As a frequent traveler, who travels mostly for work at least once or twice a month, I have over time assembled quite a list of little tricks and “best practices” to make life on the road easier and more bearable. Hopefully you’ll find some of these useful for your own travels:
- Whatever airline you fly, either join their frequent flyer program or use one of your existing memberships (most airlines have several partner airlines). Miles can only help and rumor has it that people who are members of a frequent flyer program are less likely to get “bumped”.
- Try to stick to one (or two) airlines and their partners, so you don’t spread your miles around too much. (If your miles are in a lot of different programs, check out points.com).
- Keep an eye on expiring miles. If you approach expiration, use “dine for miles” or magazine subscriptions in exchange for miles to generate activity on your account to keep it active.
- Whatever your primary airline is, seriously consider getting their rewards credit card. Usually signing up is rewarded by a healthy chunk of extra miles, early boarding privileges, free checked luggage, etc.
- Once you’ve reached a higher level/status in your main frequent flyer program, take a look at the platinum level of whatever their program’s credit card is. That way you may get free companion tickets, (discounted) lounge access and qualifying miles which will make it easier to maintain your status.
- That said, lounges sound exciting, but unless you have very long layovers, they’re often not practical because you won’t have time to use them in between flights. If you travel internationally a lot, they are more useful. LoungeBuddy is a useful app if you frequently use lounges.
- Even if you reach higher status levels, don’t bet on getting upgraded. I found that despite high status I often ended up being #16 of 35 people fighting for 2 empty business class seats.
- Nonetheless, check in as early as you can, in most cases 24 hrs before departure.
- Always board early if you can, especially if you bring a roll-aboard. A higher level of status and/or the airline’s rewards credit card will help get priority boarding.
- Install the airline’s iOS or Android mobile app. Easy online check in, notifications, gate info, and electronic boarding passes make life quite a bit easier.
- Avoid connections. If you can’t help it, avoid connections with less than an hour in between. Any slight delay would leave you having to rebook because you’ll likely miss your next flight. Avoid itineraries with multiple connections. Try to stick to a single airline and its partners (each way), so you are less likely to miss connections or have to change terminals for connecting flights.
- If you have connecting flight, get a seat in the first third of the aircraft to save time getting off the plane and to your next gate. Some apps even include airport maps or walking directions. Know your next gate and where you arrive before you step off the plane.
- The later in the day your flight, the higher the chance it will be delayed.
- Know when your departure airport will be busy (e.g. 6-8 AM in most cases) and plan extra time for security. I always try to be at least 1:15 hrs early for my flight (for domestic flights).
- Sign up for TSA Pre – it’s worth it! Global Entry is a good idea of you fly a lot internationally. CLEAR is a nice idea, but a lot of airports don’t support it yet and if you have TSA Pre or Global Entry, it doesn’t save much time.
- Go for aisle seats – the ability to get up and stretch or use the bathroom without asking your neighbor to get up is worth it. If you can’t get an aisle seat, go for middle. I found that while windows are nice, asking two people to get up when I needed to use the bathroom was not fun. More often than not, there’s not that much to see anyway.
- Reserve seats as soon as you buy your ticket. Watch out for seats with limited recline. Check out the app SeatGuru.
- If you get stranded or otherwise impacted by a significant delay, start with your airline’s mobile app to rebook yourself, which works surprisingly well and doesn’t require being on hold with the airline. If that doesn’t work, call the the airline immediately. It’s fine to let them know that you are significantly inconvenienced by the delay (e.g. missed meetings etc.). They may at least offer you extra miles, upgrades or a travel voucher. If they don’t offer, ask. The higher your status, the better they’ll treat you and you may have priority waitlist status etc.
- Register your phone numbers with the airline’s frequent flyer program. When you have to call them, they may match your phone number with you automatically which expedites the process. If you have higher status, you will have special numbers to call with shorter wait times.
- Get a nice backpack (not too large). Being able to carry things on your back may not always look fashionable, but it’s much easier, you’ll have both hands free and if needed, it’s possible to sprint through the terminal to catch your next flight. Some backpacks look sleek without outer pockets, but I’d argue they’re not very practical if you just want to reach in and find a charging cable. Outer pockets with separate zippers help.
- Always pack your phone’s charging cable and charger in your carry-on luggage. I’d also recommend having a charged battery pack ready at all times. Don’t rely on chargers in the plane. Plus you’ll be able to charge your phone in your backpack while walking off the plane and through the airport if needed.
I hope you enjoyed this information. Check out Part 2 for rental cars/ground transportation, hotels and more!