Travel Tips & Hacks for Frequent Travelers
Some very useful, time-saving and happiness-increasing travel hacks.
As I write this, I’m crammed into a tiny economy seat on a sold-out American Airlines flight because yesterday’s flight got cancelled and everything was pretty much sold out. As many frequent travelers know, and I’ve certainly been reminded over the years, there are huge differences between airlines, first class cabins, and airplanes.
Below are my preferences and tips, based on my experiences so far:
- Look into the best American credit cards. Cancel your AMEX (since they force you to redeem your points through their website with inflated prices)! Learn to travel-hack using points and track them in Award Wallet. I have three cards that I use for specific purchases, to maximize the points I accumulate (I get 3 points per $ or 3% cash back on pretty much everything now). This works out to a lot of free travel, and I can book it on any website I want and just get reimbursed via my points.
- Renting a car? Not only does AutoSlash help you find the best car-rental prices by using coupons, discount codes and your club memberships (think AAA), they’ll also track your rental after you make a reservation and re-book it if the price drops.
- I make sure to familiarize myself with the latest travel scams ahead of time.
Packing – What to Bring:
- Sawyer water filters are portable and filter out chemicals, bacteria, microplastics, and other nasties. They can also easily be used on an airplane. They will save you a ton of money on bottled water (which, BTW, is full of microplastics!)
- Four Sigma organic coffee packets are great for travel because you just mix them with hot water and presto — the perfect cup of delicious coffee. #JustSayNoToCrapCoffee
- Non-toxic sanitizing wipes are oh-so-necessary for germophobes like me. I use them to clean the tray table on the airplane, wipe down the doorknobs and toilet in my hotel room, and keep from getting sick by wiping my hands after being in public spaces.
- I use this infrared neck warming wrap to help me relax and sleep. It’s light and compact, and it keeps my neck from getting stiff.
- The Blinkist, Audible, and Kindle apps are lifesavers on trips where you don’t have access to watch movies.
- While still at home on fast wifi, pre-download Audible books, Netflix movies, podcasts and music tracks onto your phone (Spotify allows for this). I also download tracks to help me sleep, white noise, and meditation tracks.
- Remember to buy and bring extra batteries for your camera (so you don’t end up lugging your dead camera around and miss some great photo ops) and extra converter — or three.
- Here’s a list of my best packing hacks and tips.
Hotel Booking – Hacks & Tips for Getting the Best Deal:
- Specialty hotel booking sites offer perks like free breakfast, meal credits, room upgrades, late checkout, etc. coupled with another layer of customer service in case anything goes wrong. I use Google’s calendar view (just click on the date to see it) to see the hotel’s prices by date, then I book via one of these sites (whichever has the best perks):
- Tablet Hotels (costs $99 for yearly membership to get perks, but you’ll make that back in one ‘Perks’ booking; they remove hotels that don’t get good reviews.)
- Private Upgrades and Skylark Travel (mostly 5-star hotels; both are members of Virtuoso travel network and give similar benefits when booking hotels, like free upgrade, $100 credits, VIP treatment, etc.)
- Mr & Mrs Smith (offers perks for some hotels — usually different perks than Virtuoso and Tablet.)
- Very Chic (usually 4-star hotels with occasionally fantastic prices and perks on a 5-star hotel — if you have the patience to monitor their deals and book quickly.)
- Hotel booking sites like Rocketmiles and Pointshound offer lucrative mileage bonuses alongside their room rates. When searching for accommodation, enter the airline loyalty program you’d like to collect miles in, and both websites will present you up with a list of hotel options and quotes on the miles you’ll earn during your stay. These sites run promotions on the regular and new users can often get additional miles for their first stay.
- After you book a hotel stay, Earny (see FAQ about Earny Hotels) will use your confirmation email to track for price drops. When they find a lower price, they’ll let you know how to rebook at the lower rate. Earny also has access to exclusive hotel deals plus 5% cash-back.
- There is one way you can guarantee yourself an extra spacious room without extra fees: Ask for a corner room. Because of the way many hotels are built, corner rooms end up being slightly larger than other rooms without technically being categorized as fancier luxury suites. In other words, those guests in the corner rooms paid less per square foot than the ones in the middle of the hallway, and they’re farther from the noisy elevators and more likely to have extra windows and a good view from at least one side.
Air Travel – Hacks & Tips for Flying:
- Use Google Flights to check flight prices, because it shows the price history, price predictions, and current prices by date on a grid (which is very useful if your dates are flexible), and you can set price alerts so you’ll be notified when the price goes down (or up). Plus, it shows information about the aircraft type, seat pitch, inches of leg room, Wi-Fi availability, power outlets, and in-flight entertainment options. It’ll also flag fares that don’t include a checked bag in the price (look for an icon of a slash through a bag).
- Double-check your choice on Seat Guru, which will tell you what the airplane you’re considering booking a flight on will be like, and what seats you should choose (and which to avoid!)
- I never check bags. I find that I can fit more than I wear in two weeks into a carry-on (get one with 4 wheels), and it saves me time at the airport (not to mention removes the risk of lost baggage, which is noooo fun). I use a backpack that opens like a suitcase as my personal item, and stick my purse inside it.
- Make sure you’ve done research weeks in advance to find out what type of forms you need to fill out, authorizations you need, Covid certificates to get, etc. so that you don’t show up at the airport missing an important document. The airline will be happy to have one less passenger (especially since they often overbook) and will not let you on the plane without the needed certificates.
- If you’re looking for a good airfare deal, it’s worth checking SkipLagged. It checks connecting flights and gives you the best option — for example, a flight from NYC to Miami stopping over in Atlanta might be cheaper than a direct from NYC to Atlanta, and you can just get off in Atlanta. Brilliant!
- Cheap Air will refund you the $$ difference (up to $100/ticket) if the price of your flight drops after you book it.
- You’re not crazy for thinking that a flight price has changed after searching it a few times in your web browser. Based on the cookies in your browser, flight prices do increase on some websites when a particular route is repeatedly searched, as the site wants to scare you into booking the flight quickly before prices get even higher. Always search for flights in incognito or private browsing mode to see the lowest prices.
- TripIt Pro (which you have to pay for) will track your flights and then tell you how to get a refund for the total difference, on the few airlines that allow that.
- Download and use the app of the airline you are flying. You can do everything on it – get your boarding pass, track your bags, see your incoming plane, and change a flight. It sure beats waiting in the long line to talk to an agent! Trust me – Usually these apps will tell you a flight is cancelled before the crew even knows!
- I pre-print my boarding pass (or queue it up on my mobile) so I can go straight to the gate. This sometimes saves me as much as an hour in lines at the airport!
- To get there on time for an important event, make sure to fly a whole day early if it’s important. Have a glass of wine and stay in a hotel, enjoy your night not being stressed while other people miss their events due to cancelled flights and missed connections. And ALWAYS fly the first flight in the morning so you have all day to be rebooked if the shit hits the fan. Yes, that means it might be a 3:00 alarm, but morning flights don’t get cancelled nearly as often.
- Avoid connections in large airports. It’s harder to get around and your chances of missing a connection are much higher. Make sure to schedule long layovers. Your 1 hour layover is NOT enough anymore. Make sure you have at least 2 hours for smaller airports, and 3 hours if it’s a large airport.
- The next time your flight gets canceled or delayed, let AirHelp can get you $$ compensation. The form takes 3 minutes to set up, they can get you up to $800, and they take a 25% commission. Also check out Refund.Me, which only takes 15% commission and says they can get you up to 600 Euros.
- If you have a really long layover, you can get access to airport lounges with certain premium credit cards. Plan this in advance so you know where to go and what is needed to get in.
- When flying, I always request a vegan meal ahead of time. It’s usually healthier and lighter, so I feel better when I deplane. I always skip the booze as this makes it harder to get into deep-sleep mode. (Swiss Air has the best veggie meals because they’re made by Hiltl, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world.)
- Get Global Entry & TSA Pre: If you fly a lot, these will shave precious minutes off the time you have to spend in the airport. For $100 per 5 years (and many premium credit cards will reimburse you for this fee), Global Entry allows you to skip customs on the US side (you use a quick touch-screen kiosk instead). Global Entry members are automatically eligible for TSA Pre at no additional fee, which lets you get through security much faster (no more taking your laptop out and your shoes off!)
- A note for New Yorkers: I got conditionally approved for Global Entry within a couple of weeks, but when I had to do my interview, the one Global Entry Manhattan location listed on the Global Entry website was booked up for three months. Butttt… I did some digging and found out that you can be interviewed at Newark or JFK within a couple of days. Call 718-553-1237 for JFK and 973-565-8000 ext 8135 for Newark, and have your Global Entry number handy.
- Check your credit card’s benefits, as many will refund you the fees for Global Entry, as a perk.
My favorite airlines (I wish they flew more places):
1. Virgin: Their Economy Plus class is nicer than American Airline’s first class. Brand new swanky planes with personal TV’s in every seat (the interactive kind, where you can actually choose what you want to watch, and when), fun lighting, great service and good food that you can order through the TV on demand.
2. JetBlue Mint: A great (relatively affordable) first-class service in new and clean planes, with lay-flat beds, single suites, nicer terminals, less delays, personal TVs and more.
3. Porter: If you’re flying to Toronto, Porter will fly you right into the city-center island airport, so you’ll skip the drive to downtown. The airline has a great lounge (with free drinks and snacks) that’s even better than the lounges that other airlines make you pay to enter. The downside is that they only fly to a few Canadian destinations and the planes are small and getting on the older side.
4. La Compagnie: A great airline that is all first-class style lay-flat seats. They only fly between NYC and France (Nice or Paris) or Milan, but they have frequent sales and their sale pricing for two tickets is the best value out there.
What have your airline experiences been like? Please share your tips! 🙂