Are you starting to think about summer vacation? John DiScala, better known as the air travel expert Johnny Jet, recently talked with The Associated Press travel podcast “Get Outta Here!” about strategies for booking flights, finding deals, coping with baggage restrictions and dealing with unreasonable demands from airline personnel.
Here are excerpts, edited for brevity and clarity. Listen to the entire interview with Johnny Jet at https://bit.ly/2ImdF2Q.
Q: How do we get the best fares?
A: Be flexible. You’re not going to get a deal when everyone else wants to fly. I use Thanksgiving as an example: Everyone wants to leave the Wednesday before and return Sunday or Monday morning after. The airlines have no incentive to give you a deal. That goes for every holiday, every spring break. If you move up your plans by a day or two, you could save 40, sometimes even 50, percent.
Almost every major city has multiple airports. Everyone thinks when they’re going to South Florida they want to go to Miami. But look at Fort Lauderdale, it’s 26 miles away and usually a lot cheaper. You can even look at West Palm Beach (airport), which is another 40 miles away. If you’re coming out to California where I live, everyone looks at LAX, but there’s also Long Beach or Burbank or even John Wayne.
Q: How do you book flights? Do you search on an aggregator and then book on the airline site?
A: I go to Google Flights when I’m booking trips, and then I’ll go directly to the airline. But Google Flights doesn’t always have the cheapest. So let’s say if you want to fly Southwest, you have to go to Southwest.com because they don’t show up in these aggregators.
If you know what city you want to go to and the dates, you can have an alert sent when the price drops or if it’s going to increase. Google Flights does a really good job on that as well.
Q: How about airline credit cards? Worth it?
A: If you fly a lot on a certain airline, then it’s definitely worth getting that airline credit card because it will give you more miles, it will give you the perks, free bags, usually at least the first checked bag for free. But generally, the airline credit cards are not such good deals. You want to get the other ones that let you transfer your points to multiple different airlines so you’re not just stuck with one, like the Chase Sapphire, American Express Platinum card, Barclaycard’s new Premier.
Q: How do you avoid paying for baggage?
A: You need to really look at the fare class you’re taking because now even the big airlines like American and United and Delta are charging for carry-on bags on certain fares. They’re trying to compete with the low-fare carriers who now charge up to $100 just to bring your bag on the plane and put it in the overhead bin. ... Look at the fine print and find out what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.
When you’re checking bags, look at Southwest because they do offer two free-check bags. Their airfares are not usually the cheapest, but they could save you $120 round-trip if you’re checking two bags each trip.
Q: What should passengers do if they are asked by airline personnel to do unreasonable things, like putting a dog in an overhead bin or being ordered to give up their seat when they have a ticket and a right to be there?
A: I’d say, ‘Listen, I really strongly disagree. Can we ask your colleague or ask the pilot, just because I want to make sure?” And if you smile when you do that, you should be OK. But if you give them attitude, some of these guys are having really bad days and sometimes they’re just looking to kick people off.