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How to grab accidental airline fare bargains and other online pricing screwups

Daily Ticker

Last month, Delta Airlines (DAL) accidentally posted prices of $20 to $90 for a variety of round-trip flights that otherwise cost hundreds of dollars. A New York to LA flight that normally sells for over $400 was priced at just $47, for example. A few lucky buyers got a huge bargain as Delta agreed to honor the mistakenly priced tickets. In September United (UAL) had a similar issue and the same kinds of glitches regularly show up on other airline sites as well as any of the myriad of Internet retailers that use automated pricing software.

There are web sites that monitor airfares and you can set alerts on routes you’re interested in. You have to jump VERY quickly as the fares disappear quickly. One good one is Airfare Watchdog.

Related: Airfare Reality Check: Are Five Major Airlines Really Better than Four?

An even better but harder to monitor place to find mistake fares is in discussion forums. For example, the flyertalk web site has a discussion forum dedicated to people who rack up huge amounts of frequent flyer miles. Members there look for cheap flights to qualify for the next rewards level and often post mistake fares.

On Twitter @theflightdea is just one of many accounts devoted to posting super low airfare prices.

Related: Top U.S. Airports to Be Stranded In During a Flight Delay

It’s not just airlines that make mistakes. You can find weird prices on all sorts of items. Some sites are devoted to finding both purposeful and accidental bargains like slickdeals.com. Again, searching the forums may provide the earliest tip off. People often post with “Possible PM” in their subject line (aka possible price mistake). Other sites with forums are Fat Wallet and Deal News

Related: Grounded Flights Stress Travelers but Not the Economy: Jeff Macke

There is some debate about the morality of buying and using mistake fares. Airlines don’t make huge profits and money lost on mistake fares may simply force higher fares overall. And some consider it stealing. So go ahead and burn the midnight oil searching for those mistaken fares — but you may hate yourself the next morning.

Delta, Alaska Air Group, Southwest and United all report earnings next week.

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