I travel a lot, more than I’d like. People are often puzzled by my busy travel schedule and seemingly calm demeanor about it. Interestingly, I book all my trips and have done it for decades. But traveling well is something you learn with time and experience. I’ve decide to write a few posts on the art of traveling well to help some of you who are fortunate enough not to live out of suit case catching flights, and worst–connecting flights–all over the place. This one will focus on the trip planning. Subsequent posts will deal with how to choose your travel wear, things to know about airport security (you never want to hear “cavity search”), and productivity tools while on the road.
Book Your Trip ASAP
If you’re going to fly to your destination, then you must book your ticket as soon as possible. With rising costs of fuel, airline tickets cost more today than ever before. Most people know to book at least 14 days before the departure date. But here’s a rule of thumb, flight direct whenever possible. That sounds obvious to most of us, but I’ve know people to want to build airline miles by flying through hubs and risking missing their meetings or adding an extra 2-4 hours to their trips because of the elusive airline mileage. Trust me, life will be a lot better if you can fly out of your home airport and arrive at your destination on the same plane.
Use a website like Orbitz and Expedia to check multiple airline schedule as well as Southwest.com or other discount airline that doesn’t list with the travel sites. However, purchase your ticket directly from the airline website if you’re flying both legs of the trip with the same carrier. Pricing is usually the same, if not better, and if you have to make changes in seat assignments, times or dates it’s a lot easier that way.
Sign Up for Everything
I’m a member of every hotel, rental car, airline, restaurant, and rickshaw loyalty club there is. Most of them don’t cost anything and you always get perks along the way. In my last trip I got free upgrade to a suite and free breakfast at the Courtyard Marriott. The most useful are rental car programs where you don’t have to wait in line, then sign 10 pieces of paper to get your car. You’ll appreciate not having to deal with a long line after getting to your destination late at night or late for a meeting. If you’re traveling a lot, you might talk your employer into upgrading your company card to the Platinum American Express card. It will not cost them much in fees but will give you entrance into hospitality lounges of American, Delta, United, Northwest airlines for free. That’s a welcome respite on busy airports such as Atlanta, and Dallas.
William Shatner is Your Friend
You’ve seen the cheesy commercials, but Priceline can be a great resource to save money on car rental and hotel reservations. Lately I’ve saved over 50% in hotel and rental car fees by booking them on Priceline right before my trip. Here’s how I do it. First I make sure I have booked hotel and cars directly after comparing prices on Expedia. I do it because I never know when a city will sell out of hotels and cars. Once I got caught with no car or hotel in Wichita, KS because of the annual “Women Bowler Convention.” The whole thing was a nightmare for so many different reasons it might have its own blog post later.
Then a couple of days before my trip I log on to Priceline and choose the “name my own price” option. I make sure the hotel choices are near my destination and usually bid half of the suggested price. I’ve tried lowering that amount with varying degrees of success, but I’m usually accepted with my half-price option. You can save a lot of money on rental car fees on a multi-day trip. If works out with Priceline, I cancel my earlier reservations.
24 Hour Check In
I usually try to check in 24 hours in advance. Some airlines will release their exit row seats within 24 hours of departure. Besides first class, exit row seats give you the most leg room option. United and USAirways are now charging an extra fee for “preferred” seating which includes the exit row seats, which I think is bogus. However an extra $15 is worth not having cramped legs for a long flight. If you fly more than 32 segments with Southwest during a calendar year, you’ll automatically get an “A” boarding pass between the number 16 and 40. That’s made my life a lot easier these days. In the past, however, I would set a reminder on my phone with my check in information for 24 hours prior to my departure. Most airlines have a mobile service that makes checking in from your cell phone very simple. That’s the way to go with Southwest.
Ok. That gets us booked. Next in the art of traveling well will be choosing what to wear and how to pack for up to a 5-day business trip without checking luggage. Can you look fashionable, bring all your product, workout clothing and not wear the same thing everyday? Yes. Just stay tuned.