Where Have all the Mistake Fares Gone?

Earlier in the week I wrote about comments I offered on the future of mobile for travel providers and how they’ll need to start understanding the revenue proposition for their investments (it will be more about reducing distribution costs and a defensive measure to avoid losing revenue to competitors than about unloading distressed inventory).

After my comments the panel I spoke with someone who works for the Airline Tariff Publishing Company, the airfare clearing house that makes fares available to the computer reservation systems.

We chatted a bit about mistake fares, and I must be the last person in the world to realize it, but he shared with me that about 3 years ago they implemented a simple system that’s done a lot to reduce the frequency that “fat finger discounts” (mistyping a price, often dropping a zero or even two off the price) occur.

Basically in 2009 they added an “are you sure you really want to load this fare?” screen for international fares. When fares are exceptionally low relative to existing fares in the market, they flag that for the person keying in the fare and that gives them a chance to say ‘whoops.’

And that likely goes a long way to explain why it’s so much more rare than in the past that we find mistakes that are 90% off usual price.

Most mistake airfares, now, come from:

  • Misfiled routing rules. There’s not a check that I’m aware of to make sure that customers aren’t going to be able to fly an unlimited amount on a fare (that the person entering the fare forgot to include maximum permitted mileage, specific routings, or a rule to bump up the fare based on the fares from a connecting city to the destination aka a HIP check or higher intermediate point check).

  • Dropping fuel surcharges off the price of the ticket. When n ticket is issued on ticket stock of a carrier that doesn’t have an interline fuel surcharge agreement with one of the airlines in the itinerary, and the tables haven’t been properly updated in IATA’s system to handle the split, the pricing engine may drop the charges when pricing the ticket. Incidentally, it was ATPCO that helped United close the loophole of adding a flight to Canada onto the end of an itinerary when Airfare Watchdog wrote about the ‘trick’ in March 2010.

  • Less sophisticated airlines who don’t understand the tools they’re given and aren’t willing to seek help. That’s why we still see the occasional mistake fare originating in South or Central Asia, frequently on airlines like Thai, Air India, and Malaysia.

  • Currency conversion errors, either an error in a pricing system’s logic or as a result of a currency devaluation.

Mistake fares used to be common and amazing but with airlines, at least, it’s been a whole new era. And not a great one for those of us who benefited from them for years.

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 Milepoint.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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Comments

  1. We all knew this party had to come to an end at some point. When mistake fares were relatively inexpensive events for airlines, the PR value of making good on them presumably outweighed the financial loss of the tickets. There was enough excess capacity and fewer people trying to capitalize on and/or knowledgeable about the mistakes. Now days, with capacity way down and many more people trying to pile on, some of these fares can cost the airlines millions. Obviously they would at some point want to take measures to stop them.

    It’s tempting to blame this site or that for killing the golden goose, but this gravy train was never going to go on forever.

  2. Not only that, but the frequency of updates has shrunk the window for extra cheap fares and also there are airline contractor-provided tools and more social media engagemet that airlines use to seek out and close deals faster than before.

  3. GUWonder
    Not only that, some people might go on FB/Twitter and bring attention to it themselves trying to share with friends.
    i.e. ‘JUST GOT A $7 TICKET LAX-JFK!!! THANKS @AmericanAirlines’
    (just an example)

  4. I definitely think that people that were bragging and advertising about their finds helped shut down a lot of the error fares. Like the coin program, the Foursquare check-ins, all these things come to an end at some point…..

  5. @Jamison – To clarify, I mean the point promo’s with Foursquare. People were abusing some of the Foursquare check-ins with Best Western, UA, etc where people would check in to get miles even though they were not at an airport (as in the case of UA you would get 50 miles for each check-in). Similar with the best western deal, you would get 50 points per check in. Now these programs are being suspended because people are violating the terms of the promos. Its mostly a tech issue because you were able to check in at an airport or hotel even if you were miles away.

  6. When I here “Where Have All the Mistake Fares Gone” what I hear from the past is the Kingston Trio “Where Have All the Flowers Gone…”

  7. Well, there was the Yangon- mistake 😀 I had a lot of fun at the Mother Land Inn (2)! Oh, and on TG and ANA Business for $31.50+YQ. Even made changes to the reservation on the way back haha.

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