Hey, Tom Price, here's how to book a last-minute flight (no private jet required)



Myles Ma

Myles Ma

Senior Reporter

Myles Ma is a senior reporter at Policygenius, where he covers personal finance and insurance and writes the Easy Money newsletter. His expertise has been featured in The Washington Post, PBS, CNBC, CBS News, USA Today, HuffPost, Salon, Inc. Magazine, MarketWatch, and elsewhere.

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*Update: Price apologized Thursday for his use of private planes, USA Today reported.

It turns out you and I paid for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to take at least 24 flights on private charter flights since May.

These flights cost taxpayers more than $300,000, as Politico first reported.

When asked why Price didn’t fly commercial, as his predecessors did, Charlene Yoest, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, cited Price’s “incredibly demanding schedule” and said “commercial travel is not always feasible” in a statement sent to reporters.

Well, as a patriot, I want Price to be able to fulfill his duties and meet with Americans throughout this great land. I would just prefer that he spend less than an average of $12,500 a flight to do it.

I asked Amanda Festa, an editor for airfare comparison site Cheapflights, for advice on how even someone with an “incredibly demanding schedule” could book flights quickly and cheaply — at least compared to a private charter. (Any snark ahead is me, not Festa. She's very polite.)

Wait, it’s possible to fly commercial even if you’re really busy???

No matter how hectic your schedule, it’s still possible to book flights quickly with a bit of planning, Festa said. That’s especially true for business travelers who have more spending flexibility, as Price seemingly does.

That’s right, you can fly for less than $12,500. In fact, Festa said it would be difficult to spend that much on a commercial flight.

“I’m sure if you wanted to spend that much money you could find a way but you can also have a first-class experience, get where you need to be on time, be well rested and not have to do that,” she said.

And while Price’s spokeswoman said "commercial travel is not always feasible," Festa said unless you’re flying on a busy holiday or during bad weather — in which case charters will be grounded, too — anyone with a big enough budget should be able to get on a flight. As we know, funds are no problem for Price.

Upgrade your seat

One of the best moves busy travelers can make is to upgrade their fare to business or first class. Upper-fare class tickets tend to offer more flexibility to make last-minute flight changes, Festa said.

They also save time. People with higher class tickets are allowed to board the plane later and get off before the plebes in coach.

If the federal government is not bankrolling you (or if you're an avowed fiscal hawk like Price), a good way to get upgrades for cheap is to join the frequent flyer program of your airline of choice, Festa said. These programs let you accumulate miles or points toward upgrades or free flights.

Check out our roundup of frequent flyer programs here.

Other tips for flyers in a hurry

One of the biggest delays flying is security. The TSA Precheck program can help travelers clear the line faster.

It costs $85 for a five-year membership and allows you to keep your shoes and belt on during the security check, use your own special line and keep laptop and liquids in your baggage. You only need to apply online and schedule an in-person background check (probably less rigorous than the confirmation process for your average Cabinet member) at your local enrollment center.

The time it takes could be well worth it if you travel often.

“It helps you get through security, it’s great for frequent travelers and it’s not that expensive,” Festa said.

A couple of obvious tips: Fly early and fly direct. Booking a direct flight at the last minute might be costly, but not as costly as a private charter.

Rushed travelers should also try to get on the first flight of the day. These flights tend to be delayed less frequently because the planes are normally already at the airport, Festa said.

Travelers without an infinite budget should also watch social media, airline newsletters and travel websites for last-minute deals.

And Festa’s final tip? Be friendly.

Airport employees who recognize you as a friendly face might be more accommodating if you’re running late and they may be more inclined to help you get a last-minute upgrade. And if you’re the Secretary of Health and Human Services, it’s nice to recognize some of the people who are paying for your trip.

Image: anyaberkut