We’re always on the lookout for the least expensive way to visit the places we want to see. We get daily emails with airfare alerts, limited-time package deals, hotel bargains, and more. We have a list of websites we regularly scour for the same. When an airline posts a super low ticket price by accident (known as an error fare), we jump with joy and scoop it up before they fix their mistake.
When you’re traveling on the cheap, you learn to manage your expectations accordingly. Your international round-trip flight might only cost you $300 USD, but it might leave at 4 a.m., and you’re also likely seated in the back of the plane near the galley and bathrooms. This happens to us pretty regularly, and you develop all sorts of tricks for dealing with long, overnight flights in cramped coach quarters.
And then sometimes you’re pleasantly surprised.
Mike and I were driving to Orlando with the boys for a family Christmas adventure at Disney World, and I was idly surfing one of my favorite websites for flight deals, SecretFlying.com. They had a listing for a huge Etihad Airways promotion with several destinations. I asked Mike if he’d rather go to the Seychelles, Mumbai, or Johannesburg, and, thinking it was some sort of travel game, he picked the Seychelles. I checked the available dates, but none of them coincided with the boys’ fall break from school. I asked his second choice, and he picked India.
By the time we stopped to refuel the car, I’d booked four roundtrip tickets from New York to Mumbai for $314 USD each. We were on our way to India!
At this price, we expected nothing more than to make it from the United States to India in one piece. When we arrived at JFK, we were told there was an issue with our tickets, and we would need to check in with someone at the desk rather than using a self-serve kiosk. We were immediately concerned that the price was too good to be true, and we were worried they’d tell us we had to pay more if we wanted to fly.
The Etihad employee was very friendly and said he just needed to confirm some details. “Captain Ballard?” he asked, looking at Mike. Zack spoke up and said that he was Captain Ballard, albeit a captain in his high school Army ROTC chapter.
“You aren’t 21, sir, so we won’t be able to give you a day pass for our first class lounge,” the airline clerk explained. “We’re going to have to upgrade your parents to business class instead.”
Mike and I were thrilled with this, thinking that it meant we got an extra few inches of legroom for the 14-hour flight. As we boarded the plane, a flight attendant showed us to our seats, and we immediately assumed there’d been some sort of mistake.
Business class on Etihad is significantly better than first class on other airlines. Each seat folds flat into a bed, and you’re provided with complimentary pajamas and a toiletry kit to make your flight more comfortable. For dinner, I chose lamb with couscous and champagne, while Mike had a steak and 12-year Macallan scotch whisky. Included in the price of our $314 USD roundtrip bargain ticket.
As we approached our landing in Dubai, where we’d catch a connecting flight to Mumbai, I remarked to Mike that it would be hard to fly coach again after that. (I was right.)
We have never gotten this kind of upgrade with any other flight before or since, but it was an incredibly pleasant surprise for an error fare ticket. And if you have frequent flyer miles with an airline or through a credit card, you can still upgrade many bargain flights to business class (albeit without 12-year scotch and pajamas).
I scrutinize about 40 different websites and email newsletters weekly for deals, and Secret Flying remains one of my favorite go-to sources for international travel. The ability to fly out of other metropolitan areas (specifically Los Angeles, Atlanta, D.C., and New York) ups your chances of finding a significant bargain, even when you tack on a domestic connecting flight to get you to that departure city. Flexibility with departure and return dates is also key for landing the best prices.
What’s the best flight deal you’ve ever scored?