Top 10 Airline and Hotel ‘Mistake’ Fares of the Past Decade

Airline and hotel mistake deals were the lifeblood of my best travel experiences for a long time. I took plenty of trips I wouldn’t have otherwise taken, and they often pre-empted going places that were ‘on my list’ for places I hadn’t considered and I had really great experiences in the process.

But it’s sure seemed over the past two years that the best mistakes have dried up. Sure, I’ve heard of some glitches that haven’t been all that useful to me, business class fares originating in India or Malaysia that haven’t made sense for me to do or even to blog about since if I’m not finding them useful then it’s unlikely that a substantial portion of my readers will find them all that useful.

I do think that airlines at least have gotten much more careful and have better systems overall for detecting mistakes early on. And certainly there are folks who used to share deals but are now much more wary of doing so for fear that they won’t be honored if too many people get in on them. But in the past the very best ones were most often found by newbies rather than experts, by large numbers of people booking travel and then someone unpredictably stumbling upon a ‘find’. That seems to happen so much less these days, and 2009 feels sort of like when the really great run at this ended. I hope I’m wrong.

Ultimately my approach to deals when they came along was to make a booking, it was up to the travel provider whether or not it would get honored but if it was I certainly wanted to be along for the ride. If not, I didn’t complain, but most of the time luck was on my side.

While I’ve had great deals at places like the Intercontinental Tokyo and the Renaissance Seattle, there are a handful that I consider to be the very best mistake deals of the past 10 years.

Mexicana ~ $55+tax business class fares from their US gateways to Puerta Vallarta (summer 2002). This was the very first mistake fare I jumped on.

British Airways $20+tax World Traveler Plus fare from several US cities to several points in Europe (fall 2002). I missed this one while I was on the beach in Puerta Vallarta.

Conrad Bangkok $51 Presidential Suite (Summer, 2006). American Express travel priced this at $51. They honored it ‘as long as someone didn’t book and pay for the Presidential suite’ in which case they downgraded the booking. The best part is that some folks were able to combine it with…

The Le Meridien $33 Khao Lak Oceanfront Villa (December, 2006). The hotel published its 3 and 4-night discount rate plan in Ugandan Schillings instead of US dollars. That made a ~ $1500 a night 3100 square foot 2-bedroom Oceanfront Resident with Private Pool 60 cents per night. The hotel determined that they wouldn’t honor the rate, but offered $50 per night (with third night free, thus effectively $33.33/night) insead. And the rate included tax and breakfast, the latter normally costing more than the room rate itself. (Currently, a combination of Thailand’s tourism problems, the world economy, promos, and off-season make it possible to secure this room for ~ US$350 per night, which I’d regard as a value.) Some lucky souls timed their Khao Lak Ugandan Schillings trips to coincide with Bangkok travels, combining a an Oceanfront Villa stay with a Conrad Bangkok Presidential Suite stay.

$3 Hilton Tokyo/Osaka (November, 2005) Expedia displayed rooms at the Tokyo and Osaka Hiltons without the last two zeros in yen, so instead of ~ $200 a night for a standard room and $300 a night for an executive rooom (complimentary breakfast, evening cocktails, internet) the rooms became $2 and $3 respectively. Expedia did cancel some bookings but honored a good many as well. This was the first hotel mistake rate I benefited from.

Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort $120 Overwater Bungalow with Breakfast and Dinner (January, 2009) When Hilton took over management of three French Polynesia properties from Starwood (the former Sheraton Tahiti, Sheraton Moorea, and Bora Bora Nui) I wasn’t surprised that they had currency conversion issues. Bora Bora Nui itself had currency issues when it first went online, creating a famous mistake rahe that wasn’t honored (when the hotel sent a mass email to notify guests of its decision, they failed use the Bcc: filed and violated Starwood’s privacy policies so everyone that booked the rate received 10,000 Starpoints as an apology if I recall correctly). Hilton priced the Moorea property in Congolese Francs (CDF) instead of French Pacific Francs (CFP or XPF). That made a $1000 a night overwater bungalow a bit over $100 with meals included. Initially Hilton refused to honor, but then relented for those willing to convert their cancellable stays into prepaid stays (the prepayment naturally scaring away those not certain to use their reservations).

United Business Class to Auckland via Sydney for $1100+tax (Spring 2007) United loaded a C fare, which means full business class, so availability wasn’t an issue. And it was a weekend, so the fare lasted for days. It was also upgradable to first class for the US-Sydney flights, with onward travel to Auckland on other airlines.

Intercontinental Bali Imperial Villa as a reward night so just 30,000 Priority Club points. (2006) Priority Club long had an issue with hotels loading all room types available for award redemption, and this was certainly one of the very best ones in that overall mistake genre.

Colombo, Sri Lanka to New York JFK one-way for $1100 in business class (Fall 2007) This was a great fare, but tickets departing Colombo were often cheap. What made this an amazing mistake fare was that it lacked any routing or maximum mileage restrictions, which meant that folks could fly on a ton of different airlines, all over the world, as long as they started in Colombo and the ticket concluded in New York. Folks flew well over 20,000 miles one-way.

And the Number One All-time Mistake Fare, Both for Value and for Pure Drama…

Alitalia $33+tax business class fare to Larnaca, Cyprus (April 2006). The fare permitted stopovers in Italy in both directions and required departing from Toronto. The intention was to file a $3300+tax business class fare. Initially Alitalia refused to honor the fare and began cancelling itineraries. They got pushback from some Orbitz lawyers, presumably over the unilateral handling of the situation. They agreed to honor the fare, but reconstructed itineraries to remove stopovers. In some cases travel dates were changed significantly. Then they conceded that was problematic, and began restoring itineraries to their original, but in some cases there was no codeshare availability on the flights between Italy and Cyprus (which were operated by Cyprus Airways) so people were rebooked on different dates, in a different class of service, or found themselves without any flight between Italy and Cyprus at all… Or flying to Cyprus with no way back (such folks were dubbed “the swim team”). This mess was given to one amazing staffer in Alitalia’s New York office named Nicolo to fix. The deal became that these tickets were fully changeable — once. You could change your dates (time of year even). You could change your routing. Add or delete stopovers. The only requirements were that you actually had to fly to Cyprus (a handful of folks circumvented this early on dealing with Alitalia’s Canadian office) and once reissued your ticket became non-changeable.

What other mistake fares deserve to be on this list? When you hit the comments, please be sure not just to list other mistake fares, but make the case for its inclusion — explain the value and why it merits being on the list instead of one of the items I preferred. I considered adding the $28 W Times Square rate or the $2 US Airways fares to Hanover, New Hampshire. But those didn’t seem to quite make the cut. Neither did the $200 first class fares on US Airways to St. Croix. But this is a top ten list, after all!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. $199 Virgin Upper Class – D fare including car service – BOS – LHR – Jan 2004

    Mistakenly filed “companion fare” – included 15,000 bonus miles for each companion who flew with you!

  2. Last year’s expedia $200 off flight+hotel deal to LAS and a couple other destinations merits inclusion in my opinion. With creative timing and/or a burned hotel night it was possible to travel for $0 out of pocket!

  3. Lasy year’s Expedia.Ca hotel + air deal error was actually $300 off. We used it to fly FREE on Jetblue (which doesn’t cancel no-shows on the outbound flight)to Orlando; Boston; Denver; DC; and Vegas. All in 1 month.

  4. 2009: Calgary to Mallorca Spain for $96 all in on Air Canada and Spainair. Full miles earning and semi flexible. It was honored too.

  5. Christmas 2008 – Ritz Carlton Palm Beach – Club rooms for $89.90 a night…versus the $899.00 that they had hoped for. I took three rooms, family took two more, and friends took two more! The only drawback…breakfast for my family of four was higher than the room rate! Ritz honored the rate with no questions whatsoever…

  6. 219 dc to Moscow back in spring 2009. Aa had a double miles promotion going on so I received about 20k miles for the flight. And the flights were only a 1/4 full so everyone had their own row of seats.

  7. I guess in the spirit of mistake fare it’s appropriate to misspell Puerto Vallarta. Happy turkey day from a few miles north in Nuevo Vallarta.

  8. In 2004, Hilton added the London Waldorf to their portfolio, and accidentally loaded into their system as a level 1 (10k points per night) redemption. I was able to book 7 nights at the Waldorf for 70K points, and Hilton honored the award. It was a wonderful start to my first trip to Europe!

  9. The SPG e mail mistake was 5000 points.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. The $25 W Times Sq was so good that I bought a few to give as gifts.

    The $2 fare to ART (Watertown) was an embarrassment when someone defaced a picnic table.

    I missed the BA deal because I was having drinks pre-Thanksgiving with Flyertalkers.

  10. The 20CAD YYZ – DEL LX C fare and the 20EUR OSL-PVG SK C fare also come to mind. The real MR opportunity was the BOS MIA US A fare for 130USD

  11. That’s a great trip down memory lane. I got in on almost all of them, including giving my niece a memorable honeymoon at Moorea Hilton in an over the water bungalow.

  12. I benefited from the €0.01 rate for a two night stay at the Crowne Plaza Quarto d’Altino (near Venice)… four times! (This happened fall of 2009, I believe.)

    I managed to book four back-to-back reservations before it was withdrawn. They honored it (making it free) or, if you didn’t want your reservation, offered miles (I believe 5000) as an apology. I was planning on visiting Italy anyway, so kept my reservation. I was surprised it included breakfast. 😉

    (Note that the standard rate at the time was ~€90/night, not including breakfast.)

  13. My first mistake rate was SAS OSL-CPH-PVG return (and OSL-CPH-PEK) in C for 200$ back in 2005. Those were the days…

  14. My best ever was an Alitalia Mistake fare BKK-JFK. No MPM, no routing restrictions. Price was around 3500 US$ plus tax back in 2008 in Business. Only real limitation was 16 coupons – i was using this for multiple trips over almost one year.
    Used it for
    BKK-SIN (TG) – SYD (SQ 380) – SIN (SQ 380) – SIN (SQ 380) – FRA (SQ777) – JNB (SA) – MUC (SA) – STR (LHR) – MXP (LH) – JFK (finally Alitalia) – MXP (Alitalia) – FRA – CPT (SA) – LHR (SA) – AKL (NZ) -HKG – (NZ) – BKK (TG).
    Almost 65000 miles.

    Then there was anoter good one back in the early 90’s (which was available for more than 2 years: A TWA / JAL round the world ticket in F from ATH. TWA stopped flying to ATH, you had to start in FRA (they honored the ATH ticket for that), – US on TWA, then JAL to NRT, one side trip in Asia and JAL back to FRA. The price was around 1200 US$ – even for back then pretty good.

  15. @Sam I was in on that one, and even blogged it here at the time 🙂 @hularrl210 blogged that one too and had a nice trip to NY out of it ..

  16. The Expedia deal last November was incredible for me. I had the time and went from Zero to Gold on Delta for free.

  17. Everyone will always love the ones they got in on. I booked 6 people to Lebanon New Hapshire from Tampa, for $2 each plus tax….. took my parents to the Bahamas 4 nights plus flight, completely free. 4 trips to Vegas, all free. Wasington DC to Portland Maine… $0 plus tax. Trip to Toronto from Tampa, flight and 1 night hotel $75 a person. TPA to BCN $211 after all taxes and fees.

  18. Great list. I bought the SFO-SYD-AKL fare and topped it off with a 25k roundtrip in NZ business class roundtrip back to Australia. Alas the 10%”infant” fare cost us close to $1000 and earned zero miles, so we learned the hard way that we should have bought a 3rd seat on the mistake fare. We felt justified in taking advantage of this fare after trying for months to book saver award business class seats to Australia and never once finding any inventory.

    Earlier that year we also used the $28/night room at the Best Western Zurich, courtesy of Octopus Travel I think.

  19. In 2006 American made a hash of uploading their one way fares in First Class from London. They were only one-way and only for travelling from London. It was the first (and possibly) the last mistake fare that originated in London that was actually honoured by a company. Typically, I was unable to take advantage of it as the dates didn’t work for me.

    LHR-JFK was approximately £150 including tax (UK APD and YQ were so huge back then) and LHR-West Coast was around £175

    Better than the Mexicana fare?

  20. * Buy 1 room at rack rate Dec 31, get same room for up to 365 days for $1 per night at San Juan Hilton.

    My in-laws backed the $1600 per night Presidential Suite and stayed for 3.5 weeks for $1621!!!

    * AZ AMS-MXP-PVG RT in J for $657, which I think was a better value proposition than the UA SFO-AKL in J at $1100.

    * YOW-HNL RT on NW for $80, fare was upgradeable. Booked 4 RTs and got upgrades cleared on 7 of 8 legs.

    * DXB-SVO-JFK RT in J on SU…cant remember price but it if I did it, it had to be under $1000! Did thrice.

    * KTM-HKG-CDG-YVR on AF in J for $454 one way. Not a public mistake, but hordes of miles and as I was India anyway, puddlejumping to KTM was easy; did thrice

    * YYZ-OTP RT on NW in Y for $262 (I think $40-$50 plus taxes) with super flexible routing (YYZ-AMS (stop)-OTP-CDG-ZRH (stop)-AMS-YYZ)

  21. @silver springer that was a companion ticket where both passengers priced out as a companion (no requirement to buy the full fare ticket). And you could travel all the way to KUL for a bit under $500.

  22. Agree with tyoflyer on the BKK-IST-GRU OW C fare on TK for 571 EUR. Full-flat 77Ws all the way… friends leveraged it and left in early October and continued to Colombia, St. kitts and now Whistler. I have mine booked for January.

  23. Brings back great memories. I was lucky enough to get in on the $20+tax SFO-LHR-AMS on BA in WT+. Remains one of my favorite purchases of all time, 9 years later!

  24. @Gary. Not sure if this is the same mistake fare as you noted. This one was a mistake by Orbitz in loading the airfare and Malayasia honored the $95 RT LAX-TPE.

  25. @Baggageinhall- I remember those AA fares! I had tons of family from the UK visit me in the fall of 2006 due to that mistake fare.

    In the same year, I remember reading on the BA board of FT that the Bellagio had improperly loaded rates on Travelocity and had all rooms were available for the same rate. I ended up booking the presidential suite (including limo pickup) for a couple of trips that year. Once with the wife and once with my buddies for a guys weekend, all for around $160 a night.

  26. In late January 2005, AA put a V fare ewr to hnl ft for 70+ instead of 700.

    Then the zero plus tax Atlanta to aca.

  27. The 2010 ~$300 one-way Hawaiian codeshare operated by Korean Air in business class ICN-HNL/OGG. It was up for days before they corrected it on their own website, then HA waited 4 more days before handling the mess by downgrading reservations. Took threatening to take them to small claims court, but ended up getting a free round-trip US-Hawaii flight in F-class on HA out of it instead.

  28. In 2007, flied Ryanair Italy-Germany and back for 0,02 euro… I think the discount code was supposed to be used just for one leg of the trip, but worked for both )

  29. For the Valentine’s Day Weekend 2010 the Intercontinental Montelucia Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, AZ sold their 5 available Kasbah Village Poolside Suites for 39$ instead of 590$ by mistake. They honored the bookings!

  30. Did anyone else get the Qantas Estonia to Sydney full fare deal for $300 instead of $3000? It was through Travelocity. They initially tried to cancel, but ended up offering $2000 in travel credit on Travelocity in exchange. I booked a trip to Bali, Sydney, Cairns and Fiji for that $300.

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