50% to 90% off “Butt in seat fares”. Why they happen & how to find them.

Every airline in existence uses sophisticated computer algorithms that determine how to get the highest price possible for every seat on their planes. 99% of the time, they do a really effective job of extracting every dollar possible out of every seat on their plane.

However… About once every 400 or 500 flights – they get it wrong and under-sell seats. That can cost them tens of thousands of dollars in cancelled/rescheduled flights. To avoid that problem, they need to get a handful of butts in a handful of seats… and they need to do it in a hurry.

This isn’t just for last-minute flights either.  To avoid cancelling as many flights as possible, they start error-correction as early as 9 months in advance.

Some people call these “mistake fares” but it’s never a mistake when this happens. In fact, it’s very deliberate. (I prefer to call them “Butt in seat” fares because the airlines will reward you handsomely for putting your butt in their otherwise un-sold seat.)

It works something like this:

  • 9 months before a flight, if the flight is not at least 20% booked, the airline will slash prices drastically in order to sell at least 20% of their seats.  As soon as they fill those seats, prices go back to normal.  If they don’t fill those seats, they cancel the flight and go through the expensive process of rescheduling existing passengers and crew.
  • 6 months (+/-) before the flight, they go through the same process if they’re not at least 40% booked.
  • 3 months out? Same thing if they’re not 60% sold.
  • Then again  2 months out, 1 month out, 2 weeks out…
  • You get the idea.

They can’t advertise these sales because they usually only have a handful of seats at that price.  Instead, they just quietly slash prices, knowing some lucky traveler will stumble across that fare and snatch it up.

  • These opportunities present themselves every day from every airport in the country, and can be anywhere from a week in advance to 9 months in advance.
  • Sometimes it means getting a $300 flight for $30 or $40 and visiting friends and family even when you weren’t planning on it.
  • Other times, it means getting a $1200 flight for $200 to $500, and taking that vacation you’ve been putting off for years.
  • With the tiniest bit of flexibility, it can mean traveling two or three times as often on the same budget as one trip “the normal way”.

Unfortunately, airlines refuse to pay commissions on those types of flights – so there is no incentive for traditional travel sites or travel agents to find those opportunities for you other than you stumbling across them when searching for your trip.

If you want to find trips like this, you’ve got 3 options:

  1. Rely on luck of the draw and hope to stumble across something whenever you plan a trip. (Every once in a while, you’ll get lucky (and the more locations you’re willing to search for, the luckier you’ll get.)
  2. Set up free fare watches through a site like Google Flights or Airfare Watchdog from your home airport, watch every day, and when one of those locations has a drop in fare – snatch it up. (Again – the more locations you watch, the better your odds.)

Sound like a lot of work?  It’s not hard at all.  Tedious… But not hard. Either of the above options will take 10 to 15 hours of research a month (depending mostly on how many destinations you keep an eye on.)

Option 3: Subscribe to a trip alert service that is not on commission (because most of these fares don’t pay a commission), and focuses solely on finding those types of fares.

When something jumps out at you, it’s usually far enough in advance that you can plan around it, and you’ll find yourself traveling more often – for less money.

To see if I offer a trip alert service in your home airport, click here.

Happy travels!

–Joel

 

 

Our experience at the Amex Centurion lounge.

Joel McDonaldA friend (and JGOOT subscriber in Indianapolis) sends me and several other friends around the country sent a text saying they booked a cheap flight to Turks and Caicos. They invited several of us (and our families) to join them.

The bad news: I looked into flights, and flight prices from Denver are way more expensive than “cheapskate Joel” is willing to pay during those dates. ($500+ round-trip. No deal.)

The good news: Outbound flights were dirt-cheap, so I bought them for cash, and not only do I have enough points with Southwest for our return flight, but Michelle flies with me for free, so we didn’t even have to use points for her flight. (See my other post about how to get Southwest’s companion pass.) 3 hours later, we have four flights and we’re joining them.) .

More bad news… It’s a quick trip so the only the only way we could get there at the right time involved a 6 hour layover in Charlotte or a 7 hour layover in Miami.

More good news… I have an Amex Platinum card, and Miami has a Centurion lounge. (Charlotte doesn’t.) Miami it is.

Oops! Even more bad news. I accidentally booked the wrong outbound flight.

Good news: Since I booked through Amex’ lovely travel concierge, I have the ability to cancel booked flights free of charge for the first 24 hours.

Membership definitely has its rewards.

The Centurion experience: I’ve heard Centurion lounges are far superior to Lounges you get access to via Priority Pass and I was looking forward to seeing what the Centurion lounge is all about.  Did it live up to the hype?  Absolutely.

  • As soon as we checked in, we were asked if we wanted to schedule a massage, a manicure, or a pedicure. Ummmm… OK.  (You can get all three if you like. You just have to book them one at a time.)
  • It was surprisingly crowded for early morning, but we managed to find four mini-couches – each with their own power and USB outlets.  (I think they intentionally place lounges overlooking the common area – so you can watch everyone below scavenge for outlets and sit around on the floor because there aren’t enough seats.
  • Another perk is free food. The food is far superior to any other lounges I’ve been in.  Total value of 4 of us eating breakfast and lunch for free: $100+
  • Free mimosas & Bloody Marys looked pretty attractive too. Potential value could easily be in the $50 to $100 range.

Getting a Platinum card is $550 – which might seem expensive, but when you factor in the savings, it’s not nearly that.

  • $200 travel credit per year.
  • Up to $100 reimbursement on Global Entry or TSA Pre Check applications.
  • $200 in free uber rides per year. (Not reimbursement – they actually pay for your first $15 per month, and your first $35 in December.)
  • If you utilize all of the above credits, your annual fee would be reduced to $50

Other perks:

  • Travel through one airport with a centurion lounge and that can be worth $50 to $150 in free food/drink on top of the above savings (per visit)
  • Attend any concerts in Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center or Los Angeles’ Staples Center? You can buy cheap seats, go early, and watch the show from the Centurion Suites (which also include free food/drink.)
  • Rent a car or buy something using your platinum card, and get extended coverage on your purchase. (I got a cracked windshield in my rental jeep in Hawaii, and I didn’t pay a dime thanks to Amex.
  • 60,000 point signup bonus worth a minimum of $900 in free travel when redeeming through Amex’s

If you’d like to explore getting a Platinum card, do me a solid and click this link. You’ll get the same bonuses, and they’ll give me some extra points for referring you.

Happy Travels

Southwest ups signup bonus – making companion pass an easy possibility

[Please note: Southwest changed their terms, and signing up for two different credit cards is no longer allowed.  They also reduced their signup bonus to $40k.]

Chase Southwest 50,000 bonus link

A good friend shared this in our premium member area, and since the last time this happened, it only lasted a couple days, I wanted to share. After all – there isn’t a credit card bonus out there that gets you (the equivalent of) 220,000 FREE frequent flyer miles.

Whether you’re into point-hacking or not – these signup bonuses are worth dipping your toes into the water without concerns about becoming one of those geeky credit-card hackers juggling a dozen+ credit cards. (Hey – I resemble that comment!

The skinny on Southwest’s companion pass:
Fly 100 one-way flights, or 110,000 miles – and you’ll earn the ability to take a companion with you for free through the end of 2019.  100 flights is hard work – even for the savviest of travelers. But 110,000 miles – when you basically stumble across the first 104,000 is a cake-walk.  Here is a link to Southwest’s terms of service on earning a companion pass.

By the way: This isn’t a single use companion pass. It’s unlimited use until the end of 2019. I did this myself back when the signup bonus was 60k, and Michelle has already flown with me as a free companion 3 times. We’re going on our 4th trip this month on a trip to Turks and Caicos with the kids. (Yes – Southwest flies to Turks-and-Freakin-Caicos!) 

How to get it:

  1. Check your credit at Credit Sesame to make sure your score is at least 690. (Chase doesn’t typically accept applicants with scores less than 690, so any less than that is a roll of the dice, and a temporary 10-point ding against your credit score.)*
  2. Sign up for a Rapid Rewards account (free) and make note of your frequent flyer number.
  3. Chase allows two credit card applications per month, and if you apply for two in one day, it only counts as one credit-pull. So if you’re approved for the first card, turn around and apply for the 2nd one.
  4. 104,000 frequent flyer points on Southwest is a great reward in itself, but if you decide to keep the cards around until you spend another $6000 (or fly 6000 miles), you’ll automatically become eligible for a companion pass – effectively doubling the value of your 110,000 points.
  • Click to apply for the plus card
    • $69/year (Worth it considering 50,000 points on Southwest is as many as 5 round-trip flights)
    • 3000 bonus points each year
    • 50,000 points after you spend $2000 on your card**
  • Click to apply for the premier card
    • $99/year (Still worth it considering 50,000 points on Southwest is as many as 5 round-trip flights)
    • 6000 bonus points each year
    • 50,000 points after you spend $2000 on your card**

Questions? Feel free to comment below.

–Joel

* Disclosure: If you use my referral link above, I will be given 10,000 bonus points from Chase, and I may receive compensation from Credit Sesame if you ever pay anything for their services. (Don’t pay though. Just use their free service.)

** Please use credit responsibly. I am in no way endorsing spending money you don’t have the ability to pay off within 30 days.  Carrying a balance on a credit card for even just a few months would cost more than the value of the points themselves and is not a good idea.

 

 

 

My Annual Shopping Spree at Dillard’s

For the past 7 or 8 years I’ve gone shopping on Jan 1 at Dillard’s, and I usually buy the majority of my clothes for the year during that one sale.

I don’t think I’ve ever walked out of Dillard’s from a Jan 1 sale with less than 15 items of clothing (usually 20 or 25), and I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than an average of $20 per item that would normally have cost $60 to $100.

Even better, because they have so many name-brands to choose from, I can be 10 times more discerning than any other time of the year when shopping for clothing.

  • $60 Levi’s jeans for $20? Not when I can get $150 Armanis for $28
  • Dress shirts I buy range from $12 to $26 and I only buy brands people don’t bat an eye at paying $50 to $120 for any other day of the year.
  • I rarely even bother giving my kids clothes for Christmas any more because I know I won’t find a better deal than what I find for them on Jan 1.

As I was walking out of the store feeling like Santa with a bag of goodies bigger than me slung over my shoulder, I realized something…

Finding a good deal on vacations is a lot like shopping.  

Sure, you can find flights to Cabo like everyone else does, and you can pay what everyone thinks is a good price. Or…

  • If you can be flexible on where you want to go,
    • you could find flights and an all-inclusive resort in Cancun for the exact same price.
    • you could fly to Belize or Aruba and stay for 7 nights for even less than a flight alone to cabo.
    • Depending on how long you’ve got for a vacation, you could spend even less for flights and lodging for a couple weeks in Europe or Asia.
  • Much like buying summer clothes during winter sales, if you plan vacation time around when you find an amazing deal (vs hoping to find an amazing deal between July 1 and July 10) – you can save a ton. (That only works if you plan ahead though.)
  • Decide to try a new credit card once a year in return for 50,000 or 100,000 frequent flyer points, and the game changes even more.

I don’t care if you use my premium email alert service, or a mashup of my free service and a dozen others…

Make the following 3 things a priority and I promise — you’ll save more on your next vacation than you ever thought possible.

  1. Don’t plan trips around vacation time… Plan ahead and schedule vacation time around trips that are too good not to go on.
  2. Plan 6 to 12 months ahead
  3. Be flexible on where you’re willing to go.

(Extra credit): Get a new credit card, and save the bonus miles for a rainy day. (Not 5, not 10. Just throw your old card in a drawer (after paying off the balance) and get a new card with a 40,000 to 100,000 point signup bonus. You never know when those miles will come in handy, but it only works if you plan ahead. (You know what they say about planting a tree…)

CA residents get free companion pass through end of 2019

I just found out that Southwest recently had a sale and California residents can not only get 40,000 free miles for spending $1000 on a Southwest credit card, but on top of that…

California residents qualify for a free companion pass with very first purchase and that pass will be good for unlimited use through the end of 2019.

It took a lot more work for me to get my companion pass (110,000 miles), but since November, I’ve already used it to fly my wife alongside me for free for 3 pretty expensive flights.  (OK, not free… $11.20 after taxes.)

Technically, the sale is over, but I’ve got several cards with Chase, and they’ve always been very generous when I call in and ask if they’d be willing to extend their recent promotion. (Another reason they’re my favorite credit card company.)

If you sign up by clicking this link I’ll get some free points from Southwest & I appreciate the support.