I’ve collected ten ways that can help you make the best of your trips, and may even help you collect some extra miles on the way there.
Re-evaluate your airline and hotel loyalty
I have some bad news for you – your airline or hotel of choice does not consider you to be a good friend. Despite your years of loyalty, they really don’t care who you are. Unless you are in the top 1% of their frequent guests, it may be time to evaluate the other companies.
Many people consider themselves loyal to one airline or hotel chain, often in exchange for some basic perks from their frequent guest program. I’ve come across people at the airport with a mid-tier loyalty card, who somehow thought that they were very important to the airline. Fact of the matter is, unless you spend a considerable amount of money on first class tickets or hotel suites, they will never ever care who you are.
With this in mind, it always makes sense to check out the grass at the other terminal. Research the airline or hotel chain on one of the many frequent traveler chat boards, investigate their perks, and check out ticket sites for the price of tickets or rooms you usually purchase. You won’t always find a better option, but at least you can travel knowing you are getting some decent value for your money.
Before you embark on your next trip, take the time to go through your bags and dump anything you should not be carrying. You’d be surprised how many old hotel room keys and crumpled boarding passes you’ll find at the bottom of a well traveled bag.
Take the time to go over your high-tech equipment, and consider investing in lighter solutions like the Chargepod charger, or even a shiny new Netbook. The investment will pay off in the long run, and your back will thank you for it.
If you need a new laptop bag, get yourself a TSA friendly one, it may only save 30 seconds at the checkpoint, but you will no longer have to remove your laptop every time arrive at the airport.
Go for a status match (if you have any status)
The status match is the undocumented trick airlines use to help you switch your loyalty to them. If you have status with one airline, you can usually have a competing airline match that status in their own frequent flier program. There are couple of exceptions though.
Airlines usually decline status matches to fellow airlines in the same alliance. For example; United Airlines won’t match BMI since they both participate in the Star Alliance, exceptions are sometimes made if you can convince the airline you only fly routes that don’t overlap.
To get a status match, simply call the customer service line of the airline you’d like to try, and they’ll usually provide you with the information you need to have them process the match.
The advantage of a status match is that you can switch airlines, without losing any of the perks you got at your previous airline. The status match often comes with some fine print. Some will only grant the new status for 6 months, and others may “challenge” you and ask you to prove your loyalty by flying them a couple of times before they hand over a shiny new gold card. One final warning; the status match is almost always a one-time thing, so don’t ask for a match until you really need it.
Plan your summer destinations now
Feeling cold? Why not sit down and find your next summer vacation destination. This is especially important if you plan to cash in some miles to fly. The sooner you book, the greater the chance you’ll actually be able to finally spend some of those hard earned miles.
Don’t always worry about paying for a ticket now, some airlines now offer best price guarantees and will refund any drops in price between now and your departure date. Just be sure to check with your booking site for the terms of the ticket you are paying for before you click “buy”.
Update all your mileage accounts
If you don’t care who you fly, then chances are you have 5 or 6 different mileage accounts. Each account probably has a few thousand miles. Go over each account, and check whether your miles are at risk of expiring. Make sure your email and address information is up to date, and make any changes necessary.
Some airlines have very low redemption levels for certain non-flight perks. Your small collection of miles might be enough for a newspaper or magazine subscription, or you could simply donate the miles to one of the many charities often involved with the airline. If you do find an account with miles that are about to expire, find a way to add some miles to the account through a shopping portal. These small transactions are usually enough to keep your mileage account alive for another couple of years.
Educate yourself on the TSA rules and regulations
Last week I wrote about some of the silliest things the TSA did in 2008. Not everything that goes wrong at the security checkpoint can be blamed on the TSA agents. Plenty of travelers still arrive at the checkpoint horribly unprepared.
If you are not a frequent flier, check out the TSA web site, and educate yourself on the current rules and regulations. You’d be amazed how many people arrive at the airport without a valid ID, and with a bag full of oversized bottles of toiletries.
Get yourself a mileage earning credit card
If you are going to spend money, then why not spend it and earn something back at the same time? Credit may have tightened up a bit, but there are still plenty of great ways out there to earn a nice signup bonus and earn more miles when you use your card.
A decent list of all current mileage earning cards can be found here, but often it simply pays to call your bank and see what they have to offer. Citi, Chase, Captial One and American Express all offer their own brand of mileage (or point) earning cards.
Sadly, the best deals often come in the mail, so next time you see one of those horrible pre-approved envelopes, don’t immediately throw it away. Before signing up for a card, be sure to check out the yearly membership fees and whether the bank is willing to offer a nice 0% APR deal.
Check for missing mileage credits
If you travel more than a few times a year, then it may be worth sitting down behind your computer and checking for any missing flight segments in your mileage account. You’ll need to have your boarding passes and a list of when you flew.
You’d be surprised how often an airline miscalculates your mileage, or completely “forgets” to credit you for a flight you took. This is especially if your original flight was canceled or rerouted as your frequent flier number may have dropped off the new reservation. To compare what you should have earned, with what you actually got, you’ll want to use a mileage tool like WebFlyer’s MileMarker.
Start writing about your trips
If you are lucky enough to fly more than a few times a year to fun destinations, then consider documenting your trips. Even if nobody reads it, you’ll create a permanent record of what you did.
Also, don’t just shoot 100’s of photos that grow old on your computer. Upload them to one of the digital photo hosting sites, many of which are free to use. I’m a big fan of Smugmug myself, but with so many different sites, there is bound to be one out there that fits your needs.
Be prepared for when things go wrong
Do you know who to call if you suddenly find yourself stuck at the wrong airport and have to fight with 200 others for 50 hotel rooms? In just 10 minutes, you’ll be able to add all the important airline and hotel reservation numbers to your phone. Also, take the time to print out the numbers in case your phone arrives at your destination with a dead battery.
If you have the right equipment at home, make a copy and/or scan of your passport and drivers license and try to dig up the phone numbers of all your credit card companies. If disaster strikes and your wallet goes missing, you’ll thank yourself for being prepared.
So there you have it, ten simple things that could make your upcoming year of travel a tad easier to deal with. Of course, as with all new years resolutions, don’t feel too gloomy if you only make it till the third week of the new year!