JGOOT In The News

One of JGOOT’s most frequent travelers and I were recently interviewed by Shawn Chitnis at CBS News.
Details below.

From DENVER (CBS4) – A travel website specializing in discount deals promises to provide its premium service with hundreds of affordable vacations each month for free to teachers, first responders and anyone working for a nonprofit each time someone else signs up for the paid subscription.

“I just simply don’t have the time to scour the internet for deals,” said Brooke Merkle, a teacher that uses the website. “It does all the work for me because it saves me hours and hours of time.”

Just Go Out Of Town (JGOOT) sends out emails to free subscribers on a regular basis but premium members receive 10 times as many emails, usually more than 100 messages in one month. [Correction by Joel: 100 to 120 trip alerts a month – not 100 emails per month.]

“We find trips that are worth scheduling vacation time around versus paying two or three times as much and squeezing a vacation into scheduled time off,” said Joel McDonald, the founder of JGOOT.

Merkle is married with two sons. She has already booked three trips with the help of the service that include family vacations to Florida and Canada. She says the prices for a direct flight to Vancouver were less than $200 per person for a roundtrip ticket.

“This was probably about a third of the price that I would have found otherwise,” she said.

McDonald is a consultant that used his passion for studying data to find trends in the travel industry that would lead to cheaper vacations. He started using this strategy for his personal trips with his wife as well as to save money for his family and friends. A year ago, he launched JustGetOutOfTown.com after realizing the need for someone to provide these deals to the public.

“I think the biggest reason I decided this is a service that was missing was the amount of time it took me to find these deals,” McDonald explained. “But by going on specific days you can cut those fares by 50, 60, 80 percent.”

Airlines on rare occasions need to fill a flight that isn’t selling tickets at their preferred pace, according to McDonald. He says one in 500 flights will be 10 months away from their scheduled departure and only have 10 percent of seats booked. It is cheaper to reduce the price of tickets and fill the flight rather than cancel it.

“I think it has afforded us a lot of flexibility in our budget,” said Merkle. “Finding those tickets for less than $200 to Vancouver allowed us to take a helicopter tour over Victoria Island.”

These are examples of exceptional cash fares that he finds for his premium subscribers several times a month to popular destinations like Cancun, Aruba or Cabo San Lucas. However, sometimes he finds even more impressive deals that require a new credit card and points given to that account. McDonald says using this strategy has allowed him to get tickets to San Diego or Hawaii for $11 roundtrip. He provides the information you need for pulling off one of those vacations in his emails.

“It saves me money, huge, huge amounts of money, which makes such a difference on my teacher budget,” added Merkle, who has taught for 17 years and spent almost half of that time working in Colorado. “It’s really sincere. He loves his work, he loves what he does, and he loves offering this service to other people.”

McDonald is married to a teacher so he always plans a trip with the restrictions that come from the school year and scheduled breaks. Inspired by Tom’s Shoes and their policy of donating a pair for each one purchased, he decided to make a similar offer. Teachers, police officers, firefighters and employees of a nonprofit organization will get a free premium subscription each time a regular customer pays for that service.

“I give vacation opportunities to people who normally don’t think they can afford to travel,” McDonald said about the promotion he has provided for more than six months. “They don’t give themselves that time off and they deserve it the most.”

He asks for some proof of your employment and then provides the service free. Subscriptions start at $20 a month for his premium feature. [Correction by Joel: Basic subscriptions are free. Premium subscriptions range from $8 to $19 per month depending on plan chosen.] Regardless of whether someone is paying for his work, McDonald says it is making a difference in the way people enjoy their time off.

“I’ve heard from people that hadn’t taken vacations in 10 years and now they’re going to Europe for $300,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is that too many people write off travel and they put it off until they can make the time.”

He hopes JGOOT can improve the experience of traveling so more people enjoy trips the way he does. Beyond saving money on flights, McDonald upgrades the rest of his vacation with that extra savings to stay at a nicer hotel or try additional excursions.

It is a change in philosophy about traveling and how someone plans their trips, according to McDonald. The idea is to maximize your time away from work. A part of life and a concept that Merkle is glad she can introduce to her children at a young age.

“It’s important for our family because it’s kind of what draws us to be curious, to be lifelong learners,” she said about traveling. “That sense of curiosity is best created in an environment other than our own.”

To see if you are eligible for a free premium subscription, click here.

Shawn Chitnis reports for CBS4 News at 10 on weekends and CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. throughout the week. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.