Travel expert John E. DiScala, better known as Johnny Jet, gets flown around the world by hotels, airlines and destinations hoping to get his nod of approval on JohnnyJet.com (and, a couple of years ago, his Travel Channel show “Hot Spots 2012”). Sir Richard Branson even gave him a personal tour of his island and spaceship. It’s not a bad gig, and one that has let DiScala amass a ton of useful travel knowledge, from how to fit your life into a carryon to the best travel apps.
We caught up with DiScala when he was in Philadelphia talking about the US Airways Premier World MasterCard — a good deal with the 40,000-mile sign up bonus and the included perks, he says — and picked his brain on how to save money on Thanksgiving and Christmas trips.
1. Wait for dead week
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What’s the very best way to save money on holiday travel? Don’t go.
“The week after Thanksgiving and two weeks after New Years are ‘dead week,’” DiScala says. “No one is travelling and everything is on sale. You’ll find deals half the price of what flights are going for over the holidays. If you can wait, wait.”
2. Choose your day and time wisely
When waiting isn’t an option, “the No 1. trick is to be flexible,” says DiScala. “Take Thanksgiving: You’re not going to find a deal for traveling Wednesday to Sunday — the airline has no incentive because that’s when everyone wants to go, so nothing is on sale.”
Instead, “use your vacation days wisely” and extend the holiday, he says: Fly on the Monday or Tuesday before Turkey Day and return on the Tuesday or Wednesday after. Or, plan a mini-trip by flying out Christmas morning and returning the next day.
Once you pick your day, don’t search within a specific time frame. Be flexible on flying early in the morning or very late at night. “If you’re going to save a few hundred dollars [a ticket], for a family of four, it’s worth it,” he says.
3. Consider alternate airports
Sure, it’s easier to fly out of the closest airport — but you may be able to save big by hopping a bus or getting a friend to drive you to one that’s father away. The same goes for where you land.
Heading to Miami? Check prices for the Fort Lauderdale airport, just 25 miles away. Go to AlternateAirports.com for a list of nearby options to major U.S. airports.
4. Search everywhere
There’s no one magic website for finding the guaranteed best vacation deal —“If there was, that would be a trillion-dollar company,” DiScala says.
Check all the travel search engines, like Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline, and sign up for fare alerts; Kayak.com gives you that option, as does AirfareWatchdog.com, FareCompare.com and others. Go the individual airlines’ websites to see what they’re offering. Look at Southwest separately; the airline doesn’t show up on the search sites.
5. Don’t bundle bookings
“Sometimes only a certain amount of bargain fares are loaded into the system,” DiScala explains. “If you’re a family of four and there are only three fares left at the bargain price and you search for four people, all four will get the higher price.”
So start by searching fares for one person. Then search for four and compare the two — if the second result isn’t the first fare multiplied by four, try searching three people (or two, as you move down).
The goal, of course, is to get the max number of family members the cheapest fare.