When I look back at myself as I began to really travel compared to now, the difference is like night and day. Simply, I was a little too ‘go with the flow’ and thought that I had little influence over what type of experience I would have at the airports and hotels I frequented—especially during busy holiday weekends and seasons. I thought if I could just get there early, I’d hope for the best and have a good trip. I didn’t take time to fully acknowledge the persons responsible for my safe flight or comfortable hotel stay and I definitely didn’t put much thought into tipping. In all, I was a pretty basic traveler.
Twelve years later and I have no idea who that girl was anymore because the woman I see in the mirror not only travels at a rapid rate, I get from place to place much easier. I have more peace of mind and influence over my experiences, sans flying the plane. With every flight and hotel stay, I’ve learned from each of my trips and gathered tips from other frequent fliers over long flights and casual conversation. Over time, I’ve become such a great traveler that I actually love flying, and that new-new feeling when I first enter a beautiful hotel room that is just to my liking. While everyone’s journey to true traveling savvy is different, there are six things that most can agree contribute to a great experience. If you like just handling whatever the travel gods throw your way, don’t read any further, but if you’re looking to up your travel game, get know these rules of engagement and be a better travel maven.
First, a disclaimer: Basic ≠ new or older traveler. This doesn’t apply to novice travelers who fly just a few times a year or our elder travelers who may need a bit more time or don’t have a full grasp of new technology, etc. Elders aren’t basic—they are awesome.
1. Kindness is Forever
Whether it’s a hotel desk person, a gate agent or a flight attendant, they will all tell you that there are two ways you can guarantee being remembered—by being genuinely kind or being an absolute bitch. While these are two extremes, I can tell you that kindness will get you much farther. I’ve been fortunate to receive everything from free drink vouchers to a swanky hotel room upgrade to a bump into first class, all because I took the time to be kind, gracious and respectful, especially in high pressure situations. And though I don’t extend kindness solely for it’s karmic benefit (you just feel better!), karma tends to reward people pretty well. Think of it like this, we are all trying to go somewhere, whether it be home after a long day of work at the airport or to jumpstart a much needed getaway. No matter the destination, we all want to arrive in good spirits and that definitely isn’t happening if talking down to the flight crew (they are there to save your life, getting drinks is extra), or ignoring the porter who just lugged your three bags to your car or hotel room or the housekeeping staff that cleaned up your room after a multi-day stay is your normal style. Besides, why be rude to the persons assigned to help you out? That’s just hustling backwards.
2. Know the Value of a Deal
Thanks to sites like The Flight Deal, TravelZoo and Secret Flying, there are plenty of ways to find some amazing travel deals. But true travel mavens know that it’s only a deal if it actually works for your life and your travel style. So while that $400 roundtrip ticket from Washington, DC to Bali (fantasies can come true!) may seem like a deal, if the fare has a ton of blackout dates that don’t work for your schedule, or doesn’t allow you to accrue air miles or upgrade your seat for a long haul, it may not actually be worth it. When that infamous Etihad Christmas deal happened a few years back, I hesitated before buying and took a few minutes to checkout all the flight details, upgrade options and ended up remixing our seats to a super comfortable exit-row seats for our 13 hour flight and accruing airline miles I could transfer. That’s when the deal became real and we still saved close to $900 each. No matter if it’s a too-good-to-be-true airfare or hotel deal, you owe it to yourself to read the fine print to make sure you don’t end up at a fabulous resort—in an old, yet-to-be remodeled room.
“…true travel mavens know that it’s only a deal if it actually works for your life and your travel style.”
3. Lines? Don’t Do Lines
If you’re flying without TSA PreCheck and/or Global Entry, I hate to say it but you’re doing it wrong. While my frequent flier status previously afforded me access to the priority lines at security check for a while, there is no comparison between life with and without it.
With TSA PreCheck, I don’t have to pad on too much extra time for TSA lines anymore. This does not mean that you are immune to lines, but it is a guarantee that they will be shorter/minimal and you will definitely move faster as you don’t have to take off your shoes, unpack your bag, go in that weird body-scanner or purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka to make it to the other side and be on your way. And if you find yourself pushing your time, PreCheck can be the difference between making it to your gate on time and finding yourself scratching for a seat on another flight.
TSA PreCheck came with my Global Entry membership, which cost me $100 and is good for five years. Because I live in New York and fly to the Caribbean and South America frequently, I’m generally greeted by extremely long customs lines upon my return to either JFK or MIA, especially if I am landing with flights coming in from other parts of the world. Rather than give an extra 45 minutes to (I’ve heard) 2 hours of my life to Homeland Security, I’d rather insert my passport at the Global Entry Kiosk and be on my way in about 10 minutes–and that’s with a line. It’s one of the best “two-for-one” deals around.
And while Global Entry may be available to everyone* to apply, they don’t always approve everyone upon an extensive background check. I would know, the first time I applied I was denied! But I appealed to the ombudsman, I followed up, I was approved and on my way in six months.
If you find yourself completely uninterested or unable to apply for TSA PreCheck and/or Global Entry but still want to beat the lines at security, outside of using your status or fare class to go in the priority line (moves a bit faster, but still… it’s a line), there is always the option of using a private VIP meet-and-greet, concierge-type service at your airport. The eligibility for these range from American’s Five Star service, which is for business or first class fliers and starts at $250 per person, to private services (Gateway, Global Concierge and more) that can start at $100, depending on what services you prefer like no line wait, bag porters, a private car, club access, etc. In all, these are generally used by privacy-loving celebrities, government officials and anyone who wants a true VIP experience at the airport and is willing to pay for it. I used a similar service offered by Etihad in Abu Dhabi and had a wonderful experience.
4. Check Yourself
Outside of you being outside of mobile range because you were trekking through the Amazon Rainforest, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be checked into your flight at least 24 hours before your flight time.
There is a 45 minute to 1 hour window prior to your departure in which most airlines will cut-off the ability to check in or process a digital boarding pass so even if you get to the airport thirty minutes before take-off and have a sliver of time to make it through security and board—if you aren’t checked in already and don’t have a mobile or paper boarding pass, chances are you aren’t getting on, especially on popular or over-sold routes. Also, the earlier you check in, the lower your chances are of getting involuntarily bumped.
Taking advantage of the 24-hour booking window also give you an opportunity to snag or confirm a great seat (if you haven’t done so when booking) and simply, peace of mind. So when you see that girl attempting to tell-off an airline employee (see #1) because she’s been bumped or can’t check in, take note because the only place she’s going is to the next available flight in a crappy seat.
5. Be A Controlla… Controllaaaa
From the time you book a trip to arriving at your destination, there are plenty of things you can control, here’s how:
- Websites like Seat Guru can help you choose a good seat before you purchase your ticket and select your seat and both major airline apps plus travel tracking/itinerary apps like World Mate are great at helping you organize all of your information and keeping it at your fingertips. They also offer real-time updates on flight changes, delays and more.
- Place a quick call to all of your travel and lodging operators to confirm your reservation is crucial, especially if you have a complex itinerary. Confirming all of your personal details and special requests before you arrive is also key.
- If you want to relax at the airport in style, consider purchasing a day-pass to an airline lounge or invest in a club membership or a lounge network like Priority Pass.
- Pack and check luggage with items that you won’t die without, plus a luggage tracker, will help manage any lost-luggage woes and anxiety.
- Booking your flight at a premium level, or having priority frequent flier status means that you will not only have the opportunity to choose a better seat and use an expedited line, but in some cases you can also control the food served to you on your flight.
And then there’s the moment when your flight delays in take-off, forcing you to miss your connection and hotel check-in by almost a day and increase the opportunity for your luggage to get lost in the matrix—that’s when it’s time to take control.
If there is a major delay at the airport, chances are people will rush the re-booking desk or gate agent, this is when you need to calmly pull out your phone and call the airline directly. If you have access to your airline’s private lounge, call the airline while making your way there so one of the club agents can help you when you arrive. Generally, the level of service you will receive in the airline’s club will be higher and without the stress of a million people trying to do the same thing around you. Thankfully, most airlines like Delta are catching on and are updating their apps with instant rebooking capabilities that allow you to handle everything with just a few finger taps and relax.
A tip: In airports where there is no club or the apps aren’t helping, try to locate a booking desk in another terminal for assistance with less of a wait, just make sure it’s the same airline!
After your new flight is secured, then reach out to your hotel directly to speak with a front desk person to explain to them your situation and re-confirm your room with all requested amenities/services still in place. Though I generally plan my personal travel myself, this is when having a travel agent book your hotel and manage your reservation really pays off. Remember, in general travel agents make their money via commissions from hotels and travel operators, so don’t hesitate to reach out to an agent to help you get your best #hotellife. If a travel agent isn’t available, booking directly with your hotel versus a third-party site like Expedia can ensure that you will have more control over your reservation, especially in crisis mode.
In all, staying calm and in control is key. It can not be overstated that kindness, especially in situations like the aforementioned, is necessary and can really impact your situation.**
6. Board With (Your) Class
There is a reason most airlines board families with small children first. Have you ever tried to get a toddler to sit still for 30 seconds or fold a stroller with a squirmy baby? Exactly.
There is also a reason why fliers who have purchased first and business class seats, or have earned frequent flier status also board before the rest of the cabin—because they’ve paid for or earned that perk. For some it’s a matter of simply having an extra minute to get comfortable, for biz-class betties like myself, it’s the time needed to unpack the laptop, charger, etc and have my carry-on handy so I can make my connection or meeting when I land. So no matter your flier status, have some class and board with your group. Thankfully, flying in coach doesn’t mean that these perks are off-limits, plenty of airlines like Delta and JetBlue offer coach-class seat options that come with priority boarding and you will be sitting pretty before everyone else.
Bum-rushing your way to the front of the line before anyone has been called is not only a waste of time, rude and hella basic, it makes it harder for gate agents to do their job, which delays the boarding process… which can mean a delayed flight. Once you are checked in and at the gate, the plane isn’t going to leave you—trust me.
While it took years of flying, flier talk and plenty of mishaps to drill these lessons into my head, one truly doesn’t need a million miles on their account to get the basics of being a savvy traveler. Have any tips to add? Speak up in the comments below!
A self-described “plane nerd,” aside from being Parlour’s co-founder and creative director, Shannon is also Parlour’s official “traveler in chief” who stays in the air and planning the next travel move while balancing a busy career in marketing. Keep up with her via social at @shannboogie.
* Global Entry is open to U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of select countries. Visit their website for more information.
** Though rare, there is always that time when an employee is just flat out wrong, rude or disrespectful. That’s when it’s time to disengage, locate a supervisor and get on the phone with an agent who can help you further.
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