As a traveler who flies often for business and pleasure, I have learned a thing or two about air travel. I thought I would share my findings with you in hopes that they help you take advantage of a few things. If you are a seasoned traveler, you are likely aware of these tips, but you never know, there could be a nugget in here for you, too.
- Coffee and Tea On Board: I don’t drink coffee on flights, and now I’m going to add tea to that list. Apparently flight attendants won’t drink it either. According to a recent article by Food & Wine: “As NBC 5 noted, the water for tea and coffee comes from the tap, not from a bottle, while in flight. And that water could be downright disgusting. According to a 2004 EPA sample of 158 planes, 13 percent contained coliform. Two of the airplanes were found to have dangerous E.coli in the water. And as Business Insider reported, an additional EPA study found that one in every eight planes fails the agency’s standards for water safety.” No thanks…
- Booking Tickets: I fly on several different airlines. Not only should you check their websites when purchasing tickets but you can also check travel sites for deals. I often use Expedia.com and Travelocity. I prefer these as you can purchase each way of your journey separately, i.e. you can book one way on Delta and return on Alaska, if you so choose. Combining flights like this will often give you the best price. I have also read multiple articles that if you are looking for the best price, shop Tuesday or Wednesday morning, 5-6 weeks out for regional U.S. travel. I have found that prices can differ by almost $300 if you wait for the sweet spot for long, regional hauls, but you have to be pretty diligent about checking.
- Airports: I find that most airports are adequate enough, but there are some that I will avoid like the plague. (LAX) Los Angeles (poorly organized and packed), (CDG) Paris (has anyone ever been here when there hasn’t been a labor strike?), and (KEF) Reykjavik (the island has outgrown this airport) should all be avoided in my opinion. I do have some favorites hubs though, including (DTW) Detroit, (MSP) Minneapolis, (AMS) Amsterdam, (SLC) Salt Lake City and my own (SEA) Seattle. These five have great amenities and are extremely efficient and well organized. And if you need to fly into the San Francisco Bay Area, try flying into Oakland (OAK) instead of SF. Same if you are heading to LA, fly into Ontario (ONT). These are smaller, under-utilized airports and so much easier to exit. But when I’m choosing a layover location, I always take the time of year into consideration. I genuinely haven’t had many cancelled flights due to weather even in the winter, but it does indeed happen. I also always opt for a layover longer than an hour. Having a shorter layover stresses me out because sometimes planes have slight delays, but that throws your connection into chaos, and I am no sprinter. So instead, I’ll catch up on email and grab a bite.
- Apps: GateGuru is a great free app to help you get around airports throughout the world. It provides terminal maps, tips and a list of amenities and where to find them. I am also very fond of the Delta app, which now includes a map feature as well as directions to places and walking time. Super useful!
- Matching Status: Having status with an airline really helps as it gives you the choice of better seats and the possibility of upgrades, of course. I think it also helps with the level of customer service you receive. One thing I discovered this year is that many airlines will match the status of their competitors. For example, my boyfriend is at Diamond level with Delta. Alaska has a program where they will match a status for one year. So he is now a Gold 75k with Alaska too, their highest level, for one year. Delta also offers this program, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others offer it as well. It’s only for one year, but it’s free. You just need to fill out the paperwork.
- Premium Class: I’m not sure I would pay for this class of service but it certainly is nice to be upgraded into it. Delta Comfort, for example, offers more comfortable seats and legroom, a basket of free snacks generally presented a couple of times each flight, and free alcoholic beverages. One thing I have found lately is that I will often book a seat in the main cabin – typically in the first row. Delta Comfort sometimes sells out, leading me to sigh sadly and say “oh well.” And then I get on the plane and the online seating map did not show the correct configuration of the plane. It turns out that my first row main cabin seat is actually in Delta Comfort. Nice surprise! This has happened multiple times, so I recommend booking the main cabin seat as far forward as you can.
- Airline Credit Cards: I’m not one to collect credit cards, but I did recently apply for a Delta Reserve American Express. It’s $450 a year (ack…) but it includes an annual companion fare ticket for $99 good for anywhere in the U.S., individual membership into the Delta Sky Club, and other benefits. I can expense half the cost for my home business, so it’s completely worth it to me. Plus, with the card I received 10,000 miles – which were applied both to my status for next year, and to my overall miles I can use for ticket purchases. That was a very nice surprise.
- Companion Fare Tickets: As long as you don’t mind paying the annual fee, many airlines include a $99 companion ticket with their credit card promos. I have gone to Hawaii with someone twice now, and round trip for two has come to a total of $800 each time. If you are planning on a long, expensive vacation flight like this, it’s completely worth it. You have to use it yourself though, you cannot give the benefit to someone else.
- Airline Lounges: The expense (via my Delta credit card) of a membership to a lounge is completely worth it to me. I typically eat 2-4 meals in airport restaurants per trip and they are pricey. The Delta Sky Club is a little haven to me. I can charge my phone, access free wifi, sit comfortably, have unlimited beverages, including alcohol (although I don’t recommend tying one on while flying – it’s dehydrating), a cappuccino or latte, and a buffet of food. Ok, the plates are basically the size of saucers, and there is typically not real hearty food to choose from, but for me, veggies, hummus, cheese, fruit, snack items, soup – I can easily make a meal of that. And, it will typically be healthier than what I buy in at a Chili’s or a pub. And, some Sky Clubs have showers. The thought of coming back from Europe and hitting a shower during a layover sounds pretty good to me. Oh, and by the way, you can also book a massage in Seattle and JFK https://asandaspa.com/delta/delta-sky-club-asanda-spa-seatac/seatac-information/, and do yoga at JFK some Saturday mornings. I’m not kidding. You are also in the lounge with other business people typically, so you never know who you will be networking with.
- Medallion Benefits: Some Delta frequent fliers aren’t aware, or they just don’t take advantage of it, but the higher levels of status with Delta offer some pretty cool benefit choices, such as gifting status to someone, free global and regional upgrade certificates, a Delta gift card, a Tiffany’s gift card, membership to the Sky Club. This is all in addition to the automatic upgrades one typically receives. Most people reach status through business travel, so it’s simply free stuff! And next year, Delta’s highest level will receive three benefits to choose from, and their second highest will get two.
- Flying on Miles: I think most people know to take advantage of this, but what I didn’t realize is that Delta and Alaska, for example, will upgrade their customers flying on mileage tickets. I recently flew to London on miles, and I was upgraded to first class on Delta for the leg from Seattle to New York. That’s a long flight and the plane’s first class seats reclined to a vertical position. Oh, thank you! You might be surprised by the relatively low mileage requirements for global trips. A friend recently traveled from Seattle to Sydney, Australia round trip for 82.5k miles through Alaska. Her husband went for business, she met him afterwards, and they had a couple weeks of vacation out of it. Plus, Alaska recently lowered their miles requirement for short trips. Three of us are traveling from Seattle to San Jose, for 5k miles each way. And we are traveling on my boyfriend’s Gold 75k itinerary, which he got on promotion without ever flying Alaska, so we are likely to be upgraded to first class. Pretty cool.
- Surveys: Most airlines will send you a survey at the completion of your flight. I’m a nerd, I usually respond. And they do read them. I have received credits for future flights when I have had a valid complaint. Ok, I’ll take it!
- Airlines: Over the years I have developed my preferences. Everyone is different of course, but here are my thoughts on this:
– Delta. Delta is my first choice nowadays, and I cannot say enough nice things about them. They also have great customer service, they are reliably on time, they fly everywhere, I get upgraded to Delta Comfort almost every flight, and often to first class, plus they offer free movies which Alaska does not. Great mileage program, too.
– Alaska Airlines. This is an awesome airline, especially if you are based on the West Coast. Great customer service, good selection of code share partners, possibly the best food, generally on time. I adore Alaska but they do not fly the route I need the most often.
– American: Good God, avoid at all costs. Yes, they are cheap but UGH. Almost always late and I’m not a fan of their customer service.
– KLM: I’m a huge fan of KLM for trans-atlantic flights. Last time I flew to The Netherlands I was able to automatically upgrade to premium because of my status with Delta. My boyfriend and I were hoping we could be automatically upgraded into first class but because of the code share rules that wasn’t possible. However, on the day of the flight, we were offered first class upgrades for an 80% discount. Their service in first class was stellar and full of special nuances. I highly recommend flying KLM if you have the choice.
– IcelandAir: It’s an affordable option when you are flying from the States to Europe, but that but that Reykjavik airport…what a nightmare. Personally I think it’s worth spending the extra money so you don’t have to deal with that place. I have heard that they are expanding it though, so maybe improvement is on the way. I found it too small and frustratingly inefficient.
14. BYOH: Reddit user ichigo29 says “I used to work for warehouse that supplied a certain airline with items. The headsets that are given to you are not new, despite being wrapped up. They are taken off the flight, “cleaned”, and then packaged again.” Uhhhhh….gross!
The more you travel, the better your perks will be. But even if you can reach the lowest level of status I highly recommend it. The premium seating with the opportunity for upgrade, free baggage and great customer service makes it really worth it. Plus airlines have partners and many of the benefits will cross over to their code share airlines. Choose an airline and stay brand loyal. And if you travel a lot, choose two if you can.
Do you have a useful airline tip? Please comment below!