In 1999, while traveling as a college recruiter, Johnny Jet started a weekly newsletter to share his tips on traveling in style while on a budget. Today, travel blogging is his full-time job and he is about to appear on the Travel Channel.
Recently, I caught up with Johnny Jet for peek into his world…
RW: I read on your blog that you were afraid to fly until “a bona fide princess from Hong Kong” whom you were dating showed you the light. Is that right? A princess…?
JJ: Well… technically she’s not a real princess, but that’s how her dad treated her. He even called her “Princess Sally.” She only flew business class or higher and when we landed together, we always got picked up in a stretch Mercedes. I would think to myself, “I could get used to this lifestyle.”
Twelve years is a long time to make a living doing what you love. What is the secret of your success? What makes JohnnyJet.com work?
The short answer: passion, determination, hard work and luck. I started at the right time in the mid ‘90s which is basically when the Internet was just starting out. I have gone to a lot of travel conferences, networked, learned and worked long hours. I’m also nice to everyone and I didn’t do any of it to make money. I started JohnnyJet.com to show people what’s available on the web to make their trip cheaper and more fun.
I saw a Tweet from you the other day that referenced your boarding your last, and 103rd, flight of the year. How many times did you score an upgrade this past year?
Good question. Since I fly so much and don’t stick to one carrier, I have elite status on three airlines: American, Delta and United. This means I hold the same status on all three of their alliances also, so I’m pretty much covered when I fly. Having elite status on an airline or its partner makes it a lot easier to get upgraded or, at the very least, get the best seat in economy (exit row, bulkhead, etc.). I probably got upgraded 50% of the time and gave a handful of those upgrades to a uniformed soldier.
What is your best tip for scoring an upgrade? What does it take to “woo” the gate agents these days?
Number one is to get status on the airline. If you can’t get that, make friends with the gate agent or date a flight attendant. Always bring the gate agent and the flight attendants chocolates or other treats/gifts. Most of all, be genuinely friendly.
If Johnny Jet launched an airline, what would he offer his customers that other airlines currently are not offering?
My airline probably wouldn’t make any money as I would give lots of leg room, offer free Wi-Fi and have ridiculously friendly service. My goal would be to take the best parts from airlines around the world and try to mold them into one. For example, there’s an airline in India that has flight attendants walking down the aisle offering to clean passengers eye glasses. Little things like that make the difference. Oh, and I would arm my flight attendants with huge blowup bats to whack people who do dumb things like take too long to stow their bags or not turn off their cell phones when they are told.
You have rubbed shoulders with quite a few celebs over the years. In fact, I saw that your second ever blog post included a picture of you with Paris Hilton. Tell me about your craziest run in with a celebrity.
I can’t disclose my craziest story, but one of the top travel related ones is when I met John Travolta on QANTAS’ A380. When I told him my name, “Johnny Jet,” he said, “that should be my name!” He was really cool.
Tell me about your upcoming one hour special on the Travel Channel. Did you do any filming on location?
It’s a dream come true and it was all filmed on location. We traveled to five countries, not including the U.S. We were in Belize, Canada, England, Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands and New Zealand. I flew over 35,000 miles in October alone which is when most of the filming took place.
How about the in-studio stuff? What was it like to get all spiffed up with makeup and stand in front of the bright lights and cameras?
There wasn’t any in-studio. We had two cameras (usually one was held by the producer), a sound guy and a local guide or two. Here’s a good picture showing what part of our crew looked like:
Did you have your own dressing room? How about special provisions like green M&Ms only or your favorite hand lotion? What were your demands?
Ha! I didn’t even have makeup. I even flew coach on one of the long haul legs, so there wasn’t much chance to request green M&Ms (though I did want some).
What should viewers expect to see on the show and when can they tune in?
The one hour special is scheduled to air on the Travel Channel, January 1 at 9:00 PM EST (check local listings). It’s called “Hot Spots 2012” and you can set your DVR now by doing a search for Hot Spots 2012 (just don’t look at the names surrounding it).
Hopefully, the show will inspire people to get out there and see the world. I always tell people, “you should go to at least one new country a year.” One thing that’s for sure is that there are a lot of great ideas for 2012 travel.
Images via Johnny Jet