22 tips & tricks after 222k miles in the air
I wrote a post a while back about some travel tips I had collected as a ‘moderate’ traveler. Now, I feel I have been promoted to ‘experienced’ verging on expert. Thought I would share a full cycle of learnings. Some may seem remedial, but regardless they come together as a full package. And for context, yes, the reason this all feels a little controlling is because it is. I don’t like flying, and gaining control of the process reduces any anxiousness. I am fine with with flying by the seat of my pants in many parts of my life, just not with, well, flying.
Let’s take this from the start of the process to the end.
Have a point and purchase strategy
1. Negotiate terms with your employer where you can use your own Airline Credit Card to buy airline tickets.
The winning argument has to do with doing math and showing them in that in situations you experience often and how the perks of the card can benefit their pocket book. For instance, my card gets me Club Access. This means no airport wifi costs, reduced food and beverage costs and the ability to take calls/meetings in the airport while traveling, ultimately maximizing my impact on business. Increased billable time, means more profit. Decreased overall costs means less overhead. This argument only works if you are traveling with some excess – usually 50k or more a year. Again, it’s just math. The ability for this tactic to work may have to do with position within the organization as well.
2. Pick you’re brands and stick with them
(oh and pick the corresponding airline/hotel CC in #1…)
Jumping from airline to airline doesn’t benefit anyone except the airlines over all. Figure out where you travel and do the research. I am out of LA and fly internationally, so Virgin America nor Jet Blue were options, though I like them both. I chose United. In addition to their wide net of airports served, they are revamping their planes, lounges, customer service and overall experience. You also benefit from miles and status – we will get to that in a bit.
The benefits from miles are simple, collect them, use them. The secondary benefit of sticking with an airline is status. It ranges from airline to airline, but in general the following are pretty consistent:
- economy plus seating access (more leg room) ranging from 24 hours in advance to ‘at booking’ depending on status
- boarding order (first come first serve storage options)
- no bag checking charges
- bags at baggage claim come out first
- Private reservation and customer service hotline
- no change fees for tickets booked with miles
Hotel status on top of airline status is icing on the cake. Some airlines and hotels have partnerships, meaning if you achieve status on one, you get status on the other. In any case, the benefits of hotel status can include comped upgrades, private lounges, free breakfast, happy hours, late night snacks and unlimited bottled water. Not to mention free or upgraded wi-fi.
3. Don’t book travel too far in advance.
In addition to saving your company boat loads on change fees and fare differences, you may benefit from a slightly higher ticket price, which will positively hit your PQD (Premier Qualifying Dollars – every airline calls it something different). The amount of money you spend with an airline directly correlates to your status along with PDM’s or PQS (Premier Qualifying Miles & Premier Qualifying Segments). Which means you could fly 200k miles in a year, but if you didn’t spend the requisite money with them, you won’t get your status. Again, you shouldn’t make booking decisions based on finding the most expensive flight, at least for me, that feels unethical. But after a crazy LAX >> ORD >> BOS>> EWR>> LAX where I had more change fees than the cost of the flights I was reminded to pay attention to the ‘sweet spot’ for booking – not that in my example it would have mattered, but change fees don’t benefit anyone but the airline. You don’t get PQD credit for change fees.
4. Avoid last minute booking when possible
Of course, there are times when this is unavoidable, but don’t wait last minute. If only because you will get stuck in a middle seat.
5. If you are a regional and not a national or international traveler, play the segment game, not the miles game.
You can reach status on most airlines by flying a minimum segment number versus miles. This means that you can receive the same benefits as a person who flies LAX to NYC twice a month (aka me) just by flying a certain number of segments say, between LAX and SMF (Sacramento).
6. Apply and obtain TSA Pre-Check or similar background check
The benefits of this service are mind blowing. That said, more people are joining it and for some reason they seem to be ‘randomly’ moving gen pop people into it on a ‘single time’ basis. Not sure why. Marketing maybe? Like a test drive? And there are people who don’t want to be background checked, so fine, don’t do it. This isn’t the place for a political debate – but seriously? You are getting on a plane – you’re not exactly ‘off the grid.’
7. Buy two of every toiletry you have, one for home, one for the toiletry bag
Toiletries are the things you need no matter how short or long your trip is. Save yourself some time, reduce anxiety as well as actually forgetting something, by keeping one of everything in your bathroom and one of everything in your toiletry bag. I go so far as to leave my toiletry bag in my suitcase when I am at home. When I get home from a trip and know something was low, add it to the shopping list. Worst case scenario I use the home version if I need it in a pinch.
8. Make sure your bags make travel easier, not harder.
I am not adding in ‘carry on luggage’ or ‘don’t check your bag’ in this list as it should be pretty self evident. You want to bring everything with you on the plane, thats a given. But your bags on the plane are the smallest part of your trip. Your primary bag needs to moderately sized. Even if the paperwork from the manufacturer says it will pass domestic guidelines, don’t believe it. I have seen ‘regulation’ bags get turned around at the TSA check – seems they are empowered to reject you. (I think they are getting rips from the airlines, but that’s speculation) I find the four wheeler makes the entirety of the experience better. Moves from carpet to hardwood to asphalt to concrete effortlessly.
Now for your personal carry on. Make sure it has slots/velcro/straps to connect it to the handle extension of your primary bag. This is key. Through security, boarding, aisle, deplaning and checking in at the hotel, the ease of having your personal bag elevated on the top of your roller is ideal. One hand, all in a single place, no shoulder fatigue – after a couple flights in a week – you’re gonna be a believer.
9. Layout all of your items at once and together, before you begin packing.
This may seem remedial, but let me be the first to admit that packing is one of those things that can sneak up on you and then become frenzied. Packing has a few variables of influence:
- Duration of trip
- Number of cities in the trip and their climate
- Overlapping people who will see you from day to day
- Plans you may have when you land at home
In theory, if you had a three day trip with similar climates and never saw the same people everyday you could get away with a skeleton crew of outfits. Not that any of us would do that….
10. Your personal carry on essentials.
I get teased for being a germaphobe. Maybe. I don’t not touch things in my normal life, it’s not extreme. But travel exposes you to germs that are outside your normal day to day. Hand rails, door handles, shared air, previous room tenants – these things are limited in your home life. On the road, they multiply exponentially. Grab hand sanitize and wet wipes.
Also, noise canceling headphones are a must. A hefty investment – yes, for the good ones, but an undeniable benefit for the road warrior. You may not think that sitting in a metal tube with whirring Royles Royce engines is taxing to your ears and ultimately brain, but it is, in the form of sound fatigue. Use the noise cancelling headphones and begin to notice that you have more energy, patience and stamina the rest of the day.
11. FlightAware (the app)
Airlines are incented by controlling information. Standard crowd control 101, control in the info, control the crowd. But airlines are required by federal regulation to report the status of their planes and status. The nice thing is that this info is on a feed – which is where FlightAware comes in. FlightAware will give you up to date info on your flight (or any other) with a couple clicks. So when you sense something is going awry, pop open the app and see whats going on. You will see delays, cancellations, etc… This means that when the flight is cancelled and no one knows, you can get in queue online in person or on the phone to reschedule. Another advantage and this is borderline embarrassing; it overlays your registered flight path with weather. So if you are worried about turbulence but need to eat on the plane, you can schedule it out. I know – it may seems overly considered.
Additionally, for tracking others flights this is super interesting for data nerds. it shows minute by minute flight path and altitude & speed info….
12. The Terminal
If you got the credit card with the club pass, use it. Domestic clubs aren’t as luxurious as internationals, but they remain better than ‘gen pop.’ And with the increase of attention to Customer Experience that most airlines are having to compete on, the top airlines are refurbishing their hubs. Delta has made a marketing campaign out of their LAX redo. United just did Boston and is in progress on LAX now. I digress. The point of a club, beyond layover comfort, is to have a place to go in advance of sitting at the gate. So, use it for that. If traveling for business, remove the hustle and get there early, get some quiet time or take a call. If for personal, do the same, or enjoy a drink at the bar.
My point is, you have access to a club, use it. Take the pressure off of yourself. Get there early and avoid tend to only spend a few minutes in the club. I like to people watch, so I use the club as a private restroom and get some snacks for the plane and then walk the terminal to stretch my legs before I sit for some ungodly period of time.
13. Get your own water
This is a preparatory move for use on the plane, utilized later in this piece. But even if I didn’t have a different plan for this bottle of water, get it. Planes are dry and the drink cart only comes through a few times a flight. To avoid feeling bad later (human sensitivity to being in a small flying aluminum tube varies) have your own supply.
14. Do not ‘pre-drate’ within 90 minutes of the flight
Plenty of people believe that you should drink lots of water before getting on a plane. You should. But not within the 90 minutes before you take off. Cause why? Because when you drink water you have to pee. Having a strong urge to pee during take off, or during turbulence where you cannot get up is really uncomfortable and frustrating. Stay hydrated up to getting to the airport then go dry. (The bottle of water is starting to make sense now, eh?)
15. Clean your space
The cleaning crews can only do so much when the plane is on an hour ground turn, so do it yourself. Use a Wet Wipe for the arm rests, tray table, recline button and safety belt latches. Touch screen entertainment system, yup get that too. I thought I would get some strange looks when I started doing this, but more often than not people look at me with envy. I’ve started giving them out. This isn’t about being a germaphobe, this just makes good sense to me. After you wipe down everything, clean your own hands with sanitizing gel.
16. Storing your bags
Learned this one from a colleague when we shared a trip. At this point, if you have followed some basic consistency of approach, you are in group one or two and have your pick of overhead. The initial urge is to put your bags directly over your row and seat. The risk of course is it is out of sight and others can manhandle your goods. Throw your roller on the opposite overhead of the aisle. Even in the window seat, you get a view of the overhead across the aisle and can ensure people aren’t squishing, pushing, pulling or stealing your baggage space. Not so critical with a roller, but a pivotal move for personal bags or soft bags. If you are in a bulkhead row, this is incredibly important as you may not have under seat storage.
17. Air Freshener
A combo recommendation from my wife and Neil Patrick Harris – when you enter the bathroom, put soap on your hands and wave them around. Freshens the air and makes it palatable. Wash your hands, use the facilities wash your hands again.
After the pilot turns on the fasten seat belt sign on for final approach, and assuming the decent isn’t bumpy, start taking large gulps of water every few minutes. It clears the ears and hydrates you. It usually takes 20 minutes for final approach and another 10 or so to get to the gate. Perfectly timed for getting off the plane and hitting the bathroom.
Arrival and Hotel
Bonus idea: If the airport you are arriving at has a Limo Area, order your UBER from the plane. Just walk out to it like a boss.
19. Baggage Claim
You did something wrong. It couldn’t be avoided. Or you are on vacation. In any case, if you followed some earlier advice, your bags should be prioritized first.
20. The Hotel
By this point you should have picked a brand and created an account with them. Most hotels allow you manage some preferences – these of course are all personal. High floor, low floor, feather free etc… But do this. make sure part of your profile asks for extra towels. You can remove the need for maid service all together (most of us don’t have one at home do we?) and keep your room more secure and also remove any paranoia around a stranger touching your personal things.
21. Hotel Arrival
If you picked an airline/hotel combo where status is reciprocal you should be benefiting from shorter check in line and some sort of lounge access. Take advantage of it.
22. The Room
Remember your Wet Wipes? Here is where they come in again. Maid service is good at most hotels. And they do their jobs well – but their jobs aren’t about making things sanitary. They are there to make it presentable and orderly. But someone was there last night. And I can never get past the idea of what they did, had, wiped, sneezed on before I got there. Wipe the knobs, light switches, remote, curtain pulls and sink faucets. perfect? No, but it always makes me feel better.
Agency Life has its own cadence and intensity. Pitching and performing business is always more impactful in person, there is just no way of getting around it. Until the world starts accepting video conferencing as a norm and allowing it to take the place of in person meetings, road warriors will always have a role. For me, gamifying it, owning it and tracking it brings some calm to the process. You may notice that your colleagues who travel a lot wear it like a badge of honor. We sort of have to, just to deal with it.