A hotel's mistake can be just as lucrative
Airline industry analyst Gary Leff thinks mistake fares were more common a decade ago. Before the well dried up in 2009, though, he enjoyed some luxuries that were downright stupid, at costs lower than an Uber ride to the airport. He fondly recalls a $33 round-trip business class ticket from Toronto to Cyprus that included stopovers in Italy. For that one, he flew Alitalia, which intended to price the flight at $3,300 round-trip plus tax. Instead, he says, they loaded it as $33 plus tax.
Leff, who scored his first mistake fare purchase in 2002 -- a mouthwatering $55 business class ticket to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico -- notes that airlines still post mistake fares, but you might be luckier if you’re searching for glitches in hotel prices. In 2009, when Hilton flubbed a currency conversion between French Congolese and French Pacific Francs, Leff scored a hotel deal in Bora Bora Nui that would make Richard Branson blush: “We got $1,000-a-night over-water villas including breakfast and dinner for about 100 bucks,” he says. Another time, Leff managed to stay at the Hilton in Tokyo/Osaka for $3. This was after Expedia neglected to add two zeroes to the price listed in yen. On his website, he writes: “$200 a night for a standard room and $300 a night for an executive room (complimentary breakfast, evening cocktails, internet) ... became $2 and $3 respectively.”
Leff says that the halcyon days of airline mistake fares have largely subsided. “We see [mistake fares] coming up less often than they used to,” he says. “One simple reason for that is there are better tools that airlines have at their disposal.” The government, too, used to intervene when mistake fares were disputed by airlines. Then, in 2015, the US Department of Transportation ruled that airlines no longer have to honor mistake fares.
Even if you’re lucky enough to find that $38 jewel amid $1,000 tickets, there’s about a 30% chance the airline simply cancels the ticket, by Allag’s estimate. But for the people who chase ‘em, there’s still a thrill in the chase -- and in the payoff.