Business Travel Secrets Revealed by a Frequent Flier

I’ve had people ask me many times for advice on airlines, hotels, traveling with children, etc and I figure its about time I share some tips and tricks I’ve learned. Some of these seem like no brainers to the experienced business traveler, and some are little tricks of the trade I’ve learned the hard way.

Booking a flight:

1. Unless absolutely necessary book at least two weeks in advance, preferably three. If you have elite status, the earlier you book, the better chance you’ll have of an upgrade.

2. Stick to one airline and choose an airline that makes sense with regards to where your home airport is. If you’re based out of Chicago, you should make United your airline of choice. Based out of Dallas, fly American. Based out of Philly, Fly USair. I have people tell me all the time that they refuse to fly a certain airline because of a bad experience they had with one airline. Let me tell you, the good, bad, and ugly exist with all airlines and in the end likely even out. (Although the luggage handlers at PHL have successfully motivated me to avoid US Air at all costs in that city, thanks guys.)

3. Save your frequent flier miles for expensive flights. Was it really worth it to fly for two years so you could cash in your miles for a $200 ticket to Denver? Frequent Flier miles should be cashed in for First Class flights, Hawaii, or International travel…enjoy your reward! Also, don’t fall victim to those up charge fees to get additional miles when you check in…the value just is not there.

4. Get Elite Status anyway you can and fight to keep it. If you’re not going to be able to keep your elite status, call them up. If you’re close, some airlines will allow you to keep the status. Elite status is not just for the upgrades. For example, I fly United Airlines. With elite status, I get moved to the top of the list if I’m on standby. I don’t pay to check bags. Yes, I know Southwest doesn’t charge you to check bags…but as a business traveler, is Southwest really worth the hassle? As an Elite, you also have a separate 800 number for customer service, which greatly cuts down the “on hold” time.

5. Layovers are not necessarily bad things. To get closer to elite status or the next tier, consider taking layovers to boost your flight segments. I do recommend that you limit these to return trips only. Missing your connection on your way to business meeting can throw off an entire trip. Also, its wise to choose your layover city carefully. Choose layovers in big cities, preferably the hubs for your airline. This way, if you miss your connection there is likely another flight available later. I try to book my United layovers in Denver as I know they fly to Chicago about every 90 minutes or so6. Get miles for other things you normally do. Make sure your credit card gets airline miles. Join their dining clubs and get miles for eating at places you normally eat at. When shopping online, especially with United Airlines, use the United Shopping Mall. Most major retailers are partners and they simply just ask you to log in and then transfer you directly to the retailers website. Popular stores such as Best Buy, Toys R Us, Target, and many others participate. This is also a great way to make sure your miles are not taken away if you do not fly much as most airlines require some sort of mileage activity each year or so.

7. For the best rates and mileage benefits, book directly with the airline on their site, not through Orbitz or other bulk travel websites.

8. Be polite to the gate agents, pilots, check in staff, etc. Remember, they work hard, have their benefits/pay cut often, and most importantly…it wasn’t their fault that your flight was cancelled or delayed. They didn’t make the call to have your bag pulled for inspection and they ultimately want to help you any way they can to make both of your days more pleasant.

9. Be efficient going through security. Don’t make a scene or count on being singled out for a more “thorough” search. If you’re chosen to go through the new body scan machines, it’s in your best interests to make sure that your pockets are completely empty. Otherwise, count on getting a pat down. If you are chosen for a pat down, don’t give the TSA worker a hard time. Their just as thrilled about this part of their job as you are. Wear shoes that can be easily taken on and off. Always take off your jacket before going through. Learn which belts/watches/jewelry/etc will go through the x-ray machines without you taking them off. And yes, your laptop/iPad does have to go in its own container. Be aware of the carry on rule for liquids. Following these tips will get you through quicker and lower your chances of being selected for a pat down.

10. Most US flights are either on Boeing 737’s or Airbus 320’s. Airbus seats are slightly wider if that is a concern. Aisle seats will give us bigger guys a little more room. When you book your flight, try selecting a seat at that time. Getting stuck in a middle seat is about as bad as it gets, especially if you’re not tiny.

11. When the flight attendants ask you to turn off your computers and cell phones, do it. Your email is not important enough to the hundreds of other passengers on the plane to delay the entire flight.

12. Understand that children will cry on a plane. They are likely scared to death by this new experience and the vast majority of the time, parents are doing their best.

13. Be the good guy. Good Karma is a great thing to have when traveling. Offer to switch seats so that a parent can sit with their children or a couple can sit together. Speaking as a parent, I can’t tell you how much it means to me if someone switches seats with me so that I can sit with my children. It also doesn’t hurt to offer to help put a bag in the overhead bin if you see someone struggling.

14. It’s your right to recline the seat, but do the person behind you a favor and do it slowly.

15. Share the armrest.

16. Chatting with your neighbor can make flights go by quickly, but if they don’t want to talk…don’t force them.

17. Say hello to the flight attendants when you board. I can’t tell you how many times I see flight attendants say hello and people just brush them off. A smile and a kind word can brighten anyone’s day. It’s always safe to assume that someone gave them a hard time already today. If you’d really like to brighten their day, bring them a candy bar or two.

18. If the pilot is saying good bye when you leave, say it back. Landing is the most difficult thing for a pilot to master. If you want to brighten his day, mention how smooth the landing was.

19. Turbulence happens, but if you ever hear a pilot tell the flight attendants to take a seat…it’s going to get real rough, real quick.20. Don’t abuse the carry on privilege. Put one item in the overhead. And don’t act surprised if you are asked to gate check an item. Some travelers just don’t understand why they cannot bring their golf bag sized carry on with them.

Hotels

1. It should go without saying, but try to always stay in the same hotel or at the most, choose two brands and stick with them. Points clubs are free to join and rewards are easy to get. Some, such as Hilton Honors, gives you hotel points and airline miles. One way to choose is pick a hotel that you’d like to vacation at and book your business stays with that brand. I usually book at Hampton Inns as there are many Hilton’s that are great for vacations. La Quinta also has a decent program and in particular, there is a very nice, new facility in Scottsdale, AZ that I will be taking my family to for vacation due to my points.

Rental Cars

1. Go to a web based travel site, such as Orbitz or Yahoo Travel and get the rates for all of the rental car companies in the area you are going to travel and then go directly to the companies website and book direct. You’ll get the best rates and you’ll have a chance to enter your frequent flier number.

General rules of thumb:

1. Dress the part. I can tell you from experience, you’ll get treated better in a suit than you will wearing torn jeans and a vulgar T shirt.

2. Arrive to airports early. You can always get a coffee, snack, beer, etc if things go quickly. No one is concerned that you are in a hurry because in all likelihood, they are in a hurry too.

3. Do everyone a favor and don’t bring food that stinks on board. Most flights in the US are only a few hours at most and you can buy a snack on the plane or eat before/after.

4. No one likes a drunk sitting next to them, exhibit self control at the bar.

5. Don’t put disgusting things in the seat back cushion before you leave, I’m likely to reach in there on the next flight.

6. Be patient.

I hope some of these tips are helpful to everyone and happy/safe travels to my fellow frequent travelers!

Business Travel Trends 2010 – Part 2

In Business Travel Trends 2010 – Part 1 we found that businesses will begin doing away with any needless or excessive business trips. Travel protocols may turn out to be less restrictive, while companies will ramp up attempts to control travel-related hazards. Consumers will depend on merchants to become a motivating force in discovering “green” solutions and technology will continue to enhance the business traveler’s experience. Additionally, these significant business travel trends may evolve as well.

Merchants will persist in seeking out discounted distribution overheads. Pricing pressures will not diminish for suppliers, especially legacy carriers dealing with escalating competition due to new participants. Airlines and hotels will opt to reduce credit card fees, offering discounts in support of businesses willing to make use of lower-cost debit cards and/or new forms of payment.

Dynamic hotel pricing will soar. Revenue or yield management is expected to increase additionally within the hotel industry and dynamic pricing will turn out to be progressively widespread. Dynamic pricing could, however, put forward savings by streamlining the bid with regard to the proposal process as well as ongoing program administration.Various dynamics will influence the competitive landscape. Several indicators pointed towards the single leading force concerning the airline marketplace as being the EU-U.S. Open Skies agreement. In addition to deregulation, the new fuel-efficient Airbus A380 as well as the Boeing 8 aircraft will influence competition on international routes by reducing approximately 15% in per seat expenses. On domestic routes, discount carriers will persist in exerting downward force with regard to fares and drive growth. Consequently, airline competition will, as you might expect, intensify in the short-term and diminish in the mid-term, with vulnerable participants either becoming acquired or completely displaced from the market. Concerning the hotel marketplace, supply will continue to remain short in major cities for the foreseeable future, despite the recent addition of new properties. With regard to ground transportation, seasonal price fluctuations are expected to be emphasized and rates will increase, indicating the higher cost of new vehicles

Merchants will progressively compartmentalize services as well as employ exclusive discounts. Customer liaison administration will additionally become more complex as suppliers gradually segment the market, looking for fresh ways to enhance the customer experience as well as seek out higher margins. With regard to the car and hotel industries, businesses will aim at various categories of corporate travelers through differentiated brands while aspiring to build loyalty among individual customers by way of customized services. At this point, the fundamental trend will be suppliers endowing travelers with enjoyment of their personal lifestyle wherever they are, softening the line between business and leisure.Cooperation among industry participants will remain fundamental. Consumers as well as merchants have indicated the need for sincere dialogue in order to improve the industry. Consumers must be willing to appreciate suppliers’ constraints in order to possess more realistic expectations, while suppliers must be more than willing to have travel managers provide essential input as well as feedback. It was recommended that companies must not be afraid to make known their concerns with a view towards advancing their businesses

Will all of these predicted trends come to pass? It’s hard to say. Certainly many significant variations are possible. Obviously only time will tell, but at the very least it should prove interesting.

Why Business Travel Isn’t Just a “Perk”

For those people who have never travelled on business for a large company, at face value, this looks like something of a gravy train.

When you are standing in lengthy queues for airport taxis at the end of your holiday, it can sometimes be easy to drift into a little resentment when you see those luxury limousines cruising up for business people to step seemingly effortlessly into as soon as they walk out of the terminal doors.

If you are also sitting in an aircraft in what is sometimes uncharitably called “Cattle Class” and catch a glimpse through the curtains of those in Business Class, then once again your resentment can rise to the surface.

Of course, it’s all perfectly understandable and many of us would admit to having experienced it. Yet before we run away with the idea that this is all about corporate excess, it’s worth taking some of the balancing factors into consideration.

  • Unlike when travelling for personal reasons such as holidays, business people are often expected to work while they are in transit. It’s commonplace for them to have major papers to produce or presentations to construct on their laptops while they are actually in mid-air or sitting in the back of one of those luxury limousines.
  • Anyone who has travelled on business will tell you that it is a fundamentally different psychological experience to personal travel. It’s extremely tiring and stressful and does not signify either the start or end of a pleasurable holiday.
  • Significant numbers of business travellers are forced to travel frequently. Although it’s hard to believe, the novelty of travel very quickly wears off and it can be tedious and draining when repeated regularly.
  • Companies don’t look for limousines to hire because they like to pamper their employees or win popularity contests. They do so because time is money and having expensive personnel doing nothing as they stand in lengthy queues waiting for buses and taxis just isn’t in the shareholders’ best interests. So, using a luxury limousine for an airport transfer is actually cost-beneficial for the company concerned.
  • Most business travellers, when they are travelling nationally or internationally, really don’t get much, if any, time to enjoy themselves and see the sights at their destination. One office or hotel room looks very much like any other all around the globe. It’s perfectly possible to fly very regularly to an overseas destination on business and never actually get to see anything of it other than an office and a sterile hotel room.
  • Finally, don’t let’s forget the severe disruption on personal lives that arises when people are forced to travel on business and particularly where they do so regularly. Partners, spouses and families can be significantly inconvenienced and as a result, additional stresses and strains can be placed on all concerned.

Okay, nobody is forcing the vast majority of business people to travel and they are presumably, at least for the most part, doing a job they enjoy. So, you don’t have to shed too many tears for them either!

Even so, don’t assume that every time you see a luxury limousine collection at the airport or at an office complex, that it signifies the worst excesses of capitalism. It might be far more practical than that.