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When I first started working, I was a little jealous of my management consultant friends who traveled all the time. They would fly out on a Monday, fly back on a Thursday, rack up all those airline miles and hotel points, and sleep in their own beds on the weekend.
My friends weren't Up in the Air types, seeking the 10 million miles club, but they got pretty close.
So when one of my friends, Melissa, a liaison for a pharmaceutical company took a liking to Wallet Hacks and asked if I wanted to publish an email she sends all her new colleagues…
… I screamed YES!!!!
A little about Melissa, just so you have an idea of how much she travels. She's been Starwood Platinum Preferred Guest for four years, Continental and United Platinum for the first couple years, and she's been Southwest A-List Preferred for two years PLUS Companion Pass (the old fashioned way). She estimates she flies about 80-150 flights a year based on 2-4 flights depending on the week. I didn't ask her to go check her itineraries so those are just rough estimates based on her weekly flying… hence the large range.
She's legit. And she's compiled a list of extremely useful tips that you should start using. If you're a seasoned traveler, some of these might not be new to you. If you aren't, get your pen and paper out because you might want to take notes.
Take it away Melissa!
Set Up: Things to Do Before Your Trip
Getting frequent flier numbers for all major airlines and hotel chains, and at least 2 preferred car rental places can be very helpful. Keep these numbers handy. I have a little sticky in the front of my planner, Jim puts them all in an Evernote file along with other travel information. Make sure your numbers are entered into whatever service you use to book your travel to make it automatic and impossible to forget.
- If you just traveled and didn’t use this number, you can call the company and get retroactive points (usually up to 6-12 months prior)
- You can look at seat maps on flights to make sure the seat you choose isn't lacking a window, or doesn't recline. I like Seatguru.com. Also, I just had another business traveler tell me that when flying Southwest, if he can't score an exit row, he goes for a row in multiples of 9 on most of their 737's. Why might you ask? Because they divide the cabin by rows of 9, so his drink comes out more fresh with less melted ice!
- If a flight is almost full more than 2 weeks prior, they tend to add extra flights if you are at a busy airport closer to the 2 week mark. Be careful though, it is around this time that most flights go up in price.
- If you use a mobile boarding document, capture it with a picture setting and use the photo when scanning. It creates a more stable and quicker way to scan it at the door in case there's some problem with your Wi-Fi or cell reception.
On Packing: Never Check It!
- For toiletries I use contact lens cases for overnight travel. One-to-two servings of stuff is all you need, and you can color code or label the tops so you know which is which. The Container Store is also a great place for the perfect sized containers for making your toiletries portable.
- If you really want to save room, consider ex officio undergarments. You can wash them in the sink and they are dry in a couple hours to overnight (depending on the humidity of where you are staying).
- For the lady constant travelers my motto is “see double”. Keep 2 of almost everything (powder, eyeliner, lipstick, etc.)—one set that stays in a travel bag, the other that stays in the drawer at home. This makes packing easier and you don’t have to worry about forgetting things. Just repack clothing and shoes, refresh any used toiletries from your bag when needed and you are all set.
I prefer to travel comfortable—if I’m going on a day trip, I travel in casual clothes and bring my business clothes in my carryon. It reduces wear and tear on your business clothes and also helps reduce the stink of travel when you go in to an appointment, and you feel more refreshed when you get there. For the ladies—foldable flats are the bomb for this purpose.
How to Stay Healthy
Wipe down your seat and tray table with a handy wipe. This saves you from any germs that can get you sick after travel. I've seen people put their feet or used kleenex on the tray tables or change dirty diapers on them. Scientists have found MRSA on most tray tables.
- Stay hydrated—the easiest way to get sick on the road is by getting dehydrated first, which is easy to do when flying. Doctor's suggestion for travelers is 1 oz of water for each pound you weigh.
- To stay healthy at hotels, I carry (you guessed it) disinfecting wipes. The tv remote, light switches, phones, etc. all get a wipe down when I enter my room, as these are not regularly cleaned by hotel staff. I also never use the crystal unless they are wrapped in something, I've seen too many investigative reports where hotel staff clean them with glass cleaner or worse.
- Protect against bed bugs! Once you have a bedbug experience, it will haunt you forever (I unfortunately had a run-in with them in Belize…still leaves me shuddering). You can take them home too, and eradication is costly and arduous. Check the bed for signs of bed bugs before putting anything on or around the bed. Even if you don't see signs of infestation, put your used clothing into plastic bags and your bag up on a slick surface like a desk or valet.
On Food & Drink
If you want to go easy on your food budget, here are a few tips.
If you purchase anything at Starbucks they will give you a large filtered tap water with ice, or a grande cup of hot water for free–I carry tea bags on me for a little creature comfort and an empty water bottle through security, instead of paying $4 for a cup of tea or a bottle of water. They also have the Via instant coffee to carry on hand if you want a quick caffeine fix.
On Hotels & Lodging
The most common hotel chains you might use (depending on location) are Hilton, Marriott, or Starwood.
I chose Starwood because I love their beds, and it’s only 25 stays or 50 nights to platinum with VERY nice amenities for rewards members (vs. 75 nights for Marriott) but it will depend on your preference, cost, and location for which company to use.
Note that the sooner you make platinum, the more hotel points you will gain. Also check into credit cards for your preferred hotel chain; some give you free nights, points toward status, or automatic status for just signing up and spending a specific amount in a certain time frame.
- Pay attention to your hotel chain’s point benefits—they often run promotional programs you sign up for throughout the year where you can get you extra points at no cost (like if you stay at certain properties or stay for a specific amount of nights in a specific period). All they require is for you to sign up via email.
- Look for great rates that include parking or breakfast the next day. These tend to save you at least 50% on those charges for including them.
- Use AAA to your advantage. For instance, Starwood has flexible AAA rates that are lower than most regular flexible rates, but not much higher than pre-paid.
- Use points toward other expenses. If you travel often, you can usually ask the hotel to use points for things like meals or hotel amenities.
- Members of a hotel's elite programs can enjoy free water and wifi. When they ask you if you want to join, even if you are staying one night, feel free to jump in.
- Different hotels offer different points values. For instance, a Four Points by Sheraton and Sheraton may be the same rate in the same town, but the Sheraton is considered a higher level. Therefore you get more points per night for the same amount of cash.
- If there was an issue with your room, don't hesitate to mention it. Not a clean enough bathroom, but checked in too late to care? Mention it the next morning. “we're sorry” points sometimes can be applied by the front desk, but make sure to be courteous and constructive about your complaints.
- Sometimes if you use a credit card from the same hotel chain you stay in, you get automatic higher levels of status (Starwood is gold, Marriott is silver I believe) along with double the points for your stays.
- If you eat in your hotel, put the meal charge on your room, you’ll usually get the points for those charges (instead of just paying on a credit card.) If you pay with your hotel credit card, then you get double the points on it too.
On Car Rentals
Always sign up for the rewards program, you might get automatic status upgrades. I prefer renting from National because as soon as you sign up for their rewards program, you get immediate car upgrades (Emerald Aisle) and they have stellar service.
With a very small amount of rentals, you get bumped up again to Executive elite, where you get their top line upgrades for free. This means you can choose a clown car and end up with a town car for no extra cost. Service is stellar and I've never had problems with their cars. AMEX tends to reimburse for specific car rental programs, check your AMEX card for offers.
If you have a problem with the car (like when it heats up it smells like dirty sweat socks or the transmission is sticky) don't hesitate to complain. This can help the company and the next patron, and maybe even get you a free day or extra points.
- Pay attention to flight delay and cancellation requirements. If you fly Southwest, if your flight is more than 30 minutes late they will book you on another flight for free.
- When considering a stop-over, it is always best to check the weather in the local area, and also consult the timeliness of an airport. My favorite place to check is the Bureau of Transportation Statistics Airline On-Time Stats and Delay Causes – avoid places with a lot of weather delays. 🙂
TSA PreCheck/Global Entry: TSA pre-check and/or global entry (domestic and international pre-check) programs are fantastic and can save you a ton of time and hassle at the airport. Global Entry is only $20 more, but includes both customs locations when entering the US from other places, and TSA precheck. It takes a total of 2-3 months to obtain (you apply and pay online, then schedule and go to an interview at your local airport) but once you are approved this gives you TSA pre-check on all airlines. Shoes stay on, and everything stays in your bag. It is much more pleasurable to travel this way (pre-9/11).
- If you have a corporate or platinum Amex, this charge can be reimbursed on your statement. Check your card for details.
- Put your number into Concur or your frequent flier profile under “Known traveler number” and it will automatically be added to your ticket. NOTE: TSA precheck is not 100% reliable though, sometimes you may have to go through regular security
- TSA precheck checkpoints are not always at all security checkpoints or in all airports—if it’s a new airport to you, you may want to look and see where it is located
- Inflight Wifi and Entertainment: Some frequent flier programs give you free Wi-Fi if you hit a certain status. Also, if you fly a lot, you can purchase a yearly membership to your airline's wifi provider.
On Keeping Your Stuff Safe
I use a travel wallet with only the essentials I need when I travel. That way if I ever (god forbid) lose my wallet, only a few cards are gone, and it’s much lighter than my beast I normally carry. Keep a copy of your credit cards and ID in a separate place that is always on you (not in a checked bag). If you ever lose your wallet, it is easier to find the right numbers to call.
- If you just recently changed your address or got a new license, and they didn't confiscate your old license, you may be able to use your old one it until it expires for travel, leaving your new one safely at home (only if you are not driving at your destination. You will need an updated license if you are driving). Note most airlines are requiring a specific type of driver's license to travel after 2017).
- Carry cash on you at all times—enough to pay a hefty cab fare ($80) in small bills. Do not carry large wads of cash in a wallet that is easily removed from your body, like a back pocket.
- If you pay for taxis on a credit card, double check your statements every month. Taxis are known for ripping people off (charging more than stated, stealing your number, etc.)
- Check for credit card foreign transaction fees before traveling abroad.
Lastly, consider getting travel insurance if it's a big trip.