The Basics

Blog Question: What Are Mistake Fares?

This was a question I received recently after talking about my ticket purchase that starts in Myanmar. I was going to talk about this anyway, so I thought this was a good time to approach it.

A mistake fare is an airline ticket price that is lower than it was intended to be. There are some ticket prices that are called mistake fares, even though they may not be, are called such because they are much lower than the city pairs or market have normally seen. For the most part, however, a mistake fare is a ticket price that has a great difference between the typical price and the price at the time of purchase. For example, the recent Myanmar tickets were averaging out at $450 for a ticket that normally costs well over $10,000. This is a drastic one, many ticket mistakes have smaller differences.

Here are some of the reasons for mistake fares:

  • Currency fluctuation (as may have been the case in Myanmar)
  • Leaving off fuel surcharges (in the case of an European ticket, the fuel component – called YQ in the fare codes – can be as much as $400 – $600 of the $1200 ticket price)
  • Routing (a ticket fare having left off the maximum permitted mileage of a ticket or allowing to land in multiple cities at one price)
  • Discount codes (as was the case with the recent $320 Alitalia code)
  • “Fat-finger error” (entering the wrong price when keying in the fare price)
  • Changing ticketing systems (as was the case when United and Continental went through their ticketing system merger)

Those are just a few of the different reasons that mistake fares occur. They can be tremendously helpful because of the positioning abilities they give. In other words, you may not want to go to Myanmar, but it is close enough to many other countries that you may have a desire to visit. By securing a cheap ticket in that area, you can then build a trip around that by using regional airlines that cost very little to travel on. In the case of the Alitatia discounts, you could have flown JFK – Madrid for around $400. Even if you didn’t want to go to Madrid, you use that to get to Europe and then you could have used the other Alitalia discount code to secure inter-European flights for free.

Now, how do you take advantage of these fares?

  • Book first, plan later! Many ticketing agencies (online travel agents like Orbitz and airline sites like Delta and United) allow you to cancel the ticket within 24 hours or so (check the rules to be sure). As a result, you can buy the ticket when the fare first becomes available and then begin to attempt to construct an itinerary based on that ticket. If it doesn’t work out, no sweat – just cancel the ticket. Here is one other little tidbit – even if you don’t cancel the ticket within the first 24 hours, if you do have to cancel the ticket sometime after that, don’t worry. Most airlines will gladly allow you to cancel the ticket without leveraging any fee (simply because of how much they might stand to lose if you do fly).
  • Keep a list of places you want to go. When something comes up like a fare mistake, you can use that as the cheapest possible method to get to your actual desired destination.
  • Know your right. The airlines normally do not like to honor these mistake fares. This causes great problems to the person who books other travel around that “mistake fare.” The person who purchased that ticket did it in good faith since it was an advertised price and they received confirmation and ticketing of the same. Thankfully, the US Department of Transportation passed through a regulation that helps the consumer. This regulation states that if you have been charged for the ticket and/or received an e-ticket number, you are able to fly on that reservation. They cannot force the airline to honor it, but they will lay down some very hefty fines for a refusal to honor it. The caveat is that some portion of the itinerary has to go through the United States. For more information on that regulation, check here.
  • Make sure the ticket has a stop in the US. This is because of the regulation talked about above.

So, there you go. It can be a little nervous to book such a flight first time through but realize that thousands of people have taken advantage of these such prices and have taken the trip successfully. I have not blogged that much about such fares at the time they are bookable simply because I did not want to confuse people and have them book such a trip without understanding some of it. Now that you hopefully know a little more, I will write about ones that I believe would be of use to our blog readership. I hope this answers the question of what are mistake fares.


Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

Some of the links on Running with Miles are affiliate links that pay a commission if a purchase is made. Running with Miles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.