The week before last, I was working from home when I received a message that JetBlue was having a “Monster Sale” for Halloween.
Domestic one-way flights were priced at $31 each, including taxes and fees. But here was the catch: Travel could only take place on Halloween, with booking the day before and day of.
Then I got a note from my editor: Book a flight.
I logged onto JetBlue’s website clicking between fares from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Boston, Austin, Portland, Nantucket and Phoenix — trying to find the best flight times and location to book a day trip. Refreshing the page, prices on different flights increased — sale fares appeared to be running out quickly.
USA TODAY reached out to JetBlue to inquire about fare sale results, but the airline declined to comment.
Finally, I zoned in on Charleston, South Carolina, a place I’d never visited but had always been curious about.
I had two windows open on my screen — the flight deals were one-way only, so I purchased two one-way tickets between New York and Charleston and back. While booking, the website froze.
I began to sweat. Did the purchase go through? What if I had only been able to book one ticket either there or back?
Then booking confirmation came through and relief set in: I had scored a $62 round trip to Charleston, South Carolina, the next day.
Ask the Captain: Do flight crews have a hard time when the clocks move forward or back?
Don’t forget to factor in the true cost
While my flights cost a total of $62 round trip, including fees, the trip itself cost much more:
- Flight from New York to Charleston: $31
- Flight from Charleston to New York: $31
- A 2 a.m. Uber ride to JFK: $57.71
- Granola bar + gum at airport: $6.51
- Water at the airport: $2.71
- Bus to downtown area: $3.50
- Breakfast: $19.65
- Salad: $16.21
- Uber to Charleston airport from downtown: $22.88
- Snack in airport: $17.00
- Lyft ride from JFK: $68.88
TOTAL COST: $278.80
That’s an expensive day.
In reality, I could have saved more money if I had found a different way to get to and from the airport. I took two trips with Uber and Lyft to get me to and from JFK, both of which cost more than the one-way fare JetBlue had offered. The ride back actually cost more than the round trip itself.
It may have been different if I didn’t leave my apartment at such an ungodly hour to make my flight — I could have taken the subway. And when I got home, exhausted, I didn’t want to get on public transportation.
It’s important, when planning a trip, to think about other cost factors apart from fights, including transportation to and from the airport, parking, meals, transportation around your destination, etc.
It’s really easy to focus solely on booking that quick travel deal without factoring other costs that wrack up, even on a day trip.
However, one week later, the same flight I took from New York JFK to Charleston departing around 5:24 on Thursday morning, cost $248 on its own. A similarly timed return flight to New York would have cost a separate $248, too — a whopping $434 more than I spent.
Spiked seltzer at 35,000 feet: JetBlue Airways to start serving Truly hard seltzer
So is last-minute sale travel worth it?
I really enjoyed my day trip to Charleston, and I know I want to visit again.
But for the average person who isn’t a travel writer, picking up and taking off work at the whim of a sale may be less feasible. Not to mention, it was a looooonngg day — nearly 20 hours. I woke up at 1:30 a.m. to get to the airport for a 5:30 a.m. flight and returned in a cab home from the airport around 9 p.m.
So, while the day was a blast, I don’t think a last-minute day trip that requires two flights is practical.
In fact, if I had been sitting at home with a day off the next day, I’m still not sure I would have been ready to drop nearly $300 on a rushed day trip to a new city.
Tips on how to book sale travel
The factors would all have to align: The day of the week, ability to take time off work and a place to stay if the trip is longer than a day. And of course, you want to visit somewhere high on your list.
Though sale travel may not always align with daily life perfectly, it can turn out to be a really good deal and a lot of fun.
Here’s how to keep an eye out for the next hot airfare sale:
- Be aware of recurring promotions. This wasn’t JetBlue’s first Halloween special; they’ve offered $31 Halloween fares for the past several years. Southwest Airlines’ has two mega fare sales a year, in early June and early October.
- Follow your favorite airline(s) on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They promote fare sales and other promotions there.
- Follow airfare deals sites. A few to check out: Scott’s Cheap Flights, Secret Flying, The Flight Deal.
- Be on the lookout for mistake fares. There’s an entire thread on frequent flyer forum FlyerTalk.com about so-called mistake fares and other short-term deals for travelers seeking cheap trips to maintain their frequent flyer status.
- Don’t dawdle when you see a deal. They can sell out or disappear quickly.
Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY
Follow Morgan Hines on Twitter: @MorganEmHines.