Travellers are always looking for all kinds of ways to save some serious money. After all, sometimes flights seem so unbelievably expensive! But out of all the sneaky tips and trips there are that can save people money, there’s one that’s become a staple party of any thrifty travel: error fares. In this article I’ll be giving you a brief run-down of what they are, the risks involved and what rights you have!
It’s quite simple to explain – the name says it all! In the age of modern travel, computer systems are used by every travel provider and airline to publish and calculate prices based on several factors. When it comes to flights there’s a lot going on when a website calculates the price (and remember that every website uses different algorithms!). A good chunk of the price you pay for any airline ticket will come from taxes and fuel duty, which varies depending on which country you’re flying from. There’s also the matter of time and the number of seats left – book early when the plane’s still empty and you’ll be almost guaranteed to get a better price than booking at the last minute with only two seats left.
Of course those are just a fraction of the factors that go into calculating fares, so it’s inevitable that something might go wrong. And as you’d expect – they’d do! Error fares are the result of human or technological error. Sometimes a person could forget to input an extra zero when typing in the prices, so suddenly a flight to Hawaii costs €110 instead of €1100. But in some cases it’s just the computer’s calculations that went a bit wrong somewhere – maybe it forgot to apply fuel duty or just couldn’t crunch the numbers properly.
Whatever the reason behind the mistake, error fares are easy to spot, especially if you consider the monthly average prices (which you can do on SkyScanner). And that’s why they’re so popular – there’s nothing more satisfying than bagging a long-haul flight for next to nothing!
Are there any risks?
The short answer: yes. Sometimes error fares can seem just too good to be true, and unfortunately some airlines or hotels can be quite quick to spot them and rectify the prices, especially if it’s such a drastic reduction in price. If you’ve booked an error fare ticket to Dubai, for example, and received the booking confirmation by e-mail, the airline could still potentially cancel the ticket and give you a full refund.
Unfortunately it’s difficult to say if airlines or hotels should honour error fares by default. There are no proper laws surrounding them yet, so normally things are considered on a case-to-case basis. Take United Airlines, for example. They sold over-seas flights for just $50… and that was business class! United quickly noticed the mistake and voided all error fare tickets, and as you could imagine people were quick to complain, saying that United should honour the tickets that had been bought. However it was ruled that because people use actively using a loophole in the system (i.e. taking advantage of a conversion error, booking via the Danish website and falsely giving Danish billing addresses) United had the right to not accept these error fares and refund the amount.
However the vast majority of error fares go unnoticed and many people have been able to use one to make the most out of their budget. As you can see it really depends on the situation, and how much publicity an error fare gets. $50 tickets to fly to New York are obviously going to cause a stir, so book at your own risk?
What rights do I have?
Unfortunately it’s hard to say, as the laws and regulations surrounding error fares are still a complete grey area. It’s hard to say how many rights the provider has to refuse your booking, or how much you have the right to have your booking honoured. However I can offer some tips when it comes to error fares to make it as seamless as possible.
As I’ve said before, the vast majority of error fare bookings go unnoticed and people are able to enjoy their holidays without a hitch, but I have some advice: just be cautious! Wait a few days after your booking confirmation, and if you haven’t heard back from the airline or hotel then the chances are that they haven’t noticed their mistake and you can continue booking the rest of your holiday. Do not get in touch with the airline or hotel directly though, even if you’re worried they may cancel, as then they’ll be alerted to the error fare immediately and will change the prices or cancel your booking.
Just trust your gut feeling and play it safe! The most important thing is that you respect the fact that there are risks, but don’t let them put you off too much. After all, tons of people use error fares as a way to save as much money as possible, so by all means try it out sometime. You may be surprised by which destinations these error fares will lead you… ;)