A Singer/Songwriter In A Sports Bar World

Tips For Perpetuating A Life As A Musician

Month: January, 2013

Traveling Tips For Musicians: Flights

imagesFlights. A major budget killer for any musician. Too many times I’ve made the mistake of agreeing to a show that required a flight, thinking that I’m charging enough to cover that expense, only to find that a simple flight costs far more than a complicated one.

An example of how inane the whole process is: I just logged onto Kayak, a fairly reliable ticket discount site. A flight form my hometown of Grand Rapids, MI to Chicago, Il (400 miles, round trip) is $300 more expensive than a flight from Grand Rapids to Los Angeles (4000 miles round trip). Exact same amount of days booked, over the same weekend.

So that’s what you have to deal with.

What I’ve discovered is, though it makes no sense at all, if you book a multi-destination flight, you’ll save a ton of money.

For instance, I just went through this scenario, with astounding results. if I have a gig on Saturday night in New Orleans, and I want to fly from Grand Rapids, it’s $537. If I add a gig in Baltimore the night before, and book a multi-destination flight, it comes to: $529.

I’ve just added a gig to my itinerary in a city 1,000 miles away, and all of my flights combined are less than the original one flight gig.

In this scenario, it may even be worth it just to stop in and visit a friend in Baltimore just to book the multi-destination flight. I would still save money.

I would say that 90% of the time, i can find my way around high prices by booking multi-destination flights. I usually book on Travelocity, and because I do so often, I’m a VIP member, and they wave most of the extra fees.

Speaking of extra fees, here’s another tip for musicians traveling by air.

Bags. Avoid fees AND the baggage claim area.

Bag fees were killing me, until I figured out a little trick that the airlines have not caught onto yet.

I’ve discovered that most airlines allow me to carry my guitar on the plane. It will fit in the overhead compartment on an average sized jet, with room to spare. Here’s my trick: Use a soft case. My soft case has four rather large pockets. And I pack the hell out of them. I pack my clothes in the main compartment with the guitar itself (it offers some protection as well!) then fill the other pockets with my merchandise. Now, if you travel light, like me, and plan on wearing the same jeans at least 2 days in a row, this is quite easy to accomplish. You have a guitar case full of your stuff, and still you are allowed another carry on bag. In that bag, I may pack more clothes, toiletries and a guitar cord or two. Plenty of luggage for up to a four day trip.

On occasion, in smaller planes, you may have to leave your guitar at the door of the plane with the baby strollers, large carry ons, etc. First, ask the greeting flight attendant if there is a closet on board that you may be able to stick your guitar into. If not, give it up to the valet. My guitar is packed tightly with clothes and the cushion in the soft guitar case. I’m confident it will survive. Again – I’ve been using this method for years, and have had NO damage whatsoever to my acoustic guitar.

Another rare occasion. If you are the last person on the plane, and there is no more room in the overhead bin, you may be asked to check the guitar in, at the gate. I’ve had to do that once or twice in the last 5 years of flying. Yes, it makes me nervous. But I’ve realized that by the time I give it up at the gate, my guitar is the last thing on the plane, and will probably end up on the top of the pile. (Please – Let me have my fantasy). Again, snugly cushioned in that case, crammed with my soft clothes.

Hmmm…$50 per bag, per round trip, saved? 20 trips a year for me on average, means $1000 per year I’ve saved. in 2 years, I’ve saved enough to (god forbid) pay the replacement cost of my guitar, should anything happen to it.

The key to being a successful traveling musician is to find ways to save, save, save on travel. At every turn.

Your comments, suggestions on saving money are welcomed by me, and other traveling musicians. Feel free to share.

Brian Vander Ark offers his sometimes ridiculous advice, in hopes you will check out his website.


Travel Tips For Musicians: Booking Hotels




As a traveling musician who has logged 100’s of thousands of miles over the years, I’ve made many costly mistakes.  Paying twice as much as I need for hotels,  baggage fees (damn merch case!), and excessive dining takes it’s toll on a musician’s budget, and subsequently drains him/her of their most important resource in the quest to stay out of a ‘day job’;  a savings account.  The ability to cut costs at every turn, and put that savings into an account to eventually subsidize studio costs, living expenses, merchandise purchases, etc, is what separates those show are serious about a career in music, and those who are in it for the occasional (and expensive) party.  No, i’m not here to take the fun out of your music tour.  I’m here to help enable you to extend that fun for years ahead. 


I’m dedicating the next few posts to traveling inexpensively.  Let’s start with accommodations.




A budget killer!  There are a number of us who are not comfortable staying in the homes of our fans, no matter how nice the accommodation.  I’ve had to decline invites to stay in some pretty fine houses over the years.  But ultimately, i need a place to be able to wake up and work out, write and relax before the next gig, and paying $50 to $60 for a hotel room is worth it.  


I use Priceline for hotels.  And like every other person in the world has a BETTER cure for your cold and flu, you probably have a better site for me to use (and IF you do, please post your suggestion in the comment section, so we can all take advantage). But I know my way around Priceline, and I’ve had great success with it.  


I have a few standards.  I’ve traveled enough to know that I won’t sleep comfortably knowing that my car may be broken into, or worse yet, the room itself getting broken into.  So I look for deals in the 3 to 4 star range.  


If you are looking for a hotel in a large metropolitan city, I recommend choosing a hotel by the airport.  I always look there first.  Yes, the appeal of booking a hotel next door to the gig where you can walk back to your hotel is a great one, and if you can swing it, wonderful.  But booking near the airport always saves me about 50% on that 3 or 4 star room.  


So let’s go step by step.  Let’s say that I need a room in Philadelphia for the night.  Here’s what I do:


I go to Priceline.com.


I type in my destination city and the dates I need the room.


Once the available hotels page comes up, I sort by star rating.  I usually click the 3 to 5 stars.  The first hotel that comes up is the 4 star Westin for $125 per night.  I don’t care if the Westin is $85 per night, most downtown hotels come with parking fees, so right there I’m paying too much.  So I scroll down and see that the Hilton by the airport is 3 and half stars, and they are asking $84 per night.  Scroll down further, and I see that the Four Points Sheraton (again, by the airport) is 3 stars, and $76 per night.  Now, sometimes I just want to nab these sales when I can, and sometimes I want to take a chance and ‘bid’ on a hotel in hopes of knocking that price down further.  I click on the Name Your Own Price icon, in hopes of saving that 60% they advertise (I’ve never gotten that deep of a discount, but 20 to 30% is achievable.)  Click on the area that you wish to stay (I choose Philadelphia Airport), then click on the star level you want to bid on.  Clicking on 4 stars, I see that the median price for a four star hotel in the area is $119.  (Clicking through all of the other areas, the median prices are MUCH higher.)

I click on 3 and 1/2 stars and it has an average price of $102.  3 stars, $109, and 2 and 1/2, $110.  Why do the prices go up for the lower star ratings?  Who knows.  I can only assume that some hotels are more desperate for your business.  


So, I take a shot at the 3 and 1/2 star, because my budget is right around $75, and I’m pretty confident I can get that.  So I bid $65, knowing that the fees are going to bring me right around $75 or $80 final price range.  After I bid (and sign in on my account, which is free) it will send me to a page that breaks it all down, before the bid is placed.  At $65, the fees come up at $17.38, bringing my total to $82.38.  Not too bad.  I enter my debit card number, and the Book Now icon.  


Priceline will try to find a hotel that will accept my bid, and if they don’t I will be sent back to choose a few different options.  You can’t just increase your bid by a few dollars each time.  You have to give them the option of putting you elsewhere.  You will have to change your star level as well.  (up or down).  Once you’ve done that, you can bid again.  I usually increase my bid by $5 at a time.  


Within seconds, someone accepts my offer and I get a 3 and a 1/2 star hotel for $87 (fees included).  Only then do I find out the name of the hotel, and it’s usually fine with me, because it met my 3 and 1/2 star standard.  And I’m satisfied with the price.  


If you are looking for a hotel in the $40 to $50 range, my advice is to go through the same process, but pick a lower star level.  It’s important to read the reviews first, however.  Finding a 2 star hotel with great reviews is very possible, and can save you big money.  (Be wary of hotels that only have one or two reviews.  Many times, that’s the hotel owner or manager writing it.)


One last thing:  Smaller cities are even easier to get the exact hotel you want.  Booking in Briighton, MI?  When you filter through the star rating and choose 3 and 1/2 stars, you find that there are only 2 possible hotels you will get when you bid.  Sometimes, there is only one.  Then, when you bid, you will know EXACTLY what you are getting in for.   


That’s a lot of info for you, and I apologize for getting into such detail.  My goal is to get more and more musician’s back out on the road again, without the worry of blowing their budgets within the first couple of shows.


Again, anyone who has tips on HOTEL savings, feel free to share your insight with the rest of us.  We are all in this together, striving to raise the musical bar back to where it belongs. 

Brian Vander Ark offers this free advice to young musicians in hopes that readers will check out his music. Go to brianvanderark.com for more details.

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