Q: I love Airfarewatchdog.com and have booked several great deals in the past year thanks to your tweets. I've even saved several of my friends lots of money by sharing your site with them. Thanks to a recent tweet, I purchased a Boston-to-San Diego ticket on Continental that was going for $61.30 total round trip. I'm about to depart on this trip and just called the airline to ask about their standby policies. I called Continental and asked if I could take an earlier flight the same day, but learned it will cost almost as much to change ($50). When I talked to the ticket agent, s he was blown away by the price I paid for my ticket, and asked how I found it. She hadn't heard of airfarewatchdog.com before and said she would have to tell her coworkers about it. This ticket agent was sure it was a mistake but didn't know a mistake could be this low. The breakdown of the fare shows that the airfare portion of the round trip ticket cost just over $18, and the rest of the cost was in fees and taxes. I was worried for a moment that they weren't going to honor my ticket because it was a mistake, but she assured me that they would have to honor it as I bought it directly from the Continental website. If the ticket agents weren't aware that tickets could be sold for this low, how then do these prices slip by? I feel like I alerted the airline to the airfarewatchdog secret, but I know they have enough people watching every fare that they should know when tickets are sold for incredible deals, right?
My conversation with the ticket agent took a humorous turn when I told her that I traveled to Europe in February for $150 round trip on Delta. I could almost hear her yell over her cubical wall to the ticket agent next to her about this website they had to check out.
A: Yes indeed, we remember those airfare bargains well. Were they "fat finger fares" (i.e., mistakes that some poor airline employee made when programming the computers) or were they intentional? Airlines will never answer that question (we've asked). We think those $150 tax-included fares to Europe on Delta were a mistake (the airline forgot to include the fuel surcharge perhaps), because they didn't last very long (just a few hours), although they were valid for travel dates through the spring, but Delta honored them. Recently, Spanair and USAir had a joint fare to Spain for summer travel for under $400 round-trip from New Orleans and slightly higher from other cities. Unfortunately, the online travel agencies that sold these fares (Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity, etc.) decided not to honor some of them, blaming Spanair and US Airways for the "bait and switch," after they were bought by some consumers. Other purchasers tell us that their flights have been confirmed after buying the very same fares, however. It makes no sense to us. Sometimes airlines and travel agencies honor "mistake" fares, sometimes they don't, and in this instance it looks like they honored some purchases but not others (some airlines have language in their contracts of carriage that they reserve the right not to honor mistakes). As for your new friend at Continental reservations, although most airline employees fly for free or almost free, many of them follow airfarewatchdog's free email alerts and Twitter feeds, because the tickets they fly on are usually standby and they'd rather pay for a confirmed seat than an "iffy" free one.