Travel Tips from a Road Warrior

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Despite fewer flight options and smaller planes, it’s still possible to have a positive experience when traveling for business. With a few extra tools, you can help your trip be more pleasant. I travel about 100,000 miles a year (on average) for business, and many of these tips come from years of dealing with the TSA, hotels, airlines, etc.  This is the first in a series of articles to help make your travel experiences more pleasant.

1. Get the right price with SideStep or Kayak – The airlines have an arcane system to maximize the amount you pay for every seat. You can subvert these systems by using a search engine to find fares for places you need to visit. These sites will take your requested itinerary, and price the trip on all of the major airlines (except Southwest), plus major travel consolidator sites like Expedia, Orbitz, and others. In many cases, the sites have saved me hundreds of dollars by showing me places where I can fly on the same flight for less. For example, a coach seat on a Delta/Northwest flight from Knoxville to New York might be $400 if I booked it directly with Delta.com, but only $300 if I book it on nwa.com. Sidestep will help you see these price differences, plus other possible saving options such as flying out of nearby airports (where fares are lower), and flying on different days and times.

2. Get the right seat – If you’re not super-thin and super-petite, you probably don’t fit so well in the veal-feeder pens that pass as coach airline seats these days. Website Seatguru has interactive maps of the seat layouts of almost all major airlines, with detailed, specific notes like “The aisle seat has less space under it due to electronics for the personal entertainment system”, “This seat doesn’t recline”, or “This seat may be noisy due to the proximity to the lavatory”. You can also identify which seats are “bulkhead” seats (the first row of a section) or exit row seats which may have more legroom than traditional accommodations.

3. If you have the right credit card, you may be able to travel in style. Certain American Express Platinum cards (not all of them) have travel benefits such as complimentary access to “members only” airport lounges (e.g. Delta’s Sky Club, American’s Admiral’s Club, etc.), a limited number of free family member companion tickets, etc. If you already have these cards, you may want to look into the travel benefits they provide – you may be surprised. In addition to better seating (think living room furniture), these lounges also offer work areas with desks and office chairs, refreshments, and generally, a more peaceful place to wait for that next flight. The staff in these clubs are always top-notch, and (in my experience) seem to be slightly more resourceful and not nearly as overworked as the gate agents outside the clubs.

4. Look special lanes through security at the airport. For example, some terminals have“expert traveler” lanes through security.  In many tourist-laden airports, they are infrequently used, and offer a shorter route through security.  If you are traveling with an “elite” frequent flyer, many airports have a special line for use by those who are gold/platinum in airline frequent flyer programs, members of the airlines lounge “club”, and first class passengers.  Most allow traveling companions of any of these people to also use the “short line”, so stick close to that road warrior if you don’t meet the criteria for the elite line.

5. Have a list of your frequent traveler numbers and the reservation phone numbers handy in the event of a travel “issue”. If your Boeing 757 flight cancels, you’re going to be in line with 175 of your closest friends and neighbors waiting for assistance from the airline. Many times, you can get rebooked using your cell phone in a fraction of the time it takes to get a human at the airport to help you with your problem, although the telephone agents usually can’t give you hotel and meal vouchers if the cancellation is due to a mechanical issue with the aircraft.

(I’ll have more later this week on tips and tricks for packing your suitcase - carry-on, of course)- and briefcase/backpack.)

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