20 Rules to Make Air Travel Better

Is there any other industry — other than funeral homes — that makes it so difficult to use its product? Air travel has become a self-service endeavor. Most of us plan trips ourselves and fend for ourselves; from the beginning, we’re on our own.

To help travelers improve their journeys and restore some of the excitement of air travel, the WSJ’s Scott McCartney has developed some basic rules of the road — the Ten Commandments of Travel, which we expanded into 20. Its detailed in his book, The Wall Street Journal Guide to Power Travel: How to Arrive with Your Dignity, Sanity and Wallet Intact.

These basic principles can help you avoid problems and even enjoy business and leisure trips.

1. Travel is difficult. And it costs too much. No matter the season or the continent, travel can be hard, and it will almost always cost more than you’d like.

2. Book smartly: There’s a wealth of information out there — use it to improve your travels. Pick the right time to fly and avoid loser flights by checking their on-time performance at sites like FlightStats.com. Visit sites like Farecast.com and FareCompare.com to look up the history of fare prices on the route you’re traveling.

4. Build itineraries with delays in mind.

5. Always book flights on which you can reserve a seat, and claim that seat early by printing out a boarding pass — it’s the surest way to prevent getting bumped or arriving without your luggage.

6. Plan for trouble. Always have a backup plan: Where will you stay if you miss a connection or get stranded by a storm? Have hotel phone numbers in your cellphone. Make sure you sign up for alerts on your flights through your airline and Flightstats.com.

7. Learn something. Have fun when you travel, even if you’re on a tedious business trip. Explore a new city, try the regional cuisine, go see a movie — even if you don’t speak the local language.

8. Build in an extra day to see a museum or learn something about the local culture. Business travel gives us the gift to see the world, but too often, we don’t look very closely.

9. Enjoy perks that pay. Learn how to find value in paying for access to airport clubs by purchasing day passes when you most need their services.

10. Consider popping for the kind of perks that VIPs enjoy — valet parking, perhaps, or a car service to or from the airport. Even a private jet can be more “affordable” than you think. Search for “empty leg” segments, where jet charter companies reposition empty planes and take passengers at discounted prices. It’s hit-and-miss, but sometimes you get lucky.

11. Stay loyal. There’s no greater travel benefit today, no greater supplier of comfort and perks, than elite status on an airline, so pick the airline program where you can maximize the miles you collect.

12. Never check anything you cannot live without. NEVER. On average, one person on every flight arrives without his or her luggage. Are you sure it won’t be you?

13. Make sure you put identification inside your luggage. (I drop a business card in mine.)

14. Play the upgrade game. Even if you don’t travel one million miles a year and have Super Precious Elite Status, you can still upgrade.

15. At hotels, you can still sweet-talk your way to a suite by asking nicely. Your odds are better, hoteliers say, if you arrive late at night or are making a short stay and the desk clerk knows it’s highly unlikely the suite will sell otherwise.

16. Ask nicely. Take the high road and remain civil. The angry customer who believes screaming and yelling will get him to Cleveland is really only slowing up the line for the 99 people behind him.

17. Be kind to your fellow traveler. The window-seat occupant asked me to move so he could get out and fetch a blanket. “Would you like one?” he asked me. How considerate. We can all improve our travel by recognizing that we’re all in it together.

18. Next flight you’re on, turn around and ask the person behind you if it’s OK to recline the seat before you descend into his or her space. It’ll make the trip more pleasant for both of you.

19. Loyalty programs also applies to selecting hotels, car-rental elite programs, and even credit cards. (Sometimes hotel points generate better rewards than frequent-flier miles.)

20. Think ahead of the airline to anticipate trouble, be as flexible as you can and be prepared to act.

Adapted from “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Power Travel: How to Arrive with Your Dignity, Sanity and Wallet Intact” by Scott McCartney.


The 10 Rules of the Road for Air Travel
Scott McCartney
WSJ, May 5, 2009

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