Wallet Hacks

47 Insanely Useful Travel Tips from a Seasoned Pro

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.

To give you a sense of scale… Southwest A-List Preferred isn't something you can game (like I did to get Southwest Companion Pass), you have to fly 50 qualifying one-way flights a year or earn 70,000 Tier Qualifying points. Starwood Platinum Preferred Guest requires 50 eligible stays or 50 eligible nights. You can only get them if you travel a lot.

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.

On Packing: Never Check It!

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.

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.

Jim: The empty water bottle tip is great but you can also bring food through airport security.

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.

Jim: We recently joined Starwood Preferred because their credit card gave us a boatload of points… that we plan to use on getting to Disney for free. 🙂

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.

Use a credit card with car rental insurance. I love my Chase Sapphire card for this and for no foreign transaction fees. It's a credit card perk on a lot of cards.

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.

On Airfare

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).

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 plaace 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.