Heart rate: pounding…
When an amazing airfare hits the market, it’s a bit like that part in any movie where that revelatory moment happens and everyone starts moving. Like a Jason Bourne scene when they figure out where the bad guys are. The music speeds up, the quick action cuts get your eyes focused and your heart begins to thump with excitement. Could this be the day you fly first class to a far away destination for $500 round trip? Tick-tock, tick-tock…
There’s nothing quite like the thrill of uncovering an airline “mistake”, “error” or “promotional” fare, but a new airline software update may mean we’ll soon find ourselves searching for fools gold.
Before we get into what’s happening, it’s important to understand “mistake fares” or “error fares” because frankly, those are often the wrong titles to use. Airlines are always looking for good PR, quick cash and instant market share on a new route, so it’s fair to say that many of the fares branded as “errors” by the internet are actually just semi clever marketing ploys.
But not all of them.
Airfares are ultimately filed by someone with lots to do, other things to think about and every once in a while, they’re also entered by someone with digits that don’t quite fit in between the keyboard keys. It’s where the term “fat finger” deals came from. Airlines really do accidentally publish $9500 fares as $0500 deals because the 9 and the 0 are just so frustratingly close together. When this happens, it’s all about clawing those fares back from the public – and fast.
Surprisingly, it’s not actually that easy to do …
It won’t win any awards for name creativity, but nearly 90% of the worlds airline fares are pushed out and managed under a system called FareManager. The system is what the guys in the backrooms at airlines use to release their new deals, and also to cull old offerings to make way for the new. The whole culling part is what’s of particular interest.
ATPCO, the company behind the cleverly titled FareManager is set to release an update to its airfare management software with a new feature called “Suppressor Of Sales”, or “SOS”. What it lacks in creativity is made up for in literal translation and intimidation. Suppressor of Sales is designed to allow any fare in the US or Canada to be pulled back within 15 minutes and all international fares under an hour.
The current process takes hours, or even days.
Basically, fares are loaded onto the system and then pushed to a general system known as GDS to reach most places, and then also to specific vendors like Expedia. When a fare is incorrectly loaded, like when a zero is “accidentally” left off, each vendor must be contacted and the airline quite literally needs to start calling large travel agencies and online booking websites asking them to manually pull or update the airfares while corrections are made.
Amusingly, new fares could only be loaded for international flights once a day, so if a fare released at 6:01AM and the reset was 6:00AM, it was effectively stuck out in the open fora painful 23 hours and 59 minutes. Now, these fares will zip away within an hour in the worst case.
So what does all of this mean for you?
Sadly, it means that unless your finger is on the proverbial flight deal trigger, any actual ‘error’ fares will be extremely hard to get in on. By the time it’s become public knowledge, or at least on a page that shares amazing deals, chances are it will be borderline impossible to book.
Don’t get too sad though. An airline wishing to appear as though they’ve made a mistake to garner some fun publicity could choose to leave the fare out just long enough to get traction, and then pull it in a timely fashion when their appetite for ridiculous flight deals has passed. Let’s just hope you get in on some, right?