Top Travel Hacks from the Obnoxious Autobiography of Justin Ross Lee 

by | Published Jan 5, 2023 | Edited Jan 5, 2023


For those of you who don’t know who Justin Ross Lee is, watch this video. JRL, as he calls himself, is a ‘first-class asshole’. He is a travel hacker and social status hacker, in fact in some ways I would liken him to the male version of Anna Sorokin (see Netflix: Inventing Anna).

I recently decided to read his book about his life, titled Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am? Confessions of a First-Class Asshole, mostly for amusement. Indeed there were several amusing stories and a few travel hacks peppered throughout. 

This article will summarize what potentially usable travel hacks were mentioned in the book. I will say that a lot of these are a little too distasteful and/or fraudulent for us here at Frugal Flyer, but we still found them entertaining to read and think about, at the very least.

Overview of “Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am? Confessions of a First-Class Asshole”

This book is an autobiography where Justin Ross Lee recounts his early life and ascension to celebrity status through certain ‘non-traditional’ means. In essence, he becomes a social hacker doing what he describes as ‘social crime’ to garner media attention – mostly bad publicity. He very much embodies the old saying, “all publicity is good publicity”. For example, one tactic he employs is to pick fights with real celebrities, in order to get himself into news headlines. 

Justin Ross Lee at the red carpet with Gwenyth Paltrow, the vagina steamer.
Justin Ross Lee butting in front of the despicable Gwenyth Paltrow on the red carpet.

But what does that have to do with travel hacking and ‘frugal flying’? 

Well, JRL’s focus is to ‘hack celebrity’, to achieve status without actually doing the work. A large component of this is finding a way to live the luxury lifestyle without having achieved the resources to live that lifestyle. 

Travel hacking has many elements of this mindset – finding a way to travel for free, sit in business class for next to nothing, visit airport lounges without paying for them, acquire premium hotel and airline status without barely staying in a hotel or flying the airline.

And naturally, Justin Ross Lee has become a skilled travel hacker in his own right and uses it as a tool to further his pseudo social status.

So without further ado, let’s look at the highlights from the book related to travel.

Travel Hacks

US Airways Guaranteed First Class Upgrade

In the former glory days of US Airways, Preferred Members of the Dividend Miles club would get an automatic upgrade to first class if there were available seats. Unfortunately, there were rarely any available seats. So, Justin would book refundable tickets for every single first class seat on the plane a few weeks before his departure. Then, a few days before the flight, he would cancel all the seats and refund the money back to his credit cards, thus opening the seats up for himself. At this late notice, calling the airline and asking for the manual upgrade would allegedly have a high chance of success given the empty cabin.

A US Airways plane, now merged with American Airlines
US Airways has since merged with American Airlines.

Of course, this wouldn’t work nowadays, primarily because US Airways no longer exists… but the idea is intriguing and probably something Zoey Carmichael, our resident expert on Air Canada eUpgrades, would try to scheme up.   

Bribe the President of US Airways with Secrets

In a continuation of the above, Justin Ross Lee once found himself onboard first class US Airlines sitting next to the president of US Airlines. He offered to reveal the loopholes he was taking advantage of to the president in return for Chairman’s Preferred status. 

Apparently, it worked…

Refundable Ticket for Lounge Access

At Frugal Flyer we advocate for leveraging credit cards to gain access to lounges, such as the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges. However, JRL leveraged another loophole to gain access to lounges in the US, one in which he used to access the airport lounge during the workday and not even fly anywhere… 

He described how he would book a refundable ticket, go to the lounge at JFK airport for free booze and food, and then refund the ticket.

Rather sleazy and it wouldn’t be of interest to me to go to the airport with no intention of flying, but then the lounges at JFK are quite a bit nicer than anything we have here in Canada.

Steal First Class Liquor: the Doggie Bag Rule

Early in the book, Justin Ross Lee mentions the ‘doggie bag rule’, ie. applying the idea of packing up food or beverage at restaurants. So on a first-class flight, JRL likes to ask for an expensive bottle of whisky, then tells the server “just leave the bottle I don’t want to keep bothering you”. He then funnels the whole bottle into Perrier bottles and stores them in his carry-on bag.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label - Some follow rules, others write them

Will the server give you concerned looks when they later collect the empty liquor bottle? Probably. But according to the ‘doggie bag rule’, this is a legally gray area – not quite stealing but certainly not ethical. 

Get Reseated for Free

JRL recommends always traveling with a small baggie of ground peanuts. Then if you happen to be seated in an unsavory spot (eg. sandwiched between two large-figured passengers), then take the peanuts and spread them on your seat, before alerting the crew of your extremely lethal peanut allergy…

The crew will have no choice but to reseat you elsewhere. Problem solved 😅

Never Lose Your Luggage

JRL recommends you buy a starter pistol and check it in your luggage, making sure to note at the counter that you are checking a firearm. Doing so will flag your luggage for the airport staff to treat extra carefully and ensure they don’t misplace it – doing so would cause a great deal of pandemonium.

Starter pistol

He even mentions that an airport staffer will manually carry the bag to the hold and then bring it to him at the baggage carousel. 

You can take unloaded firearms on airplane if checked and secured.

Save Time at the Airport: Depart at Arrivals

According to JRL, the superior way to arrive at an airport is to do so via arrivals, rather than departures. This way there is no queuing while getting in and you are only required to use a single escalator once through the doors.

I suppose this would work, depending on the layout of the particular airport.

Hack Hotel Loyalty Programs

JRL strongly recommends being a part of a hotel loyalty program. In his words, if you’re not, then “you’re a giant schmuck” (hence why we recommend Marriott Bonvoy so strongly).

He recommends always mentioning to the hotel that you’re there on company business. Business customers get treated better. The hotel management doesn’t want a company to pull all its employees from using that chain due to a bad experience.

Furthermore, there are corporate codes that can be used to secure cheaper rates at hotels (this works for rental cars as well). Pepsi, IBM, Raytheon, Deloitte, Loblaws, Government of Canada —they all have discount codes for their employees at certain hotels. 

JRL happens to work for all of these companies… and he has the business cards to prove it…

Loblaws business card of Chad Thundercock, Assistant Manager

Thank you Vistaprint 😉. 

Another hotel trick JRL recommends is maintaining a working knowledge of the hospitality industry lexicon. This can scare and disarm staff into granting your requests or responding to your complaints favorably. For example, rather than a problem, you have a “service failure” which requires a “service recovery”. The phrases “managing expectations” and “lack of transparency” will “tighten the sphincter” of any hotel staffer.

Among other things, JRL also mentions applying the doggy bag rule once again:

  • Travel with clear nail polish and a lighter to reseal vodka bottles once they’ve been emptied out and refilled with water.
  • Take an oversized Nestle Crunch bar from the fridge, peel off the paper sleeve delicately, carve away the center of the chocolate and replace the bar back into the sleeve as if it hasn’t been touched.
The Wet Bandits from Home Alone

Quite the calling card if you ask me… 

Some Amusing Quotes from the Book

Flying is unique. As well as being utterly magical, disrupting all notions of human achievability and crapping all over understandable physics, it’s also the only institution where any sort of class system is still vigorously enforced.

It’s an addiction. You get obsessed with accumulating these things and swapping tips with fellow junkies online who also do this shit. It can be hard work, and you need a decent grasp of organization and spreadsheets, but it’s worth it. A nice lounge to sit in. No bullshit with security. No waiting at the gate. Gourmet food and nonstop pampering. 

This is what I’d been searching for and unable to find. A legal con, just like this one. A social grift that has no repercussions. A kick against the societal conventions that I’d never adhered to anyway, a way of breaking laws that aren’t on the books.

With ‘Jew-Jetting’, the flight experience is the thing—tracking down and embarking on an airplane ride of such unimaginable opulence that the dummies in coach would gag with envy on their dry, chalky pretzels.

“Why do you need things for free when you’re so successful?” Because successful people get things for free anyway. It’s the fucked-up way of the world.

Thankfully, these legal run-ins during my formative years made me realize the importance of lines. And I’m not talking about big, fat, tasty lines of blow. I mean the line between normal and criminal behavior that you can bend as much as is physically possible but that shouldn’t be breached under any circumstances.

In my visits to the offices of major film studios, national newspapers, and global media outlets, I’ve seen mostly people who are carbon masses with no discernible talent except the ability to be affable and sit behind a desk without catching fire. Unsurprisingly, some of these people have the word “executive” as part of their title.

Conclusion

Does Justin Ross Lee embody everything that is wrong with travel hackers, and does he represent the worst of us? Yes.

Are these stories amusing and entertaining? Also yes.

Travel hacking is one of the most interesting hobbies out there. It lets the average person achieve an incredible lifestyle that is simply not accessible to most. Of course, everyone gets something different out of it, and has different preferences when it comes to travel. 

But there are also varying lengths people are willing to go to in order to save money, and/or to reach higher levels of luxury in this hobby. Even if nothing we do is illegal, there is also a moral line that each of us has to establish. Where you draw the line is a personal choice only you can make, but I think it’s safe to say JRL is quite flexible with his line…

Matt Astro

Matt Astro

Contributor at Frugal Flyer
Matt is a technophile and math nerd who discovered travel hacking in 2015. His favorite points-powered trip to date was visiting Estonia. Matt takes no shame in being far too frugal. In fact, he would probably go as far as calling himself cheap =P Seriously, if there is a way to get something for free, Matt will find it and take advantage of it (and then maybe write about it here).

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