What is an Error Fare
An Error Fare is when an airline or travel agency booking system offers lower fares than usual due to some sort of system glitch. They occasionally leave off certain taxes, fees or surcharges which can dramatically reduce a ticket price.
While in the grand scheme of things the occurrence is very rare, it is not surprising as many of these booking systems are now very old and would require huge investment to renew. Meaning the airlines tend to let these go through as leakage and would in most cases honor any bookings made.
When an Error Fare pops up there tends to be an online frenzy as people from all over the world try to make dates work and book at the same time, hoping the airline doesn't find and fix the problem before they book. Usually they don't fit into people's travel plans and are not from/or to convenient airports. However, with every rule comes an exception.
A Personal Example of Using an Error Fare
Last year I knew early on that I would need to be in Europe and Brazil for separate weddings within a week of each other. Living in New York this was going to be a stretch financially, based on “normal airfares”. However, along came an Error Fare to my rescue.
One morning in March Twitter exploded with a TAP Fare starting in the US and ending in Brazil with a stop in Lisbon. It was perfect and I jumped on it ending up with two flights New York to Lisbon on September 8th and Lisbon to São Paulo the following week on September 12th. The fare cost $210 and I even could have added extra legs to it in Europe and onward in Brazil had I not panic bought as soon as I saw it. To put in perspective the same flights with TAP this year are well over $1,000.
Booking the main flights so early gave me ample time to work on my itinerary within Europe and in South America. Using a mixture of discount airlines and Air miles this turned into a pretty epic trip taking in 8 countries and using 10 different airlines. In addition TAP use the bid upgrade system allowing you to bid for an upgrade to business class. I entered the minimum of $325 for the JFK-LIS leg and it was accepted. So the trip started in style.
Tips for Booking Error Fares
When an Error Fare pops up and it fits travel plans, book it. The worst that can happen is the airline cancels it. So maybe hold off on hotels etc. until a period of time has passed and your ticket is confirmed. But if you are flexible and a little adventurous book it and come up with a plan. I missed an Air Philippines fare to Cebu round trip a few months back. It was under $200 and I pulled out at the last minute. While Cebu is a little out of the way, it is A) probably worth a visit and B) has cheap connections to all over Asia.
Keep an eye out for any error and bargain fares and travel widely for much less.