Flying fares described as such (which is why I rarely act on their fare alerts, along with most of them being in coach).

  30. @jeff

    Which applets are you using on IFTT and how did you set this up for that specific thread? I can’t quite figure it out, not that I haven’t tried..

  31. Calling these types of fares “mistake” and “error” significantly increase the chances of them being cancelled with no recourse.

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