Traveling Tips For Musicians: Flights

by Brian Vander Ark

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.