Airplane and remote control
Photographic illustration ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Why I Do Not Like Posting Articles About Mistake Fares — and Should I Change My Mind?

You probably scour the weblogs, forums and search engines for the best airfare deals — and then along comes an airfare which is either too good to be true or is an amazing bargain. You drop whatever you are doing and immediately concentrate on booking those flights…

Why I Do Not Like Posting Articles About Mistake Fares — and Should I Change My Mind?

…only to find that the unusually low airfares either no longer exist, or were basically “phantom” airfares — meaning that they never existed in the first place. The experience is almost as if they were turned on with a click of the button — only to be turned back off again with another click of the button.

Not long after Chuck Powell posted this article at Points With a Crew pertaining to airfares between Atlanta and different cities in Australia for as low as $627.00 round trip — including all taxes and fees — for a seat in the economy class cabin, I immediately attempted to book a ticket.

Here is my experience illustrated in screen shots:

Click on the above image for an enlarged view. Source: Google Flights.

I used the search engine of Google Flights to find airfares between Atlanta and Sydney — and I found quite a few for as low as $640.00.

Click on the above image for an enlarged view. Source: Google Flights.

The dates I chose were Saturday, May 18, 2019 for departure from Atlanta to Sydney, with the return on Saturday, June 8, 2019.

Click on the above image for an enlarged view. Source: Google Flights.

I had a selection of three choices for outbound flights. I chose the one which cost $640.00…

Click on the above image for an enlarged view. Source: Google Flights.

…but when I was brought to the point of choosing a return flight, the cost skyrocketed back to typical airfares. I chose the one which cost $1,089…

Click on the above image for an enlarged view. Source: Google Flights.

…and even that selection jumped to $1,508.00 — which was the cost of the other choice.

Click on the above image for an enlarged view. Source: American AIrlines.

When using the official Internet web site of American Airlines to book the same itinerary, the total cost of the itinerary was $1,489.00.

As far as I know, the example used by Chuck Powell may be legitimate but was not confirmed, as he posted screen shots of what he found at Google Flights, which is not always accurate because of the speed in which airfares change. I have learned that if you want to confirm that flights are being sold at the airfare found at Google Flights, you must confirm the pricing at the official Internet web site of the airline — and furthermore, ensure that the airfare remains the same when clicking all the way through the process but just short of purchasing the ticket.

In contrast, Ric Garrido posted this article at Loyalty Traveler pertaining to airfares between Atlanta and different cities in California for as low as $78.00 one way — including all taxes and fees — for a seat in the economy class cabin.

Click on the above image for an enlarged view. Source: United AIrlines.

That airfare still existed at the time at which this article was written — but the airfare is a Basic Economy class ticket, for what that is worth.

Taking Advantage of Mistake Fares: A Question of Ethics?

I am not going to delve deep into the ethics of taking advantage of a mistake fare, as I ventured in depth into this topic with this article I wrote back on Thursday, December 25, 2014 — but how would you know whether or not the amazing airfare which is found is actually a legitimate sale?

In this article pertaining to what is the difference between incorrect prices and mistake fares which I wrote four days later on Monday, December 29, 2014, I wrote:

The question is whether or not consumers should be able and permitted to use the aforementioned rules and pricing laws to their advantage when it comes to incorrect pricing and mistake fares. The problem is — except for the most obvious cases — how can anyone prove that a consumer actually knew that an airfare or price of an item or service is actually a mistake?

Please answer this question without peeking: is the following headline of an article which was posted earlier today describing a mistake fare or a legitimate airfare purposely offered to customers?

London to Germany and Ireland – at £17.82 all-in return

That sounds like a pretty good deal, right? The writer of that article called that airfare “remarkable”…

…so was it a pricing error? Click on the link above to find out.

Even if you do not click on the link, I use that as one of myriad examples of airfares which could be considered mistake fares or legitimate deals. Can you really tell the difference between a mistake fare and a legitimate bargain airfare? Should you as a consumer be required to be burdened to know the difference?


While such airfares would certainly drive more traffic to The Gate, I typically do not post articles with possible error fares because I do not want to frustrate you when you get the news of such an airfare from me — only to become irritated after taking the time to go through the process and come up empty because that airfare is not available. To a reader, posting airfares which are quickly unobtainable may equate to what is known as click bait in his or her mind…

…but am I wrong about this train of thought? Which would you rather I post more articles about great airfares which may be mistake fares — and thus have you score a phenomenal deal but may potentially waste your time — or should I continue the current policy of rarely ever posting articles about those airfares?

Photographic composite illustration ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Posting of mistake fares is VERY beneficial to people. I know lots of people that jumped on the error fare from Asia back to USA for insanely cheap fares. Sure, sometimes they don’t last long but posting of them by bloggers gives the “average Joe’s” a chance to jump on these fares. If everyone had the attitude not worth it to post then everyone would suffer.

  2. Yes, you should change your mind. No one ever said it was easy, but it sure is grand when it works.
    Those of us in this “hobby” often enjoy the hunt almost as much as the actual scoring of an error fare.

  3. It’s your blog, and regardless of your decision, it will be made with integrity. Personally, I’m rather ambivalent, since really good sales or mistake fares tend to get plastered all over BA, for example. On New Years, I happened to be checking on BA when I saw the Cathay deal. My wife and I were already going to be in Southeast Asia, so I booked it. I’m quite pleased that it worked out, but even if it hadn’t, I certainly wouldn’t blame the blogger who alerted me.

  4. If it’s posted by the airline then amazing deals are ethical. If it’s posted by bloggers then it’s wrong.

  5. Brian,

    I am extremely flattered that you noted my ATL flight sale post. I’m a long-time reader of The Gate, and to have come to your notice quickly is a pleasant surprise.

    To give you some insight into that post, and any fare deal I write about in general:

    1. That deal was alive for ~30 hours total. It is part of the ongoing fare war to Australia. Since the beginning of the year the following US cities have had sub-$700 r/t fares to Australia: LA (alive), NYC (alive), SFO (alive, but rising), Chicago (now dead), Dallas (dead), Washington D.C. (dead), and finally Atlanta. Therefore, I do not believe it was a “mistake fare”, unless all 3 domestic airlines and their partners have had a continuing mistake fare problem for a full month now.

    2. I did not posts that fare for about 24 hours, because my first searches were redirecting to higher prices than Google Flights was showing. I *ALWAYS* create a dummy booking for any fare I quote to ensure validity. Once the fares were actually bookable through airlines and trustworthy OTAs I posted the story. However, in the future I will post pictures from the actual booking page at the OTA/airline to ensure you and any reader knows that the fare was legitimate. Thanks for the advice!

    3. I noted that you could chase a lower fare if you were interested, but with less-reputable OTAs. Another standard I have is to never trust a quoted price from an OTA with a known history of hidden fees or terrible customer service. Thus, while I saw prices as low as $497, I did not quote that price because I couldn’t stand behind it. To post a questionable fare from a shifty OTA would indeed be click bait.

    4. Finally, I mentioned that a $640 r/t price ATL-SYD would not last long. True to expectations, it didn’t. I’ve missed some great fares already this year because I was offline; that’s the nature of sales and deals. I have no control over how long any sale (or mistake fare) will last – oh, to have that power over time and space! I merely post good fares that I can personally verify are legitimate and bookable at the time I post. If they are available forever, then they are just the “normal” price, after all.

    Thanks again for the feedback. If there’s anything I can do to improve my work I’m always open to try.

    1. I appreciate the insight, Chuck Powell.

      Please realize that the article which I wrote is in no way a criticism of your work; but rather a question of whether I should report on mistake fares or extremely low airfares primarily because of their perishability — to the point that by the time someone reports on one, they may be gone…

      …and so far, the majority of readers of The Gate who have replied up to this point seem to be in favor of me reporting them if I spot one — whether on my own or by someone else.

      Thank you for taking the time to reply.

    1. Thank you, Rjb.

      Judging by the number of number of views articles with weather reports that affect travel tend to receive, plenty of readers seem to agree — and I appreciate that.

  6. Given your flowery speech, there’s a pretty good chance availability would be gone by the time you posted, so no worries.

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