Today is the day people most frequently make promises to “do better”. Lose weight, eat better, spend more time with family, save more money. Have you put together your travel “do better”s for the New Year? Just like a fine wine, your travel will be better if you do some research and then make sure you take good care of your travel plans.
I was reading an article by Stephanie Rosenbloom in the New York Times this morning and it got me thinking about my own tips. But first, there’s some good points in Stephanie’s column to heed:
1. HAS YOUR PASSPORT EXPIRED?
Answering that question isn’t as simple as glancing at the date. Let’s say your passport doesn’t expire for another four months. You can book that last-minute flight deal to Bangkok, right? Wrong.
If you do one easy thing after you’re done reading this post, go check your passport expiration date. I’ve literally stood beside friends on the way to the airport when they realized their passport expiration date would preclude them from boarding a flight. How badly would you feel if you planned the ultimate vacation and then didn’t get to go? Renewing your passport is easy. Just do it.
The time to add apps that alert you to flight delays, find seats on alternate flights and score deals on same-day hotel rooms is before you need them, not when you need them.
Truer words were never spoken. How long does it take to download an app? It’s always helpful to have a few hanging around when you need them. Some of my suggestions:
- Always have the app of any airline you have travel scheduled on. That will give you access to their entire flight schedule if you encounter trouble as well as help you locate confirmation #s, etc.
- A flight tracking app. I use FlightTrack Free (though the free version looks like it’s no longer available), but there are plenty of others.
- Expert Flyer for help with seating assignments as well as award and revenue ticket availability.
- Seat Guru so you can figure out the perfect seat for you.
There are several ways to get lounge access. You can book an international business- or first-class ticket. Some domestic business- and first-class fares and routes are also eligible (like some trips between New York and Los Angeles). Or you can buy a lounge day pass (usually about $50), the best option for infrequent travelers. (With elite status, membership is often discounted.)
Especially for family travel on long trips, lounges can be a blessing. American Airlines Admirals Clubs in the US generally feature a separate play area for kids, as do the new Centurion lounges from American Express. Grabbing a shower after a long red-eye overseas is certainly a great thing.
ARE YOU USING THE RIGHT CREDIT CARD?
To determine which card is best for you, review the travel benefits and ask yourself if you’ll truly use them.
I probably should have started with this one. Credit cards are such a lucrative part of earning miles nowadays. My favorites are the Ultimate Rewards cards, like Chase Sapphire Preferred and Ink Bold, for their flexibility. And, like Stephanie, I also really like the Starwood Preferred Guest AMEX.
A few other tips for a healthy travel year:
- Start the year with a strategy. Do you have a specific destination in mind for a vacation? Which airline do you want to book business travel on to make sure you get status? How about hotel status? And, don’t forget to register for all the 2014 promos, just in case you find yourself at a different chain along the way.
- Weed your garden. From time to time, take a look at your reservations. And, keep an eye on your loyalty accounts. A great way to do this for you and the entire family is through a program like Award Wallet.
- Pick the low hanging fruit. Apologies for the multiple gardening metaphors, but this one fits the bill. You’ve got some hotel stays for business travel this year? Are you earning extra airline miles for those stays? I earned over 15,000 miles from Points Hound this year, a new website that awards bonus miles for hotel stays. And, you can still get credit for the hotel chain towards elite status and earn hotel points as well using their “Double Up” rates. That 15,000 points were just there for the taking. I didn’t book a different hotel than I otherwise would have. I just used Points Hound for my bookings. And, if I’d been a bit more diligent, I would have earned well over 20,000 miles last year, likely enough for a free airline ticket.
And, finally, don’t forget to follow along with me this year for plenty of tips and deals along the way (with a few stories thrown in for good measure). You can subscribe to my RSS feed, subscribe to get e-mail alerts when I post right from the front page of my blog, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
Looking forward to a great 2014!
ETA: I found the featured image for this post on a stock photo website I was previewing but I’m having trouble finding the name of the photographer. As soon as I track it down, I’ll attribute appropriately. It’s a nice picture of a place I remember fondly!