How we booked $5 flights on a semiprivate jet — and how you can find deals, too

May 12, 2021

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I hunted for deals long before I learned how to redeem points and miles for luxury hotels and business-class flights.

In fact, I fell in love with traveling after taking advantage of a $265 round-trip flight to Abu Dhabi in 2015. Since then, I’ve traveled to more than 20 countries by actively seeking out flight deals and using points and miles. I know which online travel agency to use to book a mistake fare and which ones to avoid in case of cancellations. I’ve memorized my credit card and passport numbers, so I’m ready to book quickly whenever the opportunity arises.

Now, I’m using my experience to take advantage of deals for an entirely new travel experience: flying out of a private air terminal.

JSX helped pioneer the semiprivate jet travel space and operates as a hybrid between a commercial airline and a private jet charter service. It offers flights on 30-seat regional jets out of private jet terminals, allowing you to arrive at the airport shortly before your flight.

Operating out of private jet terminals and offering fares starting at $89, JSX opened up a once far-fetched way of flying to the masses — or, at least, more of a critical mass. When flying this way, instead of out of a traditional airport terminal, you can arrive at the airport just 20 minutes before the flight and skip crowded terminals and security lines.

I recently booked three $5 tickets with JSX — none of which depart from my home airport (New York-JFK). In fact, one leaves from the other side of the country in Los Angeles, while another would take me down south to Houston Hobby Airport (HOU).

JSX focuses on serving destinations within 500 miles of each other. Its fleet offers relatively spacious planes and says that, during the pandemic, “all fees for canceling or changing your flights are waived until further notice.”

While this particular sale has come and gone, here’s how you can be ready the next time an offer like $5 semiprivate flights appears.

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Search for deals

The pandemic has affected the availability of cheap airfares.

For starters, the deals — at least right now — may be harder to find than before. The sudden demand for flights from people who have spent the last year at home, coupled with the fact that many airlines were forced to slash capacity during the pandemic, has pushed the prices of some flights up. Even destinations that are usually cheap, such as Florida, are seeing fares inch higher and higher.

There are several channels devoted to spotting cheap fares, but one of the easiest ways to find them is through Google Flights or Skyscanner. I start my day by checking Google Flights, where I search for my preferred routes and dates in the hopes of snagging a deal. Google Flights has a helpful tool where you can set up alerts for your favorite routes, and when prices drop, you’ll receive an email notification.

Screenshot from Google Flights

Booking through an OTA might get you a cheaper fare, but that comes with a few complications, especially during the pandemic. Any changes, cancellations or refunds must be handled with the carrier directly. The OTAs follow the policies of their partners, which means that any credit, refund or change will be at the discretion of the airline.

Some semiprivate flights, such as JSX, can be found using Google Flights. But if you’re looking at a route popular with many airlines, like Los Angeles (LAX) to Las Vegas (LAS), JSX results might get buried down the page.

Screengrab from Google Flights

To make searching for JSX flights, you can filter out other airlines by selecting JetBlue only. That’s because JSX currently has a codeshare agreement with just one airline: JetBlue. You’ll then be able to see JSX flights and a link to book a ticket through JetBlue’s site.

The partnership also allows you to book JSX flights on JetBlue’s website, but you can’t redeem points for those tickets. You can’t currently book a JetBlue flight connecting to a JSX flight on one itinerary, either, though that may change down the line.

Watch social media

Twitter is another way to find cheap tickets — in fact, that’s how I scored a ticket for a seat on a semiprivate jet for $5. JSX, formerly JetSuite, recently ran a promotion selling one-way flights for as low as $5. Two trips on New York City’s subway costs more.

There are several accounts on Twitter you should follow to find all of the best deals. Some of my favorites include TPG’s own @TPG_Alerts and @mommypoints. You should also check out @scottsflights and individual reporters who share flight deals and aviation news.

Act fast

I can’t emphasize this enough: If you’re playing the grab the flight deals game, you have to act fast.

The first mistake fare I booked was the Abu Dhabi flight, which was available for more than a day. Unfortunately, that’s not the norm.

Popular deals, like the JSX deal (which reportedly only sold 100 tickets), can sell out in minutes. With excellent deals that quickly appear (and disappear), you won’t have time to mull it over or make lots of calls and arrangements. If you aren’t ready to book when you find a great offer, know the odds are high that the deal will end before you act.

To stay ahead of the curve, I suggest memorizing your frequent flyer and credit card numbers or storing them in a password app on your computer or phone. When time is of the essence, you don’t want to be held up searching for your wallet or purse.

Be flexible

If you want the best deals, you also need to be flexible with your travel dates and departure and arrival airports. That means you may have to be alright with not flying out of your home airport — or even an airport in your state.

For instance, none of the JSX routes I booked are remotely close to New York City, but I still wanted the chance to experience what it was like to fly on a semiprivate jet.

If you want to do the same and go where the opportunities take you, but you find that you don’t live close to the departure airport, that could mean booking a cheap one-way fare to reposition for those flights. You could then use miles to get home.

It may sound stressful, but that’s part of the fun of booking bargain flights. You can end up having experiences you otherwise may not have considered or planned.

Bottom line

Although a surge in post-pandemic travel has made discount airfare more difficult to find as demand has started to surge, deals are still out there if you know how to look. I start my day by checking Google Flights, where I search for my preferred routes and dates in the hopes of snagging great airfares.

If you act fast, have flexible dates and use tools such as Google Flights or the ITA Matrix, you can save hundreds (or thousands) on your next trip. While I don’t book many cheap flights or mistake fares anymore, even I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to jump on a flight deal for a semiprivate plane when the seats cost about as much as a cup of coffee.

Featured photo courtesy of JSX

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