If you are like me and travel a lot, then you probably wonder how people get the first-class upgrades, free trips and comped rooms at hotels. I know I always did. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I met someone on a long haul flight who “pulled back the curtain” and let me in on how to get the perks that other travelers are not getting. While miles are a big part of it, they are not the only way to get good things. If you pile together these four simple tips, then you can start enjoying a few perks on your next trip, wherever it may take you.
First of all, getting the good stuff is work. Companies do not just give away free things, this would be a bad business model. What they do commit to is incentivizing people to do things that benefit them, like flying with the same airlines all the time. This increases their profit margin and can kick back some money to you while you are traveling. The key to finding the best deals on trips is to find the best way to make these programs work for you. Like people who coupon to save thousands each year on food, by looking for corporate incentives, you can save thousands on each trip. Here are the four tips we are going to focus on today:
- Be Polite – People often forget the simplest one;
- Sign up for mileage programs – use your cards and company plans;
- Look at Hotel Programs – hotels are in on the game too;
- Use an agent – this may cost the same but get you some perks.
These simple actions can save you a lot in your travel and vacation planning, all it takes is taking the time to look for good programs and getting yourself involved in those programs.
Being polite seems like a no brainer to have your trip go better, but ever since the mid-1990s the philosophy of “my vacation, my rules” has ruined travel. I am still old enough to remember wearing a suit (or at least dressing nice) when you flew. While the dress code may be lost to yesteryear, politeness does not have to be a relic of the past. Just saying please and thank you to your stewardesses, the attendants, hotel managers and other staff you see on the trip can really make their day better. As odd as it sounds, most people are jerks to staff- they think that they work for them. If you take the time to be polite, you may find that you get a room upgrade, a seat upgrade or maybe a drink or two on the flight. While this does not happen often, it happens enough that it is worth just being polite to the people who are working to make your trip special.
Signing up for mileage programs is another simple way that you can build up equity in your travel. Most people sign up for mileage programs wholeheartedly believing that they will use the program all the time. These are the people that travel two times a year or less. However, the lure of cheap prices on online booking sites makes them “forget” about the airlines they have a plan with. This can be costly. By way of example, most airlines charge for bags now- it is an unfortunate fact of life. The charges average around $35. Now if you travel three times a year with a bargain airline and take one bag (do not be one of those jerks with the big carryon, that takes you out of the polite category) you are spending $105 per year on bags alone. Now, let’s say you belong to Delta or American’s club, and you use them for a few years. Once you have reached the lowest level of membership- you usually get a free checked bag. Now, this may not seem like much, however, if the tickets are only $25 more and you do this three times a year, then you save $30- that is a meal or a tank fill up for scuba diving. If you do it more you save more. Also, let’s say you travel a lot and do a lot of long haul flights. Being a club member at gold or better often gets you access to a lounge. This can pay for itself in a trip or two as you have a safe place to sleep, a place to shower and a spread of free (or discounted) food that you can eat. Even better, some of the clubs let you take your family in with you. Feeding three kids and a spouse at the airport cost more than the tickets- if you can get that for free, why wouldn’t you?
In the same vein, you should try to get in with a hotel program and stick with it. Most hotels have these programs now and the benefits range from free wifi to get free rooms. Some of the plans give free rooms after only 6 stays. The only requirement is that you stay with the same hotel each time you travel to maximize your points. I have a few hotel chains that I like, and I try to stay with them as often as I can. Once again the reward takes a while to pile up, but you can save a lot of money in the long run.
The final point that I think everyone should consider is to use a travel agent. If you have read my other articles, you know that I feel strongly about this. While it may seem like travel agents are more expensive, usually, it is the service you are paying for. Think about it – what is your time worth? If you spend six hours planning a trip and you make $45 an hour, then you are looking at about $300 to “pay” yourself for doing all the work to plan your trip. Then if you turn around and use an “online booking site” you are still paying someone a commission to book your trip (usually someone at a call center). On the other hand, if you use a travel agent and he or she charges you $200 on top of the costs to book your trip you are actually saving money/time. To make the deal even better, most of the time travel agents build perks or bonuses into a trip. When they do this, they are increasing the value of the trip in a way you cannot, while keeping the price the same. This makes it seem like you are getting free stuff on each trip you take!
Overall, will these tips let you travel the world like a prince on a pauper’s budget? No. Those stories are for the people who want to commit more work towards getting “free” stuff than the time it cost them to put their “scam” together. Real people have real jobs, which means that they do not have the time to sit and stalk price sheets, scam timeshares or enter every contest on the internet every day. If you look at the time that these people spend “scamming” the system for an ultra-budget room, they could work a minimum wage job and get a moderate or even high-end vacation- and that is just a minimum wage job. Most people do better to buy a regular trip from an agent than to fall prey to one of the scams that are out there. The tips listed in this article will help you get “your share of the good stuff,” without committing the majority of your life to getting “free stuff.”
About the Author
Dr. Smithmyer is the Vice President of International Affairs for Brāv Online Conflict Management, an international consortium of conflict resolution professionals. Dr. Smithmyer is also a columnist for NRN doing mostly political and international business columns. When Dr. Smithmyer is not working with people to make the world a better place, he enjoys snorkeling the waters of the world.
Dr. Smithmyer has traveled extensively in the United States, Australia, Vietnam, and the Bahamas. He has also presented in the U.K., India, Brazil, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. Dr. Smithmyer is one of the most lettered men in the world with nine degrees. As an adjunct professor in his spare time, Dr. Smithmyer uses his business experience and travels to help bring the world to his students and even brings the students to the world through experiential learning trips.
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