In Part 1 I talked about how to travel smart. This post will discuss the airlines, hotels, rental cars and the different points programs, what’s good, what’s not and what to look for. Basically how to get the most bang for your buck.
No the airlines are not there to screw with you, they are a business just like any other only their job is to move people around. As I said in my previous post, I fly quite a bit and I’ve learned plane maintenance, weather and other delays happen. Many times have I had to run across ORD or DEN trying to make my connection. However with some planning you can avoid short stopovers which can make a 15 minute delay on your first flight extremely nerve wracking.
When you get through security your first stop should always be the actual, physical gate your plane is leaving from. I have seen many cases where the arrival/departure screens aren’t updated timely. Save yourself the hassle. Don’t assume. See for yourself.
Window or Aisle? I will always choose window. Then I can sit down, put my headphones on and relax. I don’t bother to get up when someone has to take a leak 15 times in a flight or get bumped by the attendants and passengers walking up and down the aisle. Its nice. As far as location goes, the farther toward the front you are, the earlier you get off of the plane. The other important consideration is seat pitch and width. All airlines are NOT even close to equal, even on the same equipment (plane). I highly recommend looking at www.seatguru.com while you are selecting your seats.
But, you know, do what you want.
There is much debate over boarding policies from airline to airline. To vastly oversimplify the process: Airlines allow passengers with status in their frequent flyer programs to board first, followed by passengers with certain branded credit cards, followed by the proletariat. I personally fly United Airlines and Southwest Airlines and they are night and day different. My main advice is that you need to learn how the airline boards so that you can make sure you get the seat you want and/or the overhead bin space for your carry-on luggage.
Deplaning for most airlines at most airports goes from the front to the back, so the closer your seat is to the front the sooner you are off the plane. One suggestion is to check your app as they will often have the baggage carousel listed near your arrival gate number. If all else fails just ask the flight attendant what the baggage carousel is.
Travel by Sea
What are you a fucking pirate? No one travels by sea since the Titanic. You vacation by sea, on a cruise ship, not to travel somewhere at the speed a dog runs.
As with airlines I highly recommend sticking to one chain with another as a backup. For instance I stay almost exclusively at Hilton properties and I have earned Diamond status the past few years before July. My backup is Marriott where I earn status through a partnership with United Airlines. There are many hotel chains but if you stick with one of the big ones there is bound to be one close to where you need to be. Here is a rounded list of how many properties each of these hotel chains have:
- Marriott Starwood – 5800 hotels
- Hilton – 4700 hotels
- ICG – 5000 hotels
- Wyndham – 7800 hotels
- Choice – 6400 hotels
- Accor – 3900 hotels
Where To Book?
Unless you get some sort of perk elsewhere or are required by your company to use a travel agent, use the hotel’s website to book. You cut out the middleman, usually get a better deal and have direct access to modify/cancel the reservation directly with the property you are staying at.
How To Budget
Occasionally the price you see per night isn’t what you’ll end up paying. This is especially true if the property is in a very desirable location, a high tourist area, etc. Some things to watch out for are:
Valet/Self Parking Fees
Pretty self explanatory however I’ve seen valet only at many hotels with charges as high as $75/night. Make sure you know what you are walking into.
If you are staying near an amusement park, the beach, or someplace significant, expect to pay a resort fee. These fees are typically per guest.
If you need access to the interwebs make sure you don’t arrive at the hotel only to realize you have to pay $20 bucks a night to stream your favorite porno.
How to Benefit From Your Travels
If you want to step up your game up with traveling or just get some benefits out of your travels the next section is for you.
Points, Points, Points
Earning points and status is what frequent travel is about. The key is making sure you don’t spread yourself too thin. Having 100,000 points is great; having it with 5 different companies is just about useless. I’d highly recommend for most categories to pick one primary and a backup. For example, my primary airline is Southwest and my backup is United. This works very well considering they often operate out of different airports but in my case they both fly out of the closest three airports to my house. I also have different objectives with each. I use Southwest for my domestic award travel with my family and United for international vacation travel. Keep in mind that as you get a higher status with the companies you will usually earn a bonus on points that you earn through travel.
I know some people that try and earn status with as many companies as possible which is fine and all but normally it’s untenable. Because of the earning bonuses you are usually much better off focusing on one or possibly two in each category. Focus on your primary company first, once you reach your goal, be that points or status, then develop your backup if it makes sense to.
Airlines are a beast. However, unless you are fond of very long road trips, they are a necessary beast. If you only travel very rarely then you know what the back of the plane is like, how airline seats are getting smaller and that people are getting fatter. This does not bode well for your traveling comfort. Having status on an airline means earlier boarding (more overhead luggage space) and better seats (toward the front, away from the foul smelling bathrooms, wider seats and a longer pitch). Since I’m 6’4, every extra inch of legroom helps. Because of my status with my two airlines, I either board the plane very early or I’m able to select an upgraded seat for no extra cost. Even better, I will occasionally get bumped up into first class. It’s good to have status.
So if you don’t have a preferred airline how do you know which one to choose? One way to decide is to look at the affiliate airlines that go along with your choice. There are many alliances but you should focus on the top three Star Alliance founded by United, Oneworld founded by American Airlines and Sky Team founded by Delta. Simply put these airlines will let you fly reward flights on other partner airlines as well as accrue points in one pool. It can be very helpful depending on where you’d like to travel for rewards.
Solo Airline Programs
Some airlines are not part of an alliance and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As I said earlier, I fly Southwest often and they have a great rewards program with possibly one of the best perks: the companion pass. However there is no one size fits all solution here. Do your own research and see what works out for you.
As I said earlier it makes the most sense to focus on one hotel chain at a time. For example, as a Hilton Diamond member I get a few perks such as an additional 50% bonus on points I accrue, room guarantee as long as I book 48-hours ahead of time, room upgrades almost every time I check in and more. It makes sense to get a
Rental Car Programs
All of the rental car programs are about the same: the rewards are very poor if you are trying to earn enough points to rent a car. For example, I had to spend about 8000 dollars renting cars from Hertz before I had enough credits to rent a car for free for 3 days. However, most rental car companies do instant upgrades to other classes or allow you to choose/exchange your car at the time of rental. This can be handy when your company will only pay for a compact and you are not compact sized.
Focus on one airline/hotel/rental car company, keep track of your perks and attain your goals. Follow this advice and not only will your travel be smoother you will earn a little to help for vacations in the future.
Travel smart and Stay Superior!