On January 1st, 2019, just a few minutes after we kissed 2018 goodbye, hundreds of people noticed Cathay Pacific was selling first-class tickets for $680 to New York City. These tickets normally cost thousands of dollars, and many understood that this was a mistake or an incorrectly-priced flight, what is professionally known as an Error Fare. Despite understanding that it was a mistake, hundreds of people bought the ticket and took the risk that their tickets would not be honored. Worst-case scenario, the airline would cancel these tickets and issue refunds. Best case scenario, these lucky passengers would enjoy a flight that costs thousands of dollars for just a few hundred dollars. Cathay’s response did not take long to arrive, and they posted on their social networks that, due to a system malfunction, certain tickets were sold for a very low price, and that they wish those who purchased them a pleasant flight – these error fares were honored by the airline. 

Another error fare was published in the summer of 2017, offering amazing prices for flights to North America and Mexico with Air Canada. The error fare also included fares from partner companies such as Lufthansa, SWISS, and United. In the example below, you can see a round-trip flight for $150 including checked-in baggage over the holiday season. Despite the widespread exposure of Air Canada’s error fares, the company decided to honor the tickets and we estimate that tens of thousands of travelers from Europe were able to take advantage of these fares.

Error fares are relatively rare but still may happen. For instance, in 2023, the Captain Flights team identified 2 error fares. The first fare was TAP’s luxurious business class from Tel Aviv to Lisbon, priced at $318, which represented a significant discount compared to the regular price. The second fare was Wizz Air flights from Tel Aviv to several Polish destinations in the summer, starting at $18. In this case, Wizz Air chose not to honor the error fares and canceled all purchased tickets.

How do error fares occur?

Ticket prices are a result of several variables such as airport fees, fuel surcharges, and more. Any mistake in calculating one of these variables can lead to low prices. The mistake can be an incorrect calculation of fuel surcharges, a problem in the currency conversion system, or even a simple typing error. Error fares are a common occurrence in airline and hotel companies. Airlines can cancel these tickets at any time, but they often avoid doing so due to the negative publicity they will receive from the media and customers. Error fares are definitely tempting and while the initial instinct is to book them, there are a few things to consider.

Do’s and Don’ts with error fares

Act fast, book the ticket 

Did you see a mistake price on the airline’s website, but not on other search engines? Book it immediately. Airlines raise prices on error fares when they see unusual flight bookings. If you aren’t sure who you would fly with, book a ticket for yourself, and if you want someone else to join, you can purchase an additional ticket and, if necessary, change the name on the ticket. As mentioned, note that the error fare is available on the airline’s website and not on online travel agencies (OTA), as it is most likely an internal problem with the search engine, rather than a mistake in the airline’s pricing. If it is a problem with the airline, you may still benefit as the airline will most likely honor the ticket.

Don’t contact the airline

Even though it may be tempting to confirm that the fare you have found is indeed legitimate, we recommend that you wait. The longer you wait and the closer the flight date gets, the more likely it is that the airline will honor the error fare. If you call the airline a few minutes after booking the ticket, it is possible that the incorrect price will raise questions at the airline, and the short time frame will allow the airline to cancel the ticket. Therefore, wait as long as possible, and make sure that you’ve received the flight confirmation by email, that you can view the booking online, and that the charge appears on your credit card.

Book refundable hotels, cars, and attraction tickets

You booked an error fare and now it’s time to plan the rest of your trip, such as the hotel, attractions, and more. Since the airline reserves the right to cancel or honor the ticket, we recommend you only book hotels and attractions that can be canceled. For example, book a hotel with free cancellation and wait to book tickets to attractions at your destination. Alternatively, wait to book your connecting flight or book a flexible ticket with free cancellation.