Many of us are compelled to travel, even when we really don't want to. Whether it's to visit relatives during the holidays or clients for business, we find ourselves schlepping through crowded airport terminals and standing in long security lines, desperate to get from Point A to Point B.
However, despite the growing indignities of travel, there are several aspects of the trip that a shrewd traveler can control. Below are 10 tricks, all of which I've actually tried myself. As a seasoned business traveler who racks up a lot of miles every year, I can attest to the fact that these tips work.
1) Press for tight connections.
Airlines don't like to offer connecting flights that are less than 45 minutes apart -- they find them too close for comfort. But maybe you don't. Problem is, these connections won't get quoted or even show up on the computer. You can circumvent this roadblock by getting your travel agent to book your flight on two distinctly separate tickets. But if you do, give yourself more breathing room, by not checking any bags and only bringing carry-on baggage.
2) Ply the departure gates.
Let's say you've missed your flight, but there's still enough time to catch another one to your destination. However, the other flight is on another airline. You might be surprised at how much leeway you can exercise in these situations, if you throw yourself at the mercy of the folks at the airline's departure gate.
Don't go to the ticket counter, which tends to be more rigid and would consume too much time. Just muster up all of the charm that you can, mosey on over to the departure gate's desk, and ask the representatives of the other airline to honor your ticket. If they have an empty seat, the competing airline will typically meet your request. This tactic also works if you want to grab an earlier or later flight with your original airline.
3) For international travel, register with the State Department.
In this era of terrorism and growing crime in developing countries, you can protect yourself by signing up for the U.S. State Department's "Smart Traveler Enrollment Program," a free online service that enables the State Department to better help you during emergencies.
By registering, the government can contact you if there's a family emergency back home in the United States or if there's a sudden threat to tourists in the area where you are traveling.
4) Double-check your overseas health insurance coverage.
If there's a medical emergency abroad, don't assume that your health insurance carrier has you covered. It wouldn't be uncommon to discover that your medical policy doesn't apply overseas and doesn't cover emergency expenses, such as medevac. If not, investigate the costs and coverage of supplemental travel insurance.
5) Angle for flight bumps.
Here's a trick to get your hands on free airline tickets: Try to get intentionally "bumped" from your flight (but only if your schedule allows it). Airlines use complex software to overbook flights, to play the statistical odds that some folks won't show up for their flights. In this manner, the airlines minimize their chances of getting stuck with empty seats. If a passenger is bumped, they're usually rewarded with free tickets.
Visit the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website to learn which airline currently has the most pronounced track record of overbooking flights.
6) Look for hotels that offer lots of amenities.
Hotels that offer free breakfast and free Internet access can make your life a lot easier -- and greatly reduce your costs on the road. Don't just look at the daily room rate; take into account the freebies, which can really add up.
A free continental breakfast can provide you with enough nourishment to last until dinner. If you grab a few pieces of fruit and bagels from the breakfast buffet and stash them in your bag, you've got yourself a light lunch for later.
Other amenities to seek include rooms with kitchenettes and a refrigerator. If you purchase groceries and prepare meals in your room, you can save a lot of money by not having to eat in restaurants. And here's a no-brainer: Skip the mini-bar! It's a huge rip-off.
7) Press for unadvertised discounts.
The hotel and related travel industries are still suffering from the lingering effects of the Great Recession of 2008-2009. They're suffering with vacancy rates and dampened traffic. Although not advertised, discounts may be available. It doesn't hurt to ask hotels and car rental companies for deals -- because they're hurting financially.
8) Learn to maximize the capacity of carry-on bags.
As airlines impose higher and higher baggage fees, it makes sense to use thebins as much as possible. That means learning how to pack as tightly as possible. Carry-on restrictions aren't uniform; check your airline's parameters. Some restrictions are measured in linear inches (which reflects the combined length, width and depth of the bag). Some airlines designate additional weigh limits; others don't.
9) Don't exchange your currency at hotels and airports.
Hotels and airports make currency exchanges very easy -- too easy. The colorful exchange kiosks are situated right there in your path, as you're boarding or disembarking. However, the commissions from these established currency exchange outfits tend to be onerously high. Rely instead on your credit card, which probably offers the most advantageous exchange rate, because card companies enjoy instantaneous access to the most favorable rates.
[This also counts as one of Seven of the Most Widespread Financial Rip-offs...click here to read more.]
10) Don't sign up for frequent flier credit cards.
Many departure gates are dotted with splashy desks, at which the airlines entice you to sign up for a frequent flier credit card under their brand, with the promise of an immediate block of miles if you sign up right away. Resist the temptation. If you look more closely at the fine print, you'll see awfully high interest rates and restrictions, for the privilege of getting miles in return. It's not worth it.