Mistake Fares, Glitches, and Tricks 101

Miles and points “knowledge” is very complicated. There is a lot of stuff to remember, from churning techniques, leveraging promotions, figuring out routing rules, finding awards space, and to poring over award charts to find sweet spots. But the reward is that you get travel which normally you wouldn’t be able to afford, if you put in the effort to learn about miles and points.

That’s why tricks/glitch fares, techniques, and strategies are really appealing to me. I think of them as another layer of knowledge to further save on your travel and reduce your travel cost.

I hope this post will provide you will as fullest of an introduction to these strategies as possible.

An Introduction to Mistake Fares, Glitches, and Tricks

This “area” of information generally has very vague and inflexible boundaries – but I define it as anything that will allow you to reduce your travel costs compared to the conventional miles/points collector or even blog reader/flyertalker.

Let me try and explain this as example:

A regular redemption from Asia to North America in business class will cost around $2000 (excluding fare sales, certain cheaper departure zones, and other anomalies) as a regular cash ticket. If you transfer 60,000 pre-devaluation United miles from UR to book this flight as an award (assuming there is award space), then you pay 60,000 miles and around $150 dollars for taxes, with no fuel surcharge. Assuming the minimum opportunity cost of Chase UR as 1.25 cents (since you can book any travel with that), the minimum “cost” of the transfer and award is $900. You or I can value the points at a higher amount, I would think that most of us would agree $900 is a fair value of the award.

In this case, a glitch/trick would be a method to do that redemption for an even lower amount. So for example if somehow you managed to use a fewer amount of miles to redeem for the same flight where NORMALLY it wouldn’t be possible (so for example if you managed to trick the redemption for 45k, or buy the same flight with $500 with a sale on a certain type of miles), then that’s a glitch in my opinion.

This is isn’t limited to just airfare, but applies to also hotels and other travel items and expenses. Those include hotel BRG’s as well as car rental codes and upgrades.

This is where there’s a grey area between a regular redemption and a glitch fare. Say theoretically (and highly unlikely to happen, but I’m using this to illustrate a point), United decided to have a 25% discount sale on award redemptions, so this award would only be 45,000 miles one way. This means that the cost of the award is lower, but it’s hard to tell whether this is a glitch or mistake fare or just someone leveraging a promotion.

Mostly, I would say these are on the redemption side of things, but of course there are lots of tricks with manufactured spending among other ways of acquiring miles.

Mistake Fares

These are the types of deals which get published by blogs, and should be most familiar to readers. These are fares where the airline or hotels sets a rate that is significantly lower than what it would normally cost. They’re great deals, so I purchase them. I personally do not consider them as mistakes. But this term is used in the community to denote any sort of reduction in miles, money, or resources required to acquire a flight, hotel, or other travel expense.

For example, there were rates at the Westin Cancun and Hyatt Regency Jeju a few days ago which were great deals if you already have travel in those regions planned (They were already dead):

Hyatt Regency Jeju mistake fare

Hyatt Regency Jeju mistake fare

Westin Cancun

Hyatt Regency Jeju mistake fare

And just a week ago, there was a very good Etihad First Class fare from Colombo to Dallas. I thought of this as a great fare, because even with AA miles you’d need 180k for these flights. You do lose your free one-way and you have to position to both ends, but at the end of the day with the paid first class miles earnings and other benefits I’m “buying” AA miles for less than a cent here, if I could theoretically purchase AA miles to redeem on these flights.

I’ve also written about other fares here such as Seychelles and Johannesburg and there has been a fair amount of mistake fares these past few months, including the 3 rounds of Rangoon Mistake Fares, the Delta and United mistake fares where essentially a large chunk of domestic/Hawaii/Carribean tickets went for $5-70, and many others. If you want more reading, View from the Wing has great posts on the top 10 mistake fares of the decade.

Generally, the protocol here is not to contact the airline/hotel associated with the fare or rate. Some other general good things to do include:

  • Not booking non-refundable travel around the fare/rate: There’s no guarantee that what you actually booked will be what your travel will be.
  • Book First, Ask Later: The more viral the fare gets, the more likely it’ll be pulled at any minute. In most cases you can cancel later if necessary.

They’re not only limited to paid fares though. Some amazing deals have come up, such as three weeks ago when Lufthansa First Class space was available in advance, the few days when essentially all Singapore First class space was open to awards, and just recently the IC Koh Samui was allowing three bedroom villas suites to be booked for 25,000 IHG points – all cases where consumers could access certain flights, hotels, and redemptions not normally accessible with miles and points at that rate.

Tricks and Glitches

This is the stuff that’s discussed least frequently, and definitely for the advanced miles/points person. I categorize this field as anything trick or glitch similar to mistake fares but have been alive for a significant time. Once people realize that these tricks have lasted for a long time, Why? Generally they’re tricks or glitches that work in a similar manner to mistake fares/glitches that I was just referring to above, BUT they’ve been alive for quite a while. This means that revealing it publicly would result in a high likelihood of it being killed. I think also this includes a lot of unconventional thinking because generally these happen when someone goes against what normally the process of redeeming would be.

The best example I feel comfortable worth mentioning is is the Malaysia Airlines Avios First Class mistake, which was last year when Malaysia Airlines joined Oneworld. The long story short was that an economy class redemption was booking into first class, so a one-way KUL-CDG redemption in first class was only 30k avios, instead of 90k.

This didn’t go public because I’m assuming the person who discovered the glitch felt that going viral would lead to the fare not being honoured, and thus asked people he told not to publicly discuss this.

There are still plenty of these sort of tricks that are hovering around for Delta, United, Aeroplan, and a certain Central American miles program. Obviously, some tricks are more straightforward than others and some are public. Some aren’t. It goes back to the flexible boundaries of what one might call a trick or glitch.

Which is which?

Generally, very low rates that are normally searchable tend to be mistake fares. Very low rates that aren’t normally searchable by the miles/points reader is generally tricks and glitches. That doesn’t mean that the redemption isn’t normal – but rather there’s a catch or method that you have to use to pull up the redemption.

This is similar with any sort of manufactured spend trick – they do not tend to be something that a normal person’s train of thought would do. This isn’t the best explanation but that my best shot at trying to explain.

My Principles on Mistake Fares and what Companies Think

I wrote briefly about whether I should post mistake fares, and most readers and I agree that I should. So if there is something significant, I will. On the other hand, if you ask me to keep something private, you have my word that I won’t post, talk, or disclose this information to anyone, including my readers, and private groups.

We might think of it as a cat and mouse type of game, but in my opinion as an armchair CEO I would say from the company’s point of view, they see it as a cost benefit type of situation. If the cost to correct this is more significant than the savings from removing the loophole, there’s no point for them to do that. That’s why we see stuff such as fuel dumps surviving secretly, because only 0.0000001% of all airfares sold are dumped, if not even fewer. The more viral a glitch or mistake fare gets, the more the company will be financially damaged, which is why mistake fares go viral and then get fixed very quickly.

So I do hope this post was interesting for you – if you have any questions or comments I’ll try and address it to the best of my ability.

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    • I just read the forums and I’m on twitter a lot! Usually with mistake fares they’re posted or tweeted so it’s a matter of seeing it before they’re pulled.

  1. Hi, this is a nice, thoughtful post.
    Is there a list you can share privately of glitches? I have travel in US (to TX, CA) and abroad (Europe, UAE, and Singapore area) and would love to see if there is possibility to benefit.
    Thank you if you can share. If not, I understand also!

  2. A true mistake fare will get caught relatively quickly whether or not it’s posted by most Airlines is my guess.

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