IMG 7922

Flight alerts: Promotions or price errors?

To the point 250 for Paris, $200 for Dubai, $198 for Iceland. Where do these promotions or errors come from, and how can I take advantage of these "flight alerts"?

400 for Seoul or Shanghai, $350 for Dubai, $250 for Paris, $198 for Iceland… Here are some examples of rates that we have been able to book ourselves (or that our acquaintances have been able to enjoy) over the past few months. But where do these promotions come from, and how do you take advantage of them?


Flight alerts: Promotions or price errors?

Before we look at distinguishing promotions and pricing errors, let’s understand the path of a “flight alert”.

The path taken by the “flight alert

Airline fares are scrutinized by manytravel hackers. Here’s how it usually works:

A / It all starts with an individual, like you and me, who searches for airline tickets on Google Flights or its “advanced” version ITA Matrix.

europe price google flights e1454077836525

B / The good deal is then posted on a forum like Flyertalk’s“Mileage Run Deals” with obscure titles for “amateurs”:

flyertalk cpm
Decryption: Virgin Atlantic from New York (JFK) to Sydney via Los Angeles / $675 taxes included round trip (yields 19,990 miles or a cost per mile of 3.3 cents), for the Delta Airlines program.

This forum was originally designed to allow frequent flyers to reach higher status with their loyalty program at a lower cost, when they were a few thousand miles short. They were on the lookout for a“mileage run“. The destination doesn’t matter here!

C/ The deal leaves the forum and is spread by bloggers via social networks(like in our facebook group) and spreads like wildfire.

paris alert milesopedia

This is when there is not much time left before the good deal disappears either because of lack of availability or because the airline has “closed the floodgates”!

Promotion or price error

There are real pricing errors… just like there are big promotions.

The airline’s real-false mistake

For example, a company that wants to draw attention to itself and to a particular route will be willing to sell many seats at an unbeatable rate.

This is what Etihad did last year when it posted tickets from North America to Abu Dhabi on Christmas Day for around CA$200 round trip. A couple of friends had the opportunity to take advantage of this and visit Abu Dhabi and Dubai for a weekend.

2014 12 25 auh jfk

At first, everyone thought it was a pricing error. Then some media outlets raised the point that this was a way for Etihad to get noticed by the American public against its rivals Emirates and Qatar Airways. Error or marketing, we will never know.

Airline marketing

Then there are “attractive fares” like $99 for a one-way flight between Montreal and Iceland on WoW Air.

o wow air facebook

This fare does exist, and the airline is promoting it. But here the company has chosen to “slice and dice” all its pricing into options like when you buy a car.

So here, “standard equipment” is your place in this flight. The options will be the choice of the seat, the luggage (even the luggage in cabin superior to 5 kgs), the meals. In short, all options that are usually included in other companies doing the transatlantic route.

wow 3This type of fare will attract attention, but will also satisfy many people who prefer to travel light and buy their own food… which gives them the opportunity to travel to Iceland for the same price as a train ticket to Quebec City!

The real pricing error

But what we are most interested in is the real price error. The one that allows us to travel to the other side of the world for nothing.

3 reasons for this pricing error:

1/ The computer problem due to the carrier/fuel overload

The famous fuel surcharge – renamed carrier surcharge – that airlines implemented in the 2000s, causes most of the pricing errors.

details ac ita
The carrier surcharge, often categorized as “YQ”: if this one disappears, it is $456 less on the cost of this ticket.

The airlines’ computer systems were made before the introduction of this type of surcharge and do not allow, in some cases, to add it to the ticket price.

Generally, when only one company is involved in a ticket… there is no problem.

Things get more complicated when several airlines appear on the same ticket: a single journey by one airline can make the carrier surcharge applied by the other airline disappear… which results in a drastic drop in the total cost of the ticket!

In the jargon of the forums, this is called
Fuel Dumping

2/ A computer problem from a third party service

This is called
OTA Glitch
“. OTA stands for“Online Travel Agencies“. These are all agencies that resell airline tickets on behalf of airlines: Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz…

But these agencies themselves face computer problems, and interesting errors can then appear!

one travel new zealand
Here, only the OTA OneTravel has an unbeatable price of $357 CAD

OTA Glitch” occurs when the error cannot be replicated on the airline’s website or through another travel agency.

3/ Human error

Not everyone is perfect. It is not – yet – only machines that set ticket prices throughyield management.

All it takes is one misplaced comma when programming the price in the computer systems… and a $999.00 ticket is displayed at $99.90. This was the case last September for a little while: Air Canada was posting fares between Montreal and Paris for $245 round trip.

Bottom Line

Whatever happens, whether it’s a promotion or a price error… you must be reactive and book quickly!

But be careful: you can never be sure that your ticket will be cancelled. This is less frequent when the flight has been booked directly on the airline’s website than through a third party agency.

So, wait until you receive confirmation of your ticket (usually the electronic ticket you receive by email will be proof), before making your arrangements (hotel reservations, car rental…)!

We will relay to you on the Facebook group the main “flight alerts” that we will see here and there! Don’ t hesitate to join us!

Come to discuss that topic in our Facebook Group!
Jean-Maximilien is an expert in Canada and France about Loyalty programs, Credit cards and Travel. He is the Founding President of Milesopedia.

Suggested Reading