Since I hit the skies today before the sun rose, I thought today might be a good day to share with you some of the travel tips that Justin and I use to either save money or use the system to our advantage in the airline department.
As a disclaimer: this is simply what we choose to do- under no circumstance am I suggesting that everyone run out and get a credit card and charge it to the max or start traveling without any preparation. Hopefully, these tips will help you save a little cash, get an upgrade or two and go on a trip that you’ve been putting off for too long!
Our Favorite Travel Tips: Flights and Airlines
Tip 1: Pick and airline and do your best to stick with it
We happen to fly US Airways. I grew up in a family that travels regularly and I had a US Air frequent flyer account as a child. Thankfully, I have continued to live in cities where US Air is either the main provider or flies frequently through the area. Considering the size of our airport in Maine, that was definitely a lucky break for us. Each airline has a loyalty program and you can earn anything from free flights (AirTran has a great points system that allows you to earn free flight legs or flights in pretty quick succession) to a loyalty status or better customer service options. We have reached a level with US Air that entitles us to a free checked bag each and while that may seem small, it has saved us hundreds of dollars over the course of a few years. Plus it allows Justin to bring his golf clubs on trips that he normally wouldn’t due to the cost. The more pregnant I get, the less likely I am to want to sprint through the airport dragging a heavy carry on behind me. Having the free checked bag allows me to avoid the hassle. At our airport inMaine, simply being a Preferred customer allows us to check in (there is no kiosk) in a separate line for First Class and Preferred customers. In larger airports (Charlotte Douglas, for example) there are seperate security lines for Preferred customers. In my opinion, skipping through security is priceless…and has helped us catch flights that we may have other wise missed.We are also eligible for free first class upgrades when available and are super huge fans of the free upgrade. We each also earn a voucher once a year to the US Air Club and on a long layover I am a happy girl to take advantage of the free booze and quiet environment of the Club. Most importantly, we rack up airline miles each time we purchase a flight and fly a leg of our journey. We have used our frequent flier miles to take trips close to home and our most recent victory was booking our flights round trip from Bangor, Maine to Athens, Greece completely on airline miles, for both of us.
Tip 2: Utilize an airline credit card
We knew that we would open a joint credit card together so Justin did a ton of research before we made this move (and I recommend that everyone else do the same), but we share a US Airways credit card for major purchases. We use it strategically to make purchases that allow us to maximize the amount of US frequent flier miles. For example, we receive double miles for booking a flight using the airline credit card. We also earn extra miles for booking rental cars and hotels from certain partner vendors. On many of our trips we need a rental car anyway, so why not book through a vendor that will earn us miles? The US Airways card runs a promotion simply for opening the card and making your first purchase that includes a 40,000 mile bonus. That’s enough miles to get to Vegas and back! The biggest purchase we ever put on our US Airways credit card was our entire honeymoon. We saved up until we left and had the cash on hand to pay off the balance as soon as we got home. We carried the honeymoon balance for just a few days on the card but were able to rack up tens of thousands of miles that eventually would fly us to Greece for free.
Tip 3: Take the bump
This is my number one travel tip that anyone can do no matter what airline you are on! If the announcement is made that the flight is overbooked and the airline is looking for volunteers to take a later flight, do it! I’m always shocked to see how few people will actually get up when that announcement is made. With US Air, you are usually offered a $250 flight voucher and a guaranteed spot on the next flight to your destination. Justin and I have both taken bumps on many occasions – sometimes we do it together, sometimes just one of us will stay behind and sometimes we take them when we fly solo. It is very rare that at least one of us won’t sprint to the desk to volunteer. We’ve had many success stories from taking the bump. Once, we took a bump and were put on a flight just three hours later than our original departure time. Weather blew into the area and it turned out that our original flight was canceled, most people were unable to secure seats on the later flight (that we were guaranteed seats on) and had to scramble to get home. We made $500 in flight vouchers, waited around stress free and hopped onto our flight that we would have been lucky to make thanks to the weather. It was awesome. Justin once took a bump that allowed him an overnight voucher at an airport hotel and he was able to relax and head to bed…his original flight would have landed at his destination at 2am with an hour drive to follow. Instead, he got a night in a hotel complete with food vouchers and landed at his destination the next morning at 8am with plenty of time to make all of his scheduled activities. No matter what, you should always head to the desk when they call for volunteers and at least ask when they can get you home. It may be a mere hour or two later and you’ll end up with a voucher for your next trip.
Tip 4: Take the Check
Ok, this is a rare one…and one that I’ve only seen happen once in my travel lifetime…and man am I lucky that I was willing to hop up and at least ask for the details. I boarded a flight home to Bangor and once the entire plane was loaded, the ticket agent boarded the plane and asked over the PA if anyone was willing to give up their seat. He said he would reimburse the entire ticket price of that flight for whoever was willing to give up their seat. I raised my hand and said, “If you’re willing to reimburse the entire trip then I’m in. I should warn you that I flew from Bangor, Maine to Philadelphia to Phoenix to Cabo San Lucas and then to Williamsburg, Virginia and on to Philadelphia and I’m on my very last leg home to Maine.” I swear to you the agent did not bat an eye. He told me to stay seated and he disappeared. Not one other passenger raised their hand to even ask what the details might be for their particular flight. The agent came back and handed me a piece of paper and said, “this is what I’m authorized to give you…” Ya’ll, the number was $1,300. I sprinted off of the plane. At the time, I thought he was giving me a flight voucher for $1,300 but no, he wrote me a cashier’s check, authorized by US Air for the entire amount of my trip. I was shocked. It turned out that a flight attendant had to be on my flight in order to make it to Maine where she was working an international flight. If she didn’t get on that particular plane, she wouldn’t make her international flight and that flight would have to be canceled due to lack of staff. Before I raised my hand, I honestly was so exhausted and ready to be home, but I followed my own rules and at least asked for the details. $1,300 for not doing one single thing? Uh, yes please.
Tip 5: Sometimes it’s easier to call
We all know that flying can be a nightmare. We’ve all missed flights, had flights canceled and waited on runways for hours. It can be the worst. One of my favorite tricks when things go wrong is not to wait in line at the ticket desk or at the airline customer service desk but to call the 1-800 number for your airline’s customer service. If you are a member of a frequent flyer program you are often given a separate customer service number to call that supposedly routes to a human more quickly than the regular help line. So why call and potentially sit on hold? Well, if you’re in need of customer service then most likely a bunch of other people are too. And those people might be pissed off and rude. That’s just life. I honestly think it’s easier and more peaceful to find a gate that isn’t busy and sit down to make a call than wait in line listening to everyone else complain and watching the poor staff become more and more dejected. Many times I have made that call close enough to the ticket desk (or while I was in line, for that matter) that I know for sure that my call took less time and effort than waiting in line and I was still re-booked on the next available flight. Then you can wait for the chaos to die down and have a new ticket printed or find a gate agent at another gate who is nice enough to print a new ticket for you. Simple as that.
Tip 6: Book Flights Well in Advance
This is a trick that Justin and I employ for all of our big trips. We like to book our flights well in advance from our trip. Why? Well, it gives us time to pay them off before we even begin looking into hotels, budgeting for excursions or planning for meals. We booked our flights for our January get away in September and our May Greece trip in early October. Flights are typically one of, if not the, biggest expense in your travel budget and having that portion scheduled, booked and paid off before you even start the research process on your destination can make you feel like your travel expenses aren’t so daunting. Waiting until the last minute is a sure fire way to pay too much for a flight, have too few choices of flight times and availability and may leave you feeling like you’re going broke before you’ve even left. It may be a tiny bit mind over matter, but every little bit helps!
I realize that many of you will have known all of these tips and use them regularly, but I hope some of you might be able to make some of these work for you! Traveling is a passion of mine and I’ve definitely rubbed off on Justin. We love to explore new places and some of my best and favorite memories together are from our travels.
See you tomorrow!