A Guide To Mistake Fares: Nonstop NYC to Paris for $230
On July 24, 2023, Going sent out a Mistake Fare (bear with us, we’ll explain what that means in a second) for nonstop New York City (JFK) to Paris for $230 on American Airlines in economy. The deal—which spanned September 2023 through March 2024, including Thanksgiving but excluding Christmas and New Year’s Eve—would typically run $950.
It included a personal item and a larger carry-on. You could also pay $75 each way for a checked bag or upgrade to Main Cabin for $85 each way, which would include a checked bag, as well as seat selection and free changes.
Note: This deal has since expired, but read on for everything you need to know about booking a Mistake Fare the next time one comes up—and it certainly will. (It always does.)
What is a Mistake Fare?
A Mistake Fare is when an airline or online travel agency (OTA) sells a ticket for significantly less than it intended. Like way less. We're talking $63 roundtrip to Chile, $80 roundtrip to the US Virgin Islands, or $600 roundtrip to Asia in business class.
What causes Mistake Fares?
Many things can cause a Mistake Fare.
- Human error: The most common cause of airline Mistake Fares is human error (sometimes referred to as a fat-finger discount). For example, Going’s founder, Scott Keyes, previously bought a $130 roundtrip flight from NYC to Milan that was probably intended to sell for $1,300—but someone accidentally left off the last digit.
- Technology issues: These days, airlines determine fares for most routes using complex algorithms, which let airlines instantly give you a price, whether you’re flying a simple route like NYC to Paris or an incredibly complex one like Honolulu to Palau. Because airlines’ systems largely use decades-old technology, the algorithms will align to put out glitch fares on occasion.
- Communication problems: This is usually the case if you find a Mistake Fare through an online travel agent (OTA). Airlines and OTAs communicate via a global distribution system (GDS); sometimes an error in that communication can result in a Mistake Fare. For example, an airline may relay an incorrect percentage discount on flights for a certain route or fare class to an OTA.
- Foreign currencies: This can be a result of large variations in foreign currencies. For instance, in 2012 there was a significant devaluation in Myanmar’s currency, resulting in tickets out of Yangon (when paid in Burmese Kyat) to be dirt-cheap overnight; first-class fares were as low as $250 to the US and elsewhere.
- Route-specific fees: Typically, fees (like fuel surcharges) are included in the total price of a ticket, but sometimes the particular routing of an itinerary can cause fees to be excluded. For some itineraries, fees account for the majority of the cost, so without them, the total fare can drop low enough to be considered a Mistake Fare.
How to book a Mistake Fare
If you found a Mistake Fare that you want to book, first of all, congratulations! Most importantly, book it as soon as possible to lock in the price. Thanks to the 24-hour rule, airlines must allow you to cancel free within 24 hours for flights to or from the US. So, if it turns out that you can’t go for some reason, you can cancel and get a full refund as long as it’s within 24 hours of booking.
There’s another reason you should book directly with the airline rather than through an online travel agency. When you book through an OTA, they take your money and then request the ticket from the airline, which can take several hours if not longer. During this time, the Mistake Fare might disappear. And if the price changes by the time the agency tries to book your ticket, you’ll likely hear that the Mistake Fare price is no longer available and a refund will be coming. However, if you book with an airline, it cuts out the middleman and drastically reduces the amount of time required to issue your ticket, making it more likely for the Mistake Fare price to be honored.
The catch here is that some Mistake Fares are only available through online travel agencies and not through the airline. Though the odds of the fare being honored are a bit lower, they’re still quite high. Even if a Mistake Fare gets canceled, you’ll get a refund (and likely an additional travel credit as a gesture of goodwill from the airline or OTA). So in the first scenario you get a flight at a Mistake Fare rate, and in the second scenario, you get refunded and are no worse off than before. Heads I win, tails you lose.
How Going found the Paris Mistake Fare
All Mistake Fares are exciting, but this Paris one in particular was a darn good one. Europe at the tail-end of summer, over the holiday season, or for spring break 2024? Sign us up! (In fact, some Going employees did sign up, as did dozens of Going Premium and Elite members who will be vibing in the City of Light over the months to come.)
This beautiful deal was uncovered by Willis Orlando, Going flight expert and Manager, Product Operations. He says: “This deal was sniffed out by perseverance. I was training a colleague well after most folks had signed off for the day, pouring through deal alerts when I caught wind of something potentially special. At first, Google Flights only showed a few dates, and I tried to ‘break it’—basically to prove that something seemingly-too-good-to-be-true is not actually available to book. This is what we always do with Mistake Fares because we don’t want to send incorrect information to our members. Instead of breaking it, I found that the calendar started to populate and the price stabilized. I pulled the deal together as fast as I could and sent it out. By 6am the next day, the deal was gone, lasting no longer than four or five hours. It’s a great example of why Going is useful for folks who don’t want to spend 24 hours per day looking for deals.”
Other Mistake Fares we've found
- Atlanta to Chile for $63 roundtrip
- NYC to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands for $80 roundtrip
- San Francisco to Buenos Aires for $233 roundtrip
- NYC to Nairobi for $242 roundtrip
- Chicago to Rome for $249 in business class
- LA or San Francisco to Southeast Asia starting at $560 roundtrip in business class
While the Paris Mistake Fare has expired, it’s worth noting that—across 187 US airports and four fare classes—we see around 5-6 Mistake Fares per year. And even if it’s not a Mistake Fare, we’re sending out dozens of deal alerts every single day.
There are a number of factors impacting the cost of a plane ticket, like when you book, where you’re flying to, when you’re taking the flight, and even airline competition at the departure and arrival airport.
In general, though, these are the kinds of cheap fares that we’re finding and sending out to members from US airports to destinations around the world.
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Published August 3, 2023
Last updated December 19, 2023
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