White Collar Travel: The upgrade rotation

Routine often breeds insight, and the form of business travel that once ruled my life was one of the variety that Ralph Waldo Emerson would have called “the hobgoblin of little minds.” During one project, which involved seven months of weekly roundtrips to Omaha (and platinum status on Northwest by June), I’d get to Logan Airport every Monday morning and see the same names called for upgrades. It was demoralizing. As my miles accumulated, I knew that theirs were, too, leaving me no closer to my goal.

Then, a strange thing happened when I crossed from silver to gold: I started to get the bump. The people normally summoned up to the gate – who I had come to know by sight and the first three letters of their last name – were no longer on my flight. The upgrade candidates behind them were getting the first nod, and occasionally, I’d pick up some first class table scraps. Two months later, I was at the top of the list.

My business partner, who joined me in this weekly grind, noticed the change, as well. Having gotten this far, it didn’t take us long to put the rest together. The people who used to beat us to the upgrades had rolled off their projects: their work was done, and they had moved on to gigs in other cities. We still had plenty of Omaha time in front of us and relished the thought of having to compete with only the people paying for first class, and the occasional heavy-hitter who was taking a rare trip in our direction.Watching this unannounced changing of the guard is good for a morale boost in a life where pleasant surprises just aren’t frequent enough. It entails a sense of accomplishment, a touch of prestige and an expectation of a little more comfort. Everything that cuts your way carries disproportionate weight when you’re a road warrior.

So, if you’re among the many making the weekly “commute” to another part of the country on a long-term project, watch the pre-boarding process, and celebrate when those familiar faces disappear. It means you’re getting closer to a wider seat and coffee in a ceramic mug. There’s a rhythm to business travel, much of it defined by the work the passengers do. Get in synch with it, and the lifestyle becomes much easier to bear.

Five great reasons to travel now

You’ve been bombarded with pessimistic accounts of the travel industry’s decline. And, yes, I am fully aware that I’m part of it. Frankly, these reports are true. There is a problem – i.e., people aren’t traveling – and it’s driven by a combination of macroeconomic challenges and company mismanagement. But, these conditions also mean there’s no time like the present to get out on the road and satisfy your wanderlust.

To really understand why now’s the time to travel, though, you need to look past the economy. Instead, think about opportunity. Yeah, some of this is derived from a depressed travel market, but stick to the bright side. This isn’t about the airline industry: it’s about you.

Need to “justify” your urge to toss your clothes in a bag and explore? We have 10 to get you started.

1. The inaccessible is now within reach
Everybody has a dream vacation, a place (or list of places) that has always gripped your imagination. Some have never seen the ocean – except on television – and desperately want to remedy that situation. Others set their sites on the absurd and want to brave the threats to life and limb offered by Mogadishu, Baghdad and Kandahar. Whatever the wish, prices are now on your side. You can cover the basics or the exotic for a fraction of what a similar trip cost in recent years. Hell, check out Abercrombie & Kent’s recent travel sale if you need proof. Every travel dream is closer to reality than it was at this time last year.

Maybe you can go to North Korea … there’s space open for Arirang in the Fall.

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2. You need it … badly
Obviously, economic realities can’t be ignored. If you aren’t working and haven’t had a steady paycheck in a while, it probably doesn’t make sense to drop $10,000 on a jaunt to Monte Carlo. Let’s be realistic. But, if you have access to disposable cash, you may want to invest some of it in recreational travel.

Yes, invest it.

The pressure that comes with working under adverse economic circumstances is extraordinary. A colleague gets laid off, and you’re supposed to pick up the slack – and be happy about it! After all, you still have a job. Even if you keep a positive attitude, you’re working longer hours for less appreciation. Your morale sits deep in the chilly waters of the nearest toilet.

You need to do something about this.

Get out of town a little bit. Decompress. Even if you don’t think you need a break, as your friends, family or coworkers what they think. You may be surprised at how you appear to other eyes. I lived through something similar to this in the post-dotcom recession – refusing to sacrifice billable hours for an investment in my mental health. I finally booked a short trip to San Diego and didn’t realize how much I’d needed it until I was on my flight back to Omaha (where I was working at the time).

Those who need a break most may not even know it.

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3. Everybody wants you
I’m not going to dwell on airline pricing yet again. I’ve covered enough of that topic for Gadling, and I know I’m not the only blogger on the staff who has. So, just remember that flights are cheap. The interesting stuff, though, is going on at the hotels. Sure, rates are dropping. Again, that’s not a surprise. What you should remember, though, is that the perks are going up.

A lot of upscale properties are trying their damnedest not to lower room rates too much. For them, it’s a brand protection move. A property like the Fairmont or Ritz-Carlton, for example, doesn’t want you to get accustomed to paying dirt cheap prices. And, I get it. Their identities are built around treatment and luxury and attention – not the bargain-basement concept. While you’ll see upscale properties’ prices drop, don’t count on getting the ridiculous deals that you’ll find at mid- and lower-tier hotels.

That being said, don’t be afraid to ask for extras. Even though you’ll be paying a premium for some resorts, you can certainly stretch your dollar – probably more than you think. Ask about free access to the gym, spa credits and discounts on greens fees. Try for an upgrade to an “exclusive” floor.

Many properties are actually building amenities into package that you may not have thought to request. Eden Rock is offering free lessons for kids from the artist in residence.

If you want to go to a particular hotel, get a sense for how badly they want you as a guest. There are plenty of travel deals on the web, but don’t be afraid to make a few phone calls, too.

The secret to understanding hotels is the “room-night” concept. A room-night is the basic commodity of the trade. On May 30, 2009, a hotel has a vacancy in Room 111. If it does not sell that space, it can’t try again on May 31, 2009 – after all, that’s a new room-night for Room 111. So, hotels get one chance to sell each room each night. If they fail, the opportunity is lost. With this in mind, you can see why hotels will be willing to play ball with you.

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4. Everyone else is stuck with a staycation
We’re all sick of the word, and the ultimate act of defiance is not to participate in that stupid concept. While people are trying to make the best of a shitty situation, understand that you can create one that’s pretty close to ideal – especially considering #1 and #3. With fewer people traveling this summer [LINK], you’ll have more space on planes and can beg for hotel upgrades with a higher likelihood of success.

Hell, try for a yaycation instead. Celebrate the fact that everyone else is stuck playing tourist in their local strip malls while you’re out seeing something incredible for the first time. Oh, and celebrate the new word that Brenda Yun gave us.

5. You’re the only piece that’s missing
We’re giving you updates on the latest travel deals steals, offering up unusual destinations and providing the occasional tip that could make your travel plans easier. There’s only one component we can’t provide: you. Read about some of the recent destinations covered here on Gadling. Check out our latest bargain travel spots (hell, there’s no reason to spend a lot of money to get out of town and relax a bit).

Then, just add you.

Photo of the Day (11/18/06)

Butterfly on Flower
The further we slip away into winter I can’t help wanting to migrate to the same places where butterflies land on sweet beautiful flowers. Sure this shot comes from my own collection of flicks taken in Omaha’s botanical gardens during the very early stages of fall, but it seems I couldn’t find a fluttering butterfly these days to save my life. Luckily I’ll have this shot to help pass the time until spring and summer arrive once more or until I see more cheery winter land pictures in the Gadling Flickr pool.

Chef Mike’s

Chef MikeCatfish Friday is one of those things you stumble upon and think “My goodness it’s my lucky day!” Such is what happened when I entered the Community Cafe on the corner of 24th and Lake Street in Omaha, Nebraska. At the Community Cafe you can expect a few things; casual dining atmosphere (cafeteria style), affordable prices and enough food to keep you fueled for the entire day. And my plate, covered with a rather healthy size catfish, collard greens, spaghetti and cornbread did exactly that. Everything before me was delicious and had the kind of touch my own mother would have graced the plate with however; it is Chef Mike who does all the cooking and a fine job too.

Catfish isn’t the only thing to be found on Chef Mike’s menu. Head in on a Monday and taste the ‘Blues’ Cajun style or swing in on a Tuesday for some tantalizing tacos. (Have I had the tacos – no, but if the catfish is great I’m willing to bet the tacos are just as good if not better.) Don’t take my word for it, visit the Community Cafe in North Omaha or Chef Mike’s site to learn more about his catering business.

Malcolm X Birth Site

Malcolm XAficionados of African-American history should be happy to know that big plans are underway for the Malcolm X birth site out of Omaha, NE. While on a recent trip of the Omaha area, I myself rediscovered and remembered that Malcolm X was born in Omaha and quickly took off to see the controversial Black leader’s old stomping grounds located at 3448 Pinkney Street. At the present time being the state of Nebraska has a placed a rather decent sized historical marker in the area of which Malcolm and his family resided up until he was about four years old. And to be quite honest, I was very impressed with the marker and the details on the life of Malcolm X included. With the exception of a few street signs indicating it is indeed the area in which Malcolm X was birthed, the marker is the only major attraction to be found in the 10-acre green space.

Future plans include the construction of a learning center, museum, library and an outdoor amphitheater where visitors can come to study the times, writings, and teachings of Malcolm X – all of which should hopefully be finished in another two years. If you can’t wait for the project’s completion head to the Malcolm X Foundation online to find out about visiting sooner and perhaps you can stop into the African American bookstore for a conversation with Marshall Taylor. Speaking with Marshall is one of the bigger highlights as he is full of information on the organization and African American history period.

In short the exchange of conversation and the marker is an attraction worth anyone’s time.