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To Alon W.,
the smartest lucky flyer I’ve ever met

This blog talks about what, at least part of us, deals on a daily basis with. Though some of us have gotten various “certifications” in the area we still are learning by our own mistakes. When first time I faced it I thought it would be cool if I could have knew all this before but nobody had told me. Since then I’ve been seeing so many my friends making similar errors again and again. I decided to start sharing best practices and am calling you to help me with your feedback. Did you get what I’m talking about? Thrilled? The topic is how to fly smart with all polices, rules, and instructions we’re confined by.

Rule number one. Stick to one company.

I know a few flyers that didn’t approach this question seriously and made a bad choice. I don’t mean they didn’t know about frequent flier programs. They did pick up one but it was wrong. Today all air companies are grouped in a few alliances and you can fly on one company but collect your mileage on another of the same alliance. Think which of the alliance companies suits you best. Does it have a hub in your city or it bases in the destination city only? Think in long run prospective. Are you planning to relocate to another area? A friend of mine was collecting mileage on Alitalia knowing in half a year he would move to Atlanta (which is Delta’s patrimony). Now he still can spend his mileage on Delta but he started earning his status there from scratch.

Last caveat regarding alliances and mileage is all partners in the alliance are equal but some of them are more equal:-) Check before booking on a partner’s flight if you’ll get expected number of mileage as if you were flying on your company. Sometimes it’s not obvious and not always works as you expect.

A great source of such information, tons of researches and comparisons is Flyertalk site.

Rule number two. Be persistent.

When I titled my blog “Fly smart” I didn’t mean a popular Lufthansa award program. What I meant is whenever collisions occur on your trip don’t give up. You missed connection because of a delay? You baggage is broken? Your baggage is lost? The service was pure? In any case talk to managers and require compensations. My experience says you’ll always get financial compensation for damage. You’ll get free hotel and dinner/breakfast for over-night delay and almost always you’ll get a free one class upgrade (this is unfortunately only experience for international flights). Just don’t be shy and argument your demands clear and calm.

A big caveat. Whenever you have several options for a trip an itinerary with one company should prevail. Don’t fly to a middle destination on one company and then change to the final destination to another. If you miss it nobody will compensate it. If you put the entire itinerary in one company’s ticket your chance to get compensated is much higher than if you buy several independent tickets.

Rule number three. Collect miles – spend miles.

Most of the services on a traveler’s way offer mileage earning. Don’t neglect them. The hotel and car clubs are most obvious. My travel agent told me at the very beginning of my flyer “career” it doesn’t make sense to enroll there. Big mistake! Though you don’t earn thousands of miles as in air mileage it’s still worth of (and it’s free!). So stick to one club as you do with the air alliance. Hilton, Marriot or PriorityClub have quite the same rules but depending on your concrete conditions one may be more appealing than others. Some give air mileage and club points other at the same time give a fixed number of points/miles per staying (so it’s good for short stoppers). Check the conditions and choose anyone, but don’t miss it. One caution. As opposite to enrolling to air alliance hotel clubs don’t do it retroactively. So think in advance and do it ASAP.

Renting car companies respect memberships too. You don’t have to enroll for the sake of mileage collection. Just give your frequent flyer card when you pick a car or return it. By the way, you may decide to collect points on your rental company’s account to spend them for your free rent or upgrade on next vacation. What does make sense anyway is getting the gold membership itself (in every company it may be named differently). It may have its own benefits. For example, in Hertz when you arrive your car is waiting for you and you don’t have to get to a stand and fill any form. Or you can specify in your profile what type of car you prefer in case of free upgrade.

Don’t forget that the points and miles is only to spend them. Don’t regret to spend the earned miles. They won’t grow up.

Rule number four. Invest in your equipment.

Professional equipment is necessary if you take something seriously. My wife buys kitchen knives for 100 bucks a piece – she loves cooking. So I spend some money on traveler’s toys. If you fly a lot you should make it as comfortable as possible.

  • a good suitcase and a backpack. If you really want to spend good money for good things then Tumi is your choice. If you’re not ready to spend few hundreds for a case then look at Samsonite – (not everybody can afford BMW, some people are satisfied with Audi). Check that the selected model fits to the carry-on size standards of your air company. For example you won’t be allowed to take a garment bag with you on board unless you fly first class.
  • Find a spare battery for your laptop. You have to spend time on 30.000 feet altitude efficiently. Convince your boss to buy it if you want to see some colors but black on your screen after 3 hours of flying.
  • Buy noise reduction head phones. Whether you want to work or to rest you need to do it without additional noise. Bose or Shure are the two to choose from if you want something from the top.
  • Last but not least are few things for rest. You need a good neck pillow. I love mine from Tempur-Pedic. Yes, it’s much more expensive than its competitors but you’ll feel the difference. Also take an mp3 player and don’t forget to take a book.

Rule number five. Prepare for the flight.

I’ll just give a few useful links on the realm.

  • Consult with the community. Flyertalk is definitely number one. You’ll find answers to any your possible questions and it’s very friendly atmosphere there.
  • Choose your flight intelligently. I bought a program that in real time shows what seats are available on every route and every class. Once this software brought me home 24 hours earlier I that I planned. I tried to catch an earlier flight than I had a ticket to. But the flight was fully booked and the air company didn’t want to put me even on a waiting list. I was continuously requesting seats availability for that flight with the software and all of a sudden one place appeared! An instant later I called the company and grabbed the seat.
  • Most companies allow you to choose a seat on a booked flight. Find what seat to choose you can at SeatGuru.
  • Maps. If you can’t afford a car navigator system there are good online route planners. For USA you can try Yahoo! or Google. And for Europe it’s map24
  • Last one is don’t be surprised by local sockets waiting you in your destination country. Here is a thorough reference for all possible electricity sockets on earth.

have a nice flight!

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