Everyone makes mistakes. Everyday, people forget to attach files to emails, burn dinner, and tuck their shirts into their underpants. Sometimes, however, one person's mistake leads to hundreds (or even thousands) of people benefiting from the error. That's what happened this past weekend to Alitalia, the Italian airline that offered an incredibly steep discount to travelers using its Japanese website. Customers purchased tickets discounted by more than $300 – in many cases, resulting in free flights – and delighted in taking advantage of a deal that seemed too good to be true. As it turns out, that's exactly what it was.
Alitalia has cancelled all of the purchases made using the promotion code. The incident – an example of what is often called a "mistake fare" – is not entirely uncommon in the industry. In the past, some airlines have honored the discounts and allowed people to travel using tickets purchased at an incredibly steep – and entirely unintended – discount. Alitalia, however, chose to cancel the tickets, most certainly because they stood to take on significant losses had they allowed so many people to fly for free.
There are a few takeaways from this. Firstly, if a deal seems too good to be true, it most often is. Be wary of any promotion that allows you to fly for free or at a discount so incredible that it defies logic. Secondly, if you choose to take advantage of such a promotion, be prepared to have the rug yanked out from under you once the airline gets wind of what's happening. Before you book any non-refundable additions to your trip, be sure that the airline has confirmed that your purchase is being honored.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, know where to find mistake fares (and unadvertised fare sales). The forums on FlyerTalk are populated by professional and amateur travel aficionados who relish the opportunity to catch a deal and score a cheap flight. Additionally, the folks at Airfarewatchdog do a fantastic job of bringing unadvertised airline sales to light. And, of course, there is our Travel Search tool, which always helps you track down great deals.
Update: According to The Points Guy, Alitalia is now honoring some of the purchases made using the promo code. Customers who managed to snag cheap fares will be able to travel with their tickets as long as the purchase cost more than one euro cent. That's bad news for those who thought they had secured themselves a free trip, but great news for everyone who is taking a vacation for pennies (or euro cents).