Road warriors reveal the tricks of the business travel game...
No one knows travel better than someone who does it for a living. From knowing how to get discounts on luxury hotel rooms to obtaining perks and dealing with long-haul flights, business travelers know the ins and outs and ups and downs. Get the most out of your vacation time by adopting some of their well-tested strategies.
When it comes to accruing miles, business travelers know that it isn't the eventual free ticket that counts -- it's the perks that come with elite frequent-flier status that matters. Elite status fliers get a private reservations phone number (important if your flight has just been canceled), are never bumped, get priority upgrades into first class, get access to dedicated check-in, and more. The other way to get better service is to fly business class. American Express often offers discounts on business class to its members, and some online sites like Access Fares offer discounted business class fares. Or check out one of the new all business class airlines.
Know the Worst Days to Fly
Business travelers will tell you that Thursday and Friday are the worst days to fly because that's when many folks leave for vacation and many return from one. Airports can be jammed, and delays formidable. Traveling earlier in the week is better, and if possible schedule a late-morning or early-afternoon departure so you can avoid the mad crush of morning shuttle flights. But do get out before 4 p.m., when the masses arrive for evening flights.
Avoiding the Long-Haul Blues
Business travelers who routinely fly long-hauls live by SeatGuru.com. It's the best way to find out which aircraft has the most legroom, maximum recline of seats, and in-seat power-port locations. They also routinely doublecheck flight information the day of departure, because if the airline has changed equipment at the last minute, there's a good chance you've been reassigned to a less desirable seat.
Staying Wired on the Plane
Using your computer on a flight that lasts longer than your computer's battery life is a wild card. Flight attendants are often uncertain about where the power ports are located, let alone how they work. Gate and reservations agents aren't much help, and crew members often forget to "flick the button" that activates the seats' power ports. Stay powered up by choosing a seat equipped with a power port (again, see SeatGuru.com for help on this one) and arm yourself with the proper tools: in case your seat is equipped with a different country's electrical socket, carry a single-design adaptor like one carried by Tumi. The $50 gadget features four different plug types to fit into electric wall sockets in 150 countries. If your seat is equipped with a DC outlet instead of an AC outlet, convert it with a tool like the CyberPower 150W DC-to-AC Adaptor ($51.99), available at BestBuy.com. On overseas flights, you'll often see this type of tool for sale in the duty-free catalogue -- at four times the price. Magellan's also has assorted electrical adaptors that will keep your gear charged up and happy.
Using cellphones abroad can be a costly burden, any busy executive will tell you. One way for T-Mobile customers to save is to activate the company's no-fee World Class international roaming service before departing. (Remember, you want an international "roaming" plan, not an international calling plan.) That can bring your per-minute charges from European countries down to less than a buck per minute. The major U.S. carriers use different cellular networks, however, so do your homework. Some business travelers rent cellphones or purchase international phones abroad. If you go this route, make sure to check the per-minute rates from companies carefully. Low up-front costs typically spell much higher rates for calls. You might even find yourself paying for text messages. Three companies worth checking out for rentals are Telestial, Mobal Communications and Cellular Abroad.
Join the Hotel's Members' Club
Most hotels have membership clubs, and you should consider joining one and sticking with it. Doing so means you can get awards points each time you stay, perks like free Internet access or free local calls, quick check-in, and other benefits. The more you stay with that particular hotel, the better the benefits. Also ask about corporate rates when you reserve a room (or look for corporate rates on the online booking sites). If you have a business card and are booking a weekday reservation, you probably qualify for the discount and might even get 10% to 20% off the standard room rate.
Book a Room on the Executive Floor
Leisure travelers savvy about business travelers' methods know that booking a slightly more expensive room on the "Executive" or "Club" floor can save you money. These floors often boast a private concierge, free local calls, priority check-in, late check-outs, free airport transfers, free access to spas or gyms, and a plethora of free food -- continental breakfast, mid-afternoon tea, and late-night noshes, all of which can be a big savings, especially for families with hungry teenagers. Check before you reserve the room, though. In some hotels, the executive floor provides nothing more than a big desk and a fax machine in your room.
Renting a Car? Join the Loyalty Club
As with hotels, it's a good idea to join a rental-car company's loyalty club. Benefits vary, but you typically get a priority phone number for reservations, discounts on rentals, and you never have to wait in long lines for a car. Remember when ordering a car to reserve early in the week. If you wait till Thursday or Friday, you're likely to encounter shortages or you'll get stuck with an expensive gas guzzler.