Travel blogger Gilbert Ott has launched a unique challenge he’s dubbed Catch Me If You Can, offering to swap his first- or business-class seats with anyone who spots him at an airport and asks him to switch.
“The idea is that if you find me in an airport, in the check-in lane, the security lane, walking around, grabbing some food, and you happen to be on my flight, I will gladly switch seats with you if you can identify me,” Ott said on “Good Morning America.”
Ott said he started the challenge to “drum up a little bit of interest” in his new website, God Save The Points, but now that his clever promotional tactic has gotten so much attention, he admits it could be difficult to pull off.
“I think it’s going to be very hard to hide at the airport for the rest of year,” he said of his newfound fame surrounding the challenge, which runs until December. He took the name from the 2002 Leonardo DiCaprio movie, in which a wily teenager successfully impersonates airline pilots, doctors and prosecutors before eventually getting caught.
Even if he’s already boarded and sitting comfortably in his upgraded seat, Ott said he would still swap with anyone who recognizes him -- although he wouldn’t be too thrilled about that situation.
“Ideally, it would be before I get on the plane,” Ott said with a laugh. “It’d be pretty disheartening to sit in one of those pretty nice seats and have to turn around, but if someone is that motivated, I suppose I would switch with them.”
Ott said he was inspired to start the challenge because he’s a “big Richard Branson fan,” referring to the business mogul and Virgin Group founder.
“I had heard that on some of his airlines, he actually switches seats with people in economy and I thought that was kind of a fun idea,” Ott explained. “I thought if one of these kind of eccentric billionaires could do it, then some nobody 30-year-old blogger could definitely do that.”
Over the weekend British Airways got on board to help kick off Ott’s contest on his round-trip flight from New York’s JFK airport to London's Heathrow airport on July 22 and July 23. The airline upped the ante and decided to upgrade up to 10 passengers who spotted him to seats in business class, British Airways vice president of Communications Caroline Niven told ABC News.
“In New York [Ott] upgraded a couple who were on their honeymoon and it was their first time going to London. I think it was something they will remember forever as well as two little girls,” Niven said. “It was the experience of a lifetime. We were thrilled to be part of that with him.”
“Through London I was actually being chased in the airport. I was out of breath,” Ott said. “It was really entertaining.”
The airline reserved 10 seats in anticipation of the promotion. Ott did not have to give up his seat for the flight, Niven said.
The airline does not have another promotion planned with Ott, and told ABC News that accommodating further seat upgrades through Ott’s contest would be at the discretion of the airport team in place for the specific flight. That will ensure protocols are followed and that all passengers accommodated.
Ott said he has approximately 30 flights planned through the rest of the year on a few different airlines.
He plans to be in New York, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco, so travelers should be on the lookout.
“If anyone finds me from now on, I really will be resigned to the back of the plane I think. I really will have to live up to the contest,” he said.
The travel guru’s number one tip for fellow flyers trying to get a better seat without breaking the bank? Look beyond the economy section.
“Occasionally, especially in the U.S., business-class or first-class is sold either at the same price or fractionally above on certain flights," Ott said. "And when you factor in things like paying for checked bags and seat assignments and these other things, it can actually work out cheaper and it’s a pretty nice experience. Don’t be afraid to glance in that column. Sometimes it works out in your favor.”