Travel Hacker vs. Timeshare Representative: The Secret Weapon of Mistake Fares

by CMac / Dec 30, 2013 / 0 comments

You may recall from a previous article that my husband and I are “travel hackers.” We make up for a lack of money by collecting frequent flyer miles and hotel points and using that currency to achieve a life of nomadic, full-time travel. You can learn more about the specifics on


Recently, we tried something new. For the first time ever, Drew and I dabbled in the inevitabley unenjoyable recreation of sitting through a timeshare presentation just for the free perk. Awful as it was, there was a hilarious element to the whole thing...


Travel Hacker vs. Timeshare Representative: The Secret Weapon of Mistake Fares


But before I tell the tale of that grueling event, let me back up. The tale begins at a vacation we’d planned for earlier this month to take advantage of a “mistake fare” with our friends from home at a Sheraton resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico


First, you are probably wondering what a “mistake fare” is. A mistake fare is simply an unusually low rate that’s been entered into a website’s booking site incorrectly, and which may or may not be honored once booked. 


Someone types “$9” in the system instead of “$90” for example. Or “$67” instead of “$667”.


In our case, the Sheraton Puerto Vallarta had been listed incorrectly online as “$18 a night” for a club room, breakfast included.  By the time we got there, the nightly rate was otherwise around $200 a night. We were easily paying 90% less than everyone else. In any case, it’s always up to the hotel or airline whether or not to honor this rate once they realize the mistake. But once the mistake is realized, it’s fixed almost immediately and your shot at it is over.


Compare that to a timeshare


Well, this particular Sheraton has a “vacation club” portion of the property that is essentially a timeshare, despite their preference to call it a “vacation club.” So we found ourselves sitting in a timeshare presentation just waiting for the chance to say a final “no” and get our promised coupon of a $200 week.


At one point our presenter, who had been very confidently scribbling arbitrary math equations on the tablet of paper to emphasize the “affordability” of the multi thousand dollar vacation club membership, asked us how much we were paying at the Sheraton. This was, he hoped, a number he could use in his equations to show how much cheaper a membership is. 


“$18 a night,” Drew said. 


The salesman looked at us. “Plus how many points?” he asked, clearly familiar with the SPG points program that Sheraton is a part of.


“No points. Just $18 a night. Club room. Breakfast included.”


The salesman nearly fell off his chair. He exclaimed about it for a few moments then threw his hands up in the air and declared, “I can’t compete with $18 a night!” After regaining his composure however, he said that surely we couldn’t always count on these bizarre rates. “When was the last time you got a rate that good? I bet it hardly ever happens.”


We told him that just a few months ago we’d gotten a month’s worth of reservations for $20 per week at Leonardo hotels in various cities throughout Germany.


The look on our salesman’s face was the only enjoyable part of the 3 hour presentation.


How to find mistake fares


I will say however, he was right to suggest that we couldn’t necessarily rely on mistake fares all the time. That’s true. You never really know when or where one will show up, but if you keep a flexible schedule, it is not unrealistic to grab a resort for $18 a night or an international flight for $100.


Travel Hacker vs. Timeshare Representative: The Secret Weapon of Mistake Fares


But before you make this your new vacation plan, here are a few things to remember about mistake fares.


Mistake Fares


1. There is usually a specific site or a specific location or even specific dates showing the mistake fare, so there is not a lot of flexibility at all. It’s the kind of deal that determines where you go.  

Our most recent mistake fare deal for instance, only seemed to work for off-peak, winter-time dates for flights to Milan, Italy. Not the ideal time to go to Milan, but we’re doing it anyway. It’s a cheap way to get to Europe and once there, a train ride to Rome won’t be that expensive.


2. You have to act fast! Mistake fares can be up and “live” for as briefly as an hour or two and as long as a day and a half. It all depends on how quickly they’re discovered and fixed - so the more popular a mistake fare is, the more quickly it gets discovered.

We try to find out the cancellation policy right away, then if it’s lenient, we just book the rate first and work out the details later. Taking time to confirm dates before you book may mean you miss out on the rate altogether.


3. Blogs are not always the best places to find out about mistake fares because the travel-hacking community wants to use the deals they find and they fear that posting on a public blog may hasten the mistake fare’s disappearance.  

If there’s a travel-hacker blog you enjoy, see if the blogger has a twitter. That is a more likely place for these mistake-fares to get advertised. Follow ours, for instance: @Travelisfree


4. Mistake fares are not always honored. Nearly all mistake fares we have booked end up being honored by the hotel, but this is no guarantee. Sometimes you’ll receive an email with an apology that the rate is not going to be accepted with an offer for a different rate. If you receive no such email however, you can revisit the link posted on our twitter to read other travelers’ discussions about the rate. They will often report their successes or denials on this forum.


While “mistake fares” will probably always be a somewhat secretive trick of the travel-hacker world, they’re more accessible and frequent than you think. If you are flexible enough to go where the good rates take you, then you can really take advantage of these mistake-fare, snagging half price flights and tenth price hotels. In my opinion, that’s much better than returning to the same resort for a week every year for 30 years.




Caroline Yoder Macomber is the "Travel-Hacking" Editor for Wandering Educators. She is traveling the world with her husband on a poverty-level budget, using the hobby of "travel-hacking" to prove that broke folks can travel too. Visit her website to learn more about her project and for a glimpse of the currency of miles and points in action.



All photos courtesy and copyright Caroline Yoder Macomber.