How to pick the best flight deal?

I have just finished booking a flight for my last volunteering trip of this season, and because I am often asked how I manage to find good deals I would like to share a little info with you to consider for your future travels.

My goal was to fly to the Atlanta area for Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. RA is about an hour’s drive from ATL airport. It is 3 hours drive from CLT (Charlotte, North Carolina) and 4+ hours drive from a number of airports including Nashville, TN; Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA.

So which option is best?

Over the past two years of volunteering at the Petit Le Mans I have learned that ATL is never the cheapest option. Most of the teams and spectators use it, and that drives the prices up not just for flights but car rentals as well. So I expanded my search to include other deals. One that stood out was JetBlue’s $64 each way to the Atlantic Coast towns of Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA (Hilton Head, SC). If all the prices are similar should you flip a coin?

No! Cheap flight is only a part of the consideration. I’ve written about cheap deals in Southeast Asia with AirAsia and Europe with easyJet or Ryanair. But when it comes to JetBlue in the US choice of airport matters, because car rental prices could and often are significantly more than the flight. So when considering Charleston, SC or Nashville, TN or even Charlotte, NC each of these places the car rental rates are typically double of what they seem to be in big touristy places like Atlanta, GA or Savannah, GA… so naturally Savannah was the optimal choice for me.

I once sold a car to a fella in Beauford, SC just miles from Hilton Head, SC and Savannah, GA. I drove my car down there and he dropped me off at the airport for my flight back. While waiting for the transaction to finish I did a little driving around the area. Savannah, Hilton Head, Tybe Island were incredibly amazing… and I’m seriously looking forward to going back there as a tourist after Petit Le Mans is over. I’ll spend a few days relaxing after the event. At such a cheap price how could I not?

JetBlue was once my favorite US low cost airline, that is until they changed their frequent flyer program to a revenue based model, and for my cheap flying adventures that program doesn’t work. But JetBlue has done a great job attracting me as a customer in recent months, considering I booked the following:

Early September: EWR-FLL $69 each way to relax in South Beach

Mid September: BOS-AUS $54 to go to WEC at COTA, HOU-BOS $54 to come back because Austin was too pricey post-race.

Early October: JFK-SAV $64 to go to Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta

Early November: BOS-AUS $54 to go to F1 at COTA, HOU-BOS for $54 to come back because Austin was again too pricey!

The 4+ hour drive in a rental car from SAV to Road Atlanta, or the 4+ hour bus ride from NYC to BOS to save a few hundred bux, just as 4+ hour bus ride from Austin to Houston on a cheap bus is all part of the “Road Trip” aspect of this web site, I enjoy it.

So take all things into consideration when booking flights to volunteer for motorsport. Don’t just jump on the first cheap flight you see because ultimately it may cost you more in the end than a slightly more expensive flight. And for the love of God, don’t waste airline miles on short hops when they could be better redeemed on cross-country or international travel. Contact me if you need help organizing your itinerary, I love a challenge!


UPDATE:

Of course less than 12 hours of me booking what I thought was the cheapest option possible (well not quite, the cheapest would be FREE) JetBlue announced a 24 hour sale of 20% with a promo code…. GREAT! Luckily, it pays to know that as a consumer you often have a 24 hour grace period to “change your mind!” and pretty much most airlines will allow you to call back, give your sob story of why you want to cancel, and they will inevitably cancel the reservation for you free of charge or without penalty. This is definitely only within the 24 hour grace period and not 24 hours and 1 minute, the rules are pretty strict.

So in my case I called back and pleaded my case. The nice lady on the other side of the line cancelled my original reservation and I re-booked saving another 20%

Yippie!