Let Mistake Fares Guide Your Travels

If you follow me on social media, you probably know I just returned from a three-and-a-half-week-long trip to Europe, hence the lack of posts for the month of August. Having been back for just a few days, I’m already looking forward to my next trip, which happens to be at the end of September. I managed to snag a great deal to South Africa!

It was kind of an accident, I swear. Let’s back up for a moment.

Previously I haven’t been a fare chaser. Sure, it’s great when you can score a reasonably priced ticket to a place high on your bucket list. However, if you choose a destination ahead of time, whether international or domestic, more often than not you end up paying a pretty penny for a flight. Letting mistake fares guide your travels can be a fun and cheap way of exploring the world.

Although I’m a huge proponent of using frequent-flyer miles to pay for a flight, buying a fare with cash makes sense when the price is right. In my down time, I like to peruse websites that list the best deals for paid airfare, including Secret Flying, The Flight Deal and Fare Deal Alert. In early July, I saw a fantastic deal to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB), from two U.S. cities: Washington (DCA) and New York (JFK). A round-trip flight originating in DCA was just about $400 on South African Airways with a stop in each direction. A nonstop flight out of JFK was about $100 more. What a steal, right? It doesn’t hurt that South Africa has been on my to-go list, either. The itinerary could be booked through a New Zealand version of Expedia only, so it was marked as a mistake fare by Secret Flying.

Naturally, I mentioned the deal to Caroline, and she told me she had booked a trip to South Africa herself through a different offer and convinced me to book it. (OK, let’s be honest. There wasn’t much convincing, but I wouldn’t have done it without her.)

Knowing that great deals like that don’t last long, I had to jump on it quickly. However, having a full-time job means I can’t just book a flight willy nilly—all vacation requests must be approved in advance. Quite a pickle when you’re trying to balance responsibilities and a wanderlust addiction. Long story short, huge thanks to my boss’s flexibility, which I’m extremely grateful for, I was allowed to take two weeks off for this trip!

Although the flights originating in DCA were cheaper, they didn’t work that well for me. As I mentioned before, those included a stop in each direction. Because I have to get to either of the airports from Salt Lake City (SLC), JFK was a much better option for me as there were nonstop flights between the two. There were no nonstop options from SLC to DCA. I decided to book the slightly more expensive flight to South Africa out of JFK, thus eliminating four layovers from an already-long journey. I also built an open-jaw itinerary flying to JNB and from Cape Town on the outbound (meaning I have to arrange my own way between Johannesburg and Cape Town, which won’t be a problem because Caroline and I are renting a car). The itinerary came to $534.25.

However, I still had to lock down a positioning flight to JFK. This is where my frequent-flyer miles came in handy! I used 25,000 Delta SkyMiles and $11.20 to book the SLC-JFK round trip, which was listed at $469 cash at the time of booking. My entire airfare to South Africa came to $545.45—a trip that usually hovers around $1,500 to $2,000 from my departure city, depending on the season.

The funny thing is, by the time I logged in to Expedia, the website notified me that more than 1,700 other people had booked flights to Johannesburg! Glad this many travelers took advantage of the offer. I received my ticket number right after booking, so I’m suspecting it wasn’t a mistake fare after-all, just a great deal. The fare was available for one day.

Considering I’ve never been to the African continent, I’m really excited about this trip. My point is, don’t be afraid to let great deals like this choose your next destination! You never know where you might end up going.

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