Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Ten Commandments of Travel

This post is a good example of The Long Tail, the term first coined by Chris Anderson of Wired Magazine fame. These 10 rules for air travel trace back to the Wall Street Journal's travel blog called The Middle Seat Terminal. Scot McCartney, a writer for The Middle Seat just published a new book called “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Power Travel: How to Arrive with Your Dignity, Sanity and Wallet Intact”. Then Barry Ritholz, the author of one of the most popular financial blogs - The Big Picture, adapted the following Ten Commandments for travel from McCartney's Guide.

Whew ... I guess this long tail means these 10 rules of the road, or sky, have been well vetted.

From Mr. Ritholz via ....

1. Travel is difficult. And it costs too much. No matter the season or the continent, travel can be hard, and it will almost always cost more than you’d like. If you expect to float on clouds like in airline advertisements or snap up advertised $49 fares, reset your expectations. This commandment should guide your basic travel philosophy. Think ahead of the airline to anticipate trouble, be as flexible as you can and be prepared to act. Understand that bad things can — and do — happen to very good travelers.

2. Book smartly. There’s a wealth of information out there — use it to improve your travels. Traveling is not just about getting the lowest price. Pick the right time to fly and avoid loser flights by checking their on-time performance at sites like FlightStats.com.
Visit sites like Farecast.com and FareCompare.com to look up the history of fare prices on the route you’re traveling. You’ll know whether you’re getting a good price, or whether you could do better. Build itineraries with delays in mind. If you don’t, you’re sure to get stuck. That means arriving a day (or even two) early for a cruise or your niece’s wedding. Airline travel today is just not dependable enough to cut it close. Always book flights on which you can reserve a seat, and claim that seat early by printing out a boarding pass — it’s the surest way to prevent getting bumped or arriving without your luggage.

3. Plan for trouble. Always have a backup plan: Where will you stay if you miss a connection or get stranded by a storm? Have hotel phone numbers in your cellphone. Make sure you sign up for alerts on your flights through your airline and Flightstats.com. Sometimes you’ll get information about delays, gate changes or cancellation before the gate agent does.
When your flight is delayed, how do you know when it’s time to quit hoping and take action? Ask the pilots on your flight how much “duty time” they have left in the day. If it’s ample, your chances of getting to your destination are better. If it’s short, start trying to reserve a hotel room or a seat on another flight.

4. Learn something. Have fun when you travel, even if you’re on a tedious business trip. Explore a new city, try the regional cuisine, go see a movie — even if you don’t speak the local language. Too often we jet from hotel room to hotel room without giving ourselves the freedom for adventure.
Build in an extra day to see a museum or learn something about the local culture. You’ll impress your clients if you come in a day early and enjoy their city. You’ll also reduce your own stress. Business travel gives us the gift to see the world, but too often, we don’t look very closely.

5. Enjoy perks that pay. Learn how to find value in paying for access to airport clubs by purchasing day passes when you most need their services. Some airlines like UAL Corp.’s United Airlines offer the chance to purchase more legroom and priority security screening, which can greatly improve some trips. Yet other airlines like US Airways Group Inc. and Northwest Airlines are trying to charge extra for “choice” coach seats in the front of the airplane — window or aisle seats in the first several rows. That’s hardly worth paying extra for. Consider popping for the kind of perks that VIPs enjoy — valet parking, perhaps, or a car service to or from the airport. Even a private jet can be more “affordable” than you think. Search for “empty leg” segments, where jet charter companies reposition empty planes and take passengers at discounted prices. It’s hit-and-miss, but sometimes you get lucky.

6. Stay loyal. There’s no greater travel benefit today, no greater supplier of comfort and perks, than elite status on an airline, so pick the airline program where you can maximize the miles you collect. The same goes for selecting hotel loyalty programs, car-rental elite programs, and even credit cards. (Sometimes hotel points generate better rewards than frequent-flier miles.)
Concentrating your spending can generate quicker connections to free perks. And don’t forget “mileage runs,” those long, cheap-ticket trips taken simply to qualify for elite status. A weekend spent flying to Asia can earn you a year of upgrades, speedy security lines and priority on standby and rebooking lists.

7. Never check anything you cannot live without. Sometimes you have to check luggage, but if you’re traveling with something you can’t do without, do not give it to the airline or the TSA for safekeeping. That means medicine, jewelry, electronics, valuable papers and the suit you need for your 7 a.m. breakfast meeting. On average, one person on every flight arrives without his or her luggage. Are you sure it won’t be you?
Make sure you put identification inside your luggage. (I drop a business card in mine.) Tags on the outside can get torn off, so airline workers open the bag to find identifying information to help reunite it with its owner. Unless you happen to sew summer-camp name tags into your shorts, make it easy for airline detectives to find you.

8. Play the upgrade game. Even if you don’t travel one million miles a year and have Super Precious Elite Status, you can still upgrade. Airlines, hotels and car-rental companies each have a different game to play, but there are opportunities for everyone to score.
[Power Travel] At hotels, you can still sweet-talk your way to a suite by asking nicely. Your odds are better, hoteliers say, if you arrive late at night or are making a short stay and the desk clerk knows it’s highly unlikely the suite will sell otherwise. Sometimes upgrading your rental car (with a coupon or simply by paying a bit more) can add some enjoyment to a trip. Why not get that convertible when you’re in California, or try out that new luxury sedan you’ve had your eye on? If you work the system right, you can get more from your travels without spending a lot more.

9. Ask nicely. Sure, the gate agent was curt, the flight attendant surly, and the baggage clerk unsympathetic, but don’t stoop to their level. Take the high road and remain civil.
Airline workers have tough jobs. That doesn’t mean they should be rude, and some always are. But flight attendants also may not be getting home as planned, just like you. Gate agents didn’t cancel the flight that dumped 100 fuming passengers in front of them. The angry customer who believes screaming and yelling will get him to Cleveland is really only slowing up the line for the 99 people behind him. There ought to be more civility at the airport. And I still believe that in the travel business, as in life, you often get more with sugar than with salt.

10. Be kind to your fellow traveler. The window-seat occupant asked me to move so he could get out and fetch a blanket. “Would you like one?” he asked me. How considerate. We can all improve our travel by recognizing that we’re all in it together.
Next flight you’re on, turn around and ask the person behind you if it’s OK to recline the seat before you descend into his or her space. It’ll make the trip more pleasant for both of you.

Now you are ready to buy the book.

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