By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ
NEW YORK — Some lucky fliers capitalized on a computer glitch Thursday and scored some really cheap flights on Delta Air Lines (DAL).
From about 10 a.m. to noon Eastern time, certain Delta fares on the airline’s own website and other airfare booking sites were showing up incorrectly, offering some savvy bargain hunters incredible deals. A roundtrip flight between Cincinnati and Minneapolis for February was being sold for just $25.05 and a roundtrip between Cincinnati and Salt Lake City for $48.41. The correct price for both of those fares is more than $400.
Trebor Banstetter, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based airline, said the problem has been fixed but “Delta will honor any fares purchased at the incorrect price.”
She attempted to purchase a $98 roundtrip first-class ticket from her home city of Baltimore to Honolulu on Priceline.com (PCLN) but the transaction didn’t process before the deal was shut down.
“It was too good to be true,” Fanelli said. “I try to go away every other year and this was not the year.”
Delta’s website was having lingering problems from the increased traffic Thursday afternoon.
“It looks like Delta’s programmers had a little too much eggnog yesterday,” joked George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchDog.com, which promotes airfare sales.
It’s likely that the airline tried to tweak its fares with a $10 or $20 system-wide change and a junior programmer made a mistake or two, he said.
“People just go wild. People have been bragging about booking six first-class tickets to Hawaii,” Hobica said. “People hate the airlines so much that when this happens, they say: I’m going to get back at you for the time you broke my suitcase and didn’t pay for it.”
Other airlines have faced the same issue. In September United Airlines (UAL) experienced an error in filing fares to its computer system. Many customers got tickets for $5 or $10, paying only the cost of the Sept. 11 security fee.
New Department of Transportation regulations, aimed at truth in advertising, require airlines to honor any mistake fares offered.
The shortest path between two points may be a straight line, but rarely does that seem to apply to airline routes. You might not be surprised by a layover in Chicago if you’re flying from Boston to Seattle, but rarely will you find so obvious a route, especially on discounted and last-minute tickets.
Flying from New York to Dallas? JetBlue (JBLU) will make you lay over in Boston. Taking a short hop across the Adriatic Sea from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Venice, Italy on Iberia? Expect to lay over in Barcelona, Spain. That’s because most airlines have hubs that they operate many more flights through, which make them cheaper. For example, American Airlines (AAMRQ) has its largest hub in Dallas-Fort Worth, while United Continental (UAL) now has its largest hub in Houston (United’s top hub was Chicago O’Hare before the merger).
If the 2005 Wes Craven thriller Red Eye has led you to pass on booking overnight flights, you might be missing out on some bargains.
A round-trip flight on British Airways from New York City to London on an afternoon in early July can cost approximately $1,500. An evening flight (after 6 p.m., although it varies by airline), however, can cost less than $1,000. And it’s not just the transatlantic route. Red-eye flights are traditionally less expensive, not as full, and offer shorter lines at check-in and through security. And after all, time is money.
Travel newsletters like Johnny Jet, websites like Airfare Watchdog, or airline-specific social media feeds often provide flash and last-minute deals. Some sites, like Kayak, will automatically prompt you to set up an alert for a particular destination once you’ve done a couple of searches with the same departure and destination locations.
While many blogs and websites theorize on the best time or day to buy an airfare, there is no magic formula. Only by regularly comparing fares against other dates and airlines will you know when to make your purchase.
While the cost of flying may be increasing, airfare deals can always be had with a little patience, persistence, and research. Whether you’re traveling alone, with colleagues, or with your family, you can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your flights this summer. Maybe even enough for another trip.
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