Many people who love to travel woke up early Christmas morning to an extra special gift awaiting them in their email inboxes: extraordinarily low airline rates to several countries around the world.
The surprising flight deal came courtesy of a computer glitch by Etihad Airways, the flag carrier airline of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). It could only be accessed through discount travel sites like Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz and more.
As many travelers have reported online, the sale was live in upwards of 24 hours, and included ticket prices as low as $187 round trip (including taxes and fees) from airports like JFK, LAX and Chicago, to international destinations like Abu Dhabi, Mumbai and Johannesburg.
According to Forbes, a spokesperson has confirmed that “A system filing issue caused ticket prices for a promotion in the USA to be temporarily listed incorrectly.” The spokesperson added, “The issue has since been rectified. Etihad Airways will honor these fares.”
Although the airline representative told Forbes that it could not confirm how many happy travelers were able to capture these extraordinary low tickets through this Christmas miracle, Evita Robinson, founder of Nomadness Travel Tribe, one of the Internet’s largest urban travel collectives, estimates that a couple hundred seats were captured by African-American travelers within the Nomadness network alone.
In fact, as word began spreading among more in the know airline travel deal sites like The Flight Deal, The Points Guy and Slickdeals, so did activity on Nomadness’s private Facebook group page. Robinson said that within a matter of hours, swarms of black Nomadness members began flooding the page’s timeline, sharing news about the glitch and updating fellow travelers on their own come-ups on cheap airplane tickets.
“I know that I was up to four in the morning, fielding calls and texting everybody I know about this deal,” says Robinson, who first got wind of the deal early Christmas morning and was able to book, and cancel, and rebook flights to Johannesburg with no problem. However, by 6 a.m., “It was an exodus of everybody.”
Robinson recalls reading stories on the Nomadness timeline about how some members were calling and waking family members up in the middle of the night to tell them about the deal. One member she knows stayed up all morning, booking tickets for what had been decided at the last minute to be a destination wedding to Abu Dhabi. That particular Tribe member, says Robinson, was able to book tickets for an entire wedding party for less than a couple thousand dollars. Another member, so frantic about her sister not answering any of her pre-dawn Christmas morning telephone calls about the deal, drove 20 minutes to her home to wake her up in person.
Normally travel deals stay among Nomadness members, however, Robinson says that the excitement over the seemingly rare occurrence spread to other corners of the black blogosphere. “What made this different than any other deal is this one became more mainstream,” she says. “Black Twitter definitely jumped in on this one. And I think that Tribe members really had lots to do with that.”
According to Robinson, this is not the first time in 2014 that Black travelers, particularly within the Nomadness Travel Tribe network, have been able to capitalize off of hidden deals. A previous glitch provided a small number of members with dirt-cheap airfare to Milan. And just a couple of months ago, dozens of members were able to take advantage of another glitch, which sold airline tickets to Kenya for as little as $600 round trip. However, those deals were pretty insular to the network.
“Now, on average, we are booking about two-to-three hundred flights – and these are the people that tell us because they are members of our network,” she says.
The spread of what was typically insider money-saving travel information, usually reserved for more seasoned travelers and budget consumers, out to more mainstream parts of the Black blogosphere, highlights the usefulness of spaces like Nomadness, which currently boasts about 9,000 members. The travel collective, which grew out of Robinson’s travel webseries of the same name, has become “a voice for the voiceless in travel.” She also believes that the space has helped to break down barriers for those who want to explore the world, but used to feel that travel, particularly to international destinations, was for the elite in society.
In addition to travelers and vacationers, membership within the group also consists of industry insiders and experts, pilots, flight attendants, seasoned world travelers and expats, who share with each other (as well as other less traveled group members) valuable insight into great deals. They also share the best places to go while visiting foreign countries, what to do while there and even help you find a place to stay if needed.
“It functions as a one-to-one resource to people who travel around the world and have this urban lifestyle,” she says. “We have a motto in the group and that is ‘book now and worry about the lodging later.'”
Nomadness has also organized trips of its own, including an upcoming trip planned for India. Members also regularly participate in meetups, which happen offline and sometimes in far away destinations. In fact, many of the Nomadness members, who purchased tickets during this latest glitch, are planning to meet up while on vacation in Abu Dhabi.
“We’ve become famous for going places they say minorities don’t go,” she says.
Although Nomadness is not a collective only for black women, Robinson notes that the Nomadness Travel Tribe’s demographics are a majority African American and women (80 percent by Robinson’s estimations). Likewise, it is a group that also attracts a number of millennials and others between the ages of 25 to 45. Both demographics share certain barriers to traveling, particularly around the price of airline tickets, which is often a major hindrance to international travel.
But more than anything, Robinson is certain that this latest glitch shows the tourism industry that there is not only an untapped market, but also ways to effectively, and respectfully, market to Black travelers in particular. And that’s mainly through more budget-friendly travel options. “The more these deals and glitches happen, the more you will see them gobbled up by us,” she says.
Robinson sees the mass exodus of young Black travelers to Abu Dhabi, which is a pretty expensive vacation destination in general, as a test to how well it will adapt to, or if it even wants, that particular traveler.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how this trickles and what it does to the other components of the travel industry in Abu Dhabi because now that the flights are booked, what about buses? What about transportation? What about Airbnb? What about the hotels? All these things have to factor [into all of this] and really they have to prepare.”