Until the economy rebounds fully, the realities of air travel will remain erratic—especially for businesspeople with little flexibility in their schedules. However, there are steps you can take to keep the travel-Grinch at bay. The key is information.
Sign up for “travel alert” e-newsletters from those airlines you use most frequently. Several major travel websites, as well as some hotels and tourism boards, offer travel alert e-newsletters as well. They will inform you of airline ticket sales, hotel deals, and worthwhile events.
Get Expert Advice
Several well-known travel writers and airline-industry gurus have websites and newspaper columns that feature the latest news affecting business travelers. Some of these travel advice websites offer free e-newsletters; others charge a nominal yearly fee. If they help you save time and money, they’re worth the price.
Some newspapers still do valuable reporting on matters of interest to business travelers. Two excellent ones are “The Middle Seat” column in the Wall Street Journal and the “Frequent Traveler” column in the International Herald Tribune.
Not only is the Web an easy way to book flights, but many online travel sites compare prices so that you get the best deal. Since airline ticket prices change constantly, some sites even advise you on the best day—and hour—to buy.
Talk to Humans
Online sites are great, but travel agents still offer fares you won’t find elsewhere. Some have special relationships with certain airlines and can obtain fantastic deals. You can also find agencies that speak your language. Costamar, for example, has bilingual agents who speak English and Spanish.
Word of Mouth
Recommendations from friends and colleagues (and from competitors, too) are still among the most useful ways to get good advice and travel tips. Don’t hesitate to ask for suggestions.
Use Your Brain
A really cheap fare is not the only factor to consider. If the great rate requires multiple layovers and it departs and/or lands late at night or very early in the morning, include in your budget the price of cab fare (instead of less expensive public transportation) and costly airport meals. All things considered, you might break-even by spending an extra $200 on airfare for a more convenient travel schedule.
When traveling on business, it’s hard to be flexible. Appointments and meetings are not easy to reschedule, especially if several people are attending. Be aware, however, that airline ticket prices change constantly. They vary according to the season—sometimes by the time of day—and you can often save more than $100 just by moving your flight up or back by a day. Here’s where travel agents come in handy; they can alert you to these “shoulder season” price changes before you book. Some website e-alerts will do this, too.
Upgrades can be hard to come by unless you trade in your miles or pay for them outright. But before you pony up, figure out how many hours you can bear to sit in coach. Nine hours? We all have our upgrade break-even point.
Ticket to Ride
To save time at the airport, print your boarding pass from home, the office, or anywhere you have an internet connection and a printer.
Some airlines now offer an electronic boarding pass sent directly to your mobile phone. Once checked-in via the internet, you receive a boarding pass with a secure bar code by SMS or MMS or by e-mail if your phone has internet access. Drop off your luggage at a counter where the bar code on the phone is scanned. This e-service is currently offered by Continental, Air Canada, and Air France; plans are in the works at Delta and U.S. Airways.
Check Flight Status
Users of web-enabled devices such as the iPhone and iPod Touch can access a flight-status service that checks thousands of flights at airports worldwide. The service also provides data on flight arrival gates and airport parking, as well as weather updates.
Food for Thought
There’s no more free lunch, at least not in coach. Pack a sandwich and a snack. Even if the airline miraculously gives you food, you’ll be happy to have that snack if your plane sits on the tarmac for hours. Although you can’t bring bottled water to your departure gate, you can take an empty plastic bottle through security and then fill it at the water foutain near the gate.
It’s always best to travel light and take only a carry-on. But if you must check your primary bag because you can’t stand to travel without your 12-ounce bottle of shampoo, it’s a good idea to bring a small carry-on packed with a lightweight business outfit and other key essentials—just in case you land in Detroit while your bag goes to Dublin!
Air travel is not easy these days, but it always helps with the inevitable annoyances if you go in with a positive attitude. Others will thank you as well! DW