9 Tips To Make Sure You’re Ready For The Next Mistake Fare

a group of buildings with a group of people walking on a dirt road

I was cleaning out my email archives and stumbled upon an email from April 2012 at 1:24AM with the header “Vayama Ticket Confirmation/Receipt: RGN-SFO”.

A smile instantly swept across my face. I still remember that night like it was yesterday – it was the night that I scored my very first mistake fare.

Scoring the deal

Back in early 2012 I was really getting into the points and miles game, and was on a mission to earn elite status and accrue as many miles as humanly possible.

I was constantly on the look-out for great flight deals and mileage runs. In particular, I had my ear to the ground for deals to Chicago where I was visiting my wife at least once a month, and was routinely able to get flights for around $200 round-trip from SFO. It’s also where I picked up the throwaway ticket trick, often booking my flights to MKE.

The “Mileage Run Deals” thread on Flyertalk was basically my homepage, and I would refresh it every few minutes to make sure there wasn’t anything I missed. And every night before going to bed, I’d check the thread to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Sure enough, I noticed a new thread had popped up: RGN – SFO in F $450 one way AI; other N. America cities included.

My first thought? “That’s cool, must be some domestic flight. Let me look up RGN. Yangon, Myanmar?!”

I started researching further, and quickly realized how big of a deal this was. Any plans for sleep were thrown out the window and I spent the next several hours busily planning and was ultimately able to get one-way tickets in First Class aboard Korean Air for just $250.

The coolest part was that I essentially got paid to fly, since the value of the miles accrued far exceeded the ticket cost! Since then, I’ve kept a close eye on every mistake fare that’s come up but have yet to find one that rivaled this deal.

Here’s the full trip report in case you’re interested.

What I learned about mistake fares

The best way to learn is by doing, and here are some valuable tips that I learned from this and subsequent experiences:

  • Move fast. Like really fast: Urgency is the name of the game with mistake fares, since you simply don’t know how long they will be around for. It could be minutes, hours, or a day if you’re really lucky. You’ll need to balance planning the perfect itinerary, with just getting something booked before time runs out.
  • Congrats on the booking, now sit tight: Unless you’re leaving within the next few days, pat yourself on the back for scoring an amazing deal and just sit tight. Don’t make any non-refundable reservations until you’re 100% sure the trip is happening. My experiences with the RGN ticket included a cancellation, a Department of Transporation (DOT) complaint, re-instatement, countless re-issues, and 10-15 hours on the phone before I actually flew.
  • Watch over your ticket like a hawk: These days, mistake fares spread like wildfire and chances are many others scored a similar deal. I’d recommend logging into the airline’s system to check your ticket at least once a week. Also, a great place to keep on eye on what’s happening is in the “Mileage Run Discussion”thread on Flyertalk. Learn from those that were willing to be the guinea pigs, and you’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.
  • Have a Plan B: With the new DOT protections in place for flights that touch the US, we are seeing more and more mistake fares being honored. However, it’s always smart to have a backup plan in case your ticket isn’t honored when you show up at the airport.
  • The Golden Rule of Mistake Fares: No matter how temping it is, DON’T CALL THE AIRLINE until the dust has settled. There’s no quicker way to kill a deal for everyone else than by calling in to ask for a seat assignment on the “amazing First Class deal I just found for $250”.

How to be ready to catch the next mistake fare

  • Need a bit of luck: Unless you’re chained to your computer 24/7, you need a bit of luck. Mistake fares can pop-up at anytime and if you’re sleeping or in a meeting, there isn’t much you can do. Heck, in the 15 minutes I went out to grab lunch I missed out on the Delta mistake fares to Hawaii.
  • Keep your eyes open: Personally, I’ve found the best source of information on mistake fares to be the “Mileage Run Deals” on Flyertalk as well as The Flight Deal. As time passes, you’ll also find information across the blog-o-sphere and through social media.
  • Book first, think later: As I mentioned above, you need to act quickly. If you’re planning a trip for multiple people, there’s no time to start an email thread about the ideal travel dates. In most cases you’re allowed to cancel tickets without fees within 24 hours of purchase, so there’s little downside to buying and then cancelling. If anything, you are in the driver’s seat after scoring a mistake fare since the airline ultimately wants you to cancel and will usually gladly waive cancellation fees even after the 24 hour window.
  • Practice makes perfect: It seems silly, but often times mistake fares are bookable through online travel agencies (OTA’s) that you haven’t used before. And often times, you need to be able to manually construct multi-city itineraries to get the flights to price out. If you’ve never done this before it can be a daunting task especially under pressure. It doesn’t hurt to play around with this feature until you feel comfortable enough to make a booking quickly.



  1. Great advice, I have never gotten in on a “mistake fare” but congrats to those who have. I have pretty good luck using miles for when and where I want to go, so that is usually my plan A. I love the flight deal and check them throughout the day.

    1. Doesn’t have to be super detailed, but would recommend at least having a general idea of alternate airlines, routes, or flights that could get you home. In general, best option will be to use miles for these last-minute emergency bookings, and you’d potentially need to whip up an award booking on the spot.

      Any research you can do ahead of time to know what potential flights may have award space will be very helpful.

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