The perfect mistake fare: $900 for 21 hours in first class (with a flying nanny)

Oct 9, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Buckle up. What follows is a tale of the stars and universe aligning perfectly to give my family the best mistake-fare trip that ever was — and arguably ever will be.

In 2015, I was stationed just outside of Tokyo on active duty in the Navy. I was just three years into becoming a points-and-miles fanatic but had developed a fairly comprehensive award-travel system and spent a lot of free time on it. Late one weekend night, I was searching random routes on different online travel agencies. I was searching the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal for first class from Tokyo Narita (NRT) to the Maldives (MLE) when a $900 first class, round-trip fare on Etihad Airways displayed. I had found a fantastic error fare!
 

I knew Etihad had a layover program consisting of a free chauffeur service and hotel for first-class passengers in Abu Dhabi, so I priced out the itinerary with a stopover both on the way to the Maldives and on the way back to Tokyo. The $900 fare held. I booked tickets for my wife and me for $1,800 and screenshot the confirmation showing first class. The tickets arrived in my email inbox, but the confirmation now showed business class instead of first. I would later learn this revolved around a known problem with OTAs and airlines putting tickets with fare code Z in different buckets. OTAs like Expedi or Orbitz would make Z fares first class whereas Etihad sold Z fares as business class.

The $900 for Tokyo to Abu Dhabi (stopover) to the Maldives, then back to Abu Dhabi (second stopover), then finally home to Tokyo was outstanding even in business, but my confirmation said first class. I called up Chase.

I politely asked about the difference in my confirmation screenshot and my email. I demanded nothing, happy with business class for this rate but also happy to question the discrepancy. An apologetic agent asked me to hold, spoke with a manager, confirmed my contact info and said someone would be in touch. Two days later I got a confirmation email from the Chase travel portal with new tickets saying first class, a fare difference of $3,143 per ticket paid, and a receipt showing the last four digits of what I assume was the Chase corporate card:

I assume Chase found a first class fare for $4,043 and after the $900 I paid, they paid the remaining $3,143. We were confirmed in a mixture of F and R paid first class from Tokyo to the Maldives and back with two stopovers in Abu Dhabi. I was floored. I called and paid another $900 for an infant fare for my son (10% of a different adult fare)and a few months later, off we went.

Trip highlights

We flew Etihad Diamond first class on an A340 for the two legs between Tokyo and Abu Dhabi. A flying nanny (trained in London) greeted us at the boarding door and took care of our son when we wanted to eat or sleep — and yes, having a flying nanny take care of our kid and routinely check on us for the duration of the two long flights was as amazing as it sounds. Unfortunately, the only photo I have of our son with her is a little blurry:

The suites on the A340 were wide and very comfortable, the service impeccable. There was an onboard chef who greeted us and served traditional Arabic tea and dates while he took our dinner orders and asked how we’d like everything prepared.

Mom and son settled in well for much of the flight, sleeping side by side with the suite made into a lie-flat bed. This was after the nanny gave him back to us when dinner was complete. I can’t think of a better way to fly with an infant.

Upon landing in Abu Dhabi we were expedited through arrivals and customs and shown to a luxury sedan which drove us an hour to the Park Hyatt Dubai which I had reserved on a cash+points rate for three nights, and enhanced with a suite-upgrade certificate. (You can read my full review of the property.) Dubai and the hotel were amazing for our time there.

Park Hyatt Dubai courtyards.
Park Hyatt Dubai courtyards.

We had scheduled an Etihad chauffeur to pick us up at the Park Hyatt and deliver us back to the Abu Dhabi airport. A five-hour flight on an Etihad A330 which only had business and economy cabins (we flew in business) delivered us to Velana International Airport (MLE) in the Maldives. We boarded a seaplane to the Veligandu Island Resort and Spa.

We’ve covered travel to the Maldives several times so I won’t dwell on the details of our time there, but we were thrilled to have such an opportunity, all based on the luck of finding the mistake fare and having it honored.

Our son seemed to enjoy his time in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the Maldives and was rather an attraction for locals, staff and tourists alike. I suspect not too many infants arrive in the Maldives, and while I wouldn’t recommend it, the opportunity to take this trip was too good not to go and we didn’t have anyone in Japan to leave him with for the week.

We left the Maldives and flew another Etihad A330 in business class back to Abu Dhabi, where we had a free chauffeur transfer to the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers. Etihad had provided us a free room for the night with the first-class transit program. We had a great evening at the hotel, swam in the Persian Gulf, had a complimentary breakfast and headed back to Abu Dhabi Airport via our fourth complimentary chauffeur to catch our final flight home to Tokyo. On the way home the cabin wasn’t full and after a long week of travel, my son seemed to enjoy his own version of the Diamond suite lie-flat bed:

Miles earned

Before the flight, I status-matched to Etihad Gold status, which earns a 50% mileage bonus. Etihad also at the time had a 300% promo for F and R fare-class tickets. You could family-pool miles in the Etihad program for free, meaning my wife’s miles would be transferred to my account. We ended up with 89,836 Etihad miles and as we’ve written several times, that is enough Etihad miles to book a lot of partner flights. For example, American Airlines domestic economy flights cost 12,500 Etihad miles, meaning that on top of our fantastic trip we earned enough miles for seven free American domestic flights.

Bottom line

I know I hit the jackpot with this trip in 2015 and most likely we will never have a similar experience. I continue to do business with Chase and give them leeway anytime I  have poor customer service because of what they did for me to make this trip happen. I don’t think this would work today, but although most airlines won’t honor mistake fares, there are some exceptions. I still have a habit of jumping on various online travel agencies late at night and searching premium fares. You never know what you may find.
Featured photo by Ryan Patterson / TPG
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 12 months
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.