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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 an airline software update may means more often than not, we’ll find ourselves searching for fools gold.

a bed in an airplaneBefore 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 released an update to its airfare management software with a feature called “Suppressor Of Sales”, or “SOS”. This feature initially launched in 2019 and has been honed in recent years.

What it lacks in naming 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 previous, and in some cases current process takes hours, or even days.

a woman reading a book to a girl lying in a bedBasically, 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 then 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, unless you’re super fast and ask any questions later.

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?

HT: Point Me To The Plane via APEX.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Do you really think fares are entered using the numbers along the top row of a keyboard? 0 and 9 are “frustratingly” as far apart as you can get on a numeric keypad. Very poor example.

    1. It illusrates the point quite nicely, if you ask me. Because frankly, no one gives a flying how someone punches numbers, they just care about the result.

  2. The question is actually what is wrong with you. You are a troll on the internet who apparently hates this blog, yet chooses to read every article word for word.

  3. Given many airlines refusal to honour “mistake fares” not sure how much we’re losing…
    In related news I simply don’t see the point in engaging with trolls when also off topic…
    Keep blogging Luigi, the interweb would be a worse place without you

  4. In fact ATPCO has had tools in place to limit mistake fares for 15 years. That’s why mistake fares became less common among Western carriers. (Not all airlines around the world used the tools.)

  5. ironically there was a big mistake fare post today on premium-flights and HFP website, a few people seem to have bagged some fab deals if they are honoured!

  6. I bagged DUB-MAD-MIA-MAD-DUB on IB for £490 in J.

    What is odd is I was at the tail end of the ‘flash sale’ in purchasing and I couldn’t get any of the priced itinerary on OTA’s like lastminute/travelup etc to reach the final ‘your reservation is confirmed page’. It would either re-price or ‘error’ me out.

    Oddly, after around twenty failed attempts I tried direct via and I finally had one that went through (well so far so good)! I would have thought that the airline itself would be the first sales point to pull the fare?

    Anyway I am a HUGE fan of ‘flash sales’ and have taken advantage of many over the years. I’ve also missed out on some frustratingly, usually because the other half dithers over it is a yes or no, or because I try and work out time off work etc first. I no longer do that. The other half has exactly ten seconds to opt in or out and i’ll sort work out after I book lol.

    I have been fortunate, most of my Flash Sale bookings have stuck in the past. But if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. It is all part of the game. I guess airlines take a number of factors into account – the fare that was actually sold and how much revenue that has taken out of the system to sell at a higher price. Fingers crossed on this one.

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