Finding the Best Airfares For Your Next Adventure

by Mike on February 3, 2013

Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines at Terminal 1 JFK

I bought my Myanmar airfare a long time ago and I’m now just finalizing plans hotels plans for the first few days.  I’m also looking at domestic flights within Myanmar, but I’ll think I’ll save that for when I get there and deal with a local travel agency.

The visa was applied for in person at the Myanmar consulate in NYC last month.  So my visa in-hand.

SIDE NOTE: This consulate seems to not answer their phones for some odd reason. Every time I called them the week prior to my visit, I would either get a busy signal or no answer.  It was really odd.  Needless to say, I was weary of showing up with to a deserted consulate with my $20 USD and completed visa application.  To my surprise, it was manned with several people and I heard phones ringing too!

WHY I’M GOING TO MYANMAR

To be honest, Myanmar wasn’t at the top of the list.  But with the political and economic reforms taking place, it’s definitely going to be a unique experience and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit before it becomes a must see tourist stopover in South East Asia.

And that opportunity presented itself in the way of a cheap airfare.  I mean really cheap.   The grand total out of pocket was $440 USD for a business class fare.  Apparently, it was an exchange rate pricing issue between the kyat to dollar that led to a “mistake” fare.

However, there’s one huge caveat to the cheap fare and that is: it had to originate in Myanmar.

Essentially, it was a one-way ticket from Myanmar to anyone where in the world.  Obviously, I picked North America as my termination point.

Normally, this would deter a lot of people, but for the adventurous when an opportunity presents itself, you jump on it.

With a one-way ticket in hand, I had to book the outbound flight to Myanmar, but I had to wait.

Why?

Because I had to see if the airline, Thai Airways in this case was going to honor the mistake fare.  Needless to say, there was no sense in booking hotels or my outbound flight around the mistake fare only to find out that the fare was not honored.

After months of periodically checking my booking online, the reservation was still intact.  It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I confirmed my seats and ticket number with each operating carrier to see if the e-ticket  issued was still valid.  This is extremely important because it would suck if I bought my own way to Myanmar without an outbound flight.

Now, any traveler knows that a $440 one-way ticket in business class is phenomenal deal.  It’s essentially $880 round trip for a business class ticket, if I could book as that.

HOW DO I FIND CHEAP FARES?

Now, there’s probably some of your wondering: “I’m an adventurous travel too, how do I find out about these cheap fares?” I found this fare out from a friend who found the fare posted on the forum flyertalk.com under the “mileage run deals”

WHAT IS A MILEAGE RUN?

A mileage run(there’s actual a wikipedia section dedicated to it) is a flight taken purely for the sake of earning airline miles, specifically elite qualification miles to maintain or achieve status. Let says, if someone is going to be flying 90,000 miles one year for work(work is fronting the bill for their air travel), leaving them 10,000 miles short of the top-tier 100,000 mile plateau, which comes with a lot of perks that makes air travel more palatable.  This person would need to fly an additional 10,000 miles on their own dime to make up the short fall to top tier status so they can enjoy the perks of top-tier status. Obviously, they want to fly the remaining 10,000 miles at the least possible cost.

Most mileage runners try to find an origin city and destination city and route between them with the most connections or segments to maximize their mileage accrual.  Given the cost of the flight and distance traveled, one can calculate the cents per mile or cpm for short.  This figure is the Holy Grail that determines whether the airfare is mileage run worthy or not.

And so this is why the thread “mileage run deals” exists.  It’s purely a place for posting the cheapest cpm for accruing miles.

Now, folks that don’t care about mileage running, but want a cheap vacation can browse through the thread and find something that appeals to them.

HOW TO MAKE SENSE OF ALL THE CODE?

To the uninitiated, the “mileage run deals” thread can read like a foreign language, but it’s quite easy to pick up.

Let’s take a look at this example:

 

The first two letters represent the airline by the two-character IATA code.   Some of the US based carriers are as follows:

UA: United
DL: Delta
AA: American
AF/KL: Air France/KLM

For a full list, check out this wiki article(long list)

The part succeeding the airline code is the routing for the particular flights.  In many cases, most people will list the city by it’s three letter airport code, but I’ll show some variations of what’s listed in the thread.

Asia ex-WAW means that departing Warsaw, Poland denoted by WAW to Certain Asian cities will cost 3.6 cpm.  The cpm is calculated by the total cost of the airfare divided by the number of miles earned.  If you ask anyone 3.6 is as cheap as they get.

 

Here, the thread is stating that the months of Feb/Mar San Francisco to Singapore as denoted by the SFO-SIN will cost $954 or 5.4 cpm.

 

 

This is the typical routing you see succeeding the airline code.  This looks like another language, but it’s really listing the city and the routing so ORD-MSP-JFK-SVO-JFK-MSP-ORD is really Chicago-Minneapolis-New York-Moscow-New York-Minneapolis-Chicago.  The “ai” means “all in” meaning all inclusive of all taxes and etc.  So this itinerary costs $585, which is a really good deal.

Some of you may ask: why on earth would someone fly to Minneapolis then to New York?  Remember, these are mileage runners, trying to maximize their mileage accrual.  For travelers looking for an adventure, this may fit the fit the bill.  $585 round trip to Moscow is a fantastic price!

Finally, we see: “JFK/IAD-LAX” meaning New York to LA or Washington DC to LA round trip for $200 for this coming weekend only.

Sometimes, these threads will list mistake fares, which is how I was able to book an ex-Myanmar flight in business for $440 USD.  The concept of mistake fares is that you need to book the quickly because once the airlines discover them, they’ll correct it.  Mistake fares are like a game of musical chairs, when the music stops playing, the airline finds out about their mistake, you better find a seat or booked a ticket.

HOW TO SEARCH AND BOOK ONE OF THESE?

The vast majority of folks use google.com as their primary search for keyword searches.  There’s a search engine for airfare and it’s called matrix.itasoftware.com, which has been bought my Google and is the same engine that drives google.com/flights

Matrix.itasoftware.com is only search engine and nothing is bookable through the search engine.  So that’s where Orbtiz, Travelocity, and expedia come into play.  You essentially have to replicate what you found on matrix.itasoftware.com so it prices to what you found and buy it.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHEAP AND MISTAKE FARES

Cheap fares are fares loaded into the system baseD on demand, flight loading, and competitor’s pricing.  Mistake fares are just that, someone made a mistake loading the fare schedule online and thus making them bookable.   In the majority of the cases, airlines will honor the mistake fares.  There have been certain instances where they have not.

TIPS FOR BOOKING

If it’s a mistake fare, don’t make any plans around the mistake fare unless you’re 100% certain you’re going to take it and the airlines going to honor it.

Mistake fares will be corrected once they’re discovered.  So book fast, pick the dates with the least possible impact to your schedule.

Mistake fares are often discovered when people call-in to book flights, thus tipping off the airlines.  So the golden rule about mistake fares is: Don’t call the airlines.  Book online and use their automated system to keep the mistake fare around longer.

FINAL THOUGHTS

We all know about the airfare “deals” listed on travelzoo or airfarewatchdog, but we don’t know if the deals are just “okay” deals or “fantastic” got to book deals.  That’s why my friends and I pay attention the “mileage run deals” thread.  These folks are savvy and are price sensitive enough to the cpm that if the fare is super cheap, it’s going to be listed in the thread.  Even if you’re not a mileage runner looking to maximize your mileage earnings, periodically checking the thread may lead you to your next adventure.

Happy adventures!

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