26 August 2012

My secrets to flying more

My wonderful Pololo Troy wrote the following rhyme after I texted him that I was on a later flight, and every bit of it rings true:

"She who flies with a slight delay, gets to fly on the cheap another day."

I am often asked how I can afford to fly so often - it's all about playing the game well. I am about to share my secrets.

1. Be loyal to an airline that serves your needs. Why be loyal? It adds up to miles, plus more miles increases your status. Status is important in the world of airlines. Status can lead to perks such as:
- priority boarding
- no fees for checked luggage
- upgrades
- access to lounges
- quicker lines at security
- free standby access
- free drinks on board
- access to exit and bulkhead seats
And more!

2. Book on Tuesday. Midnight that is. Generally airlines release new fares at midnight on Tuesday. These go fast.

3. I love internet fares, but phone agents are super helpful. I often spend time with an agent on the phone discussing what I need, they may find the best flights for me - but then because of fees for using phone agents to book, once I have all the details, I book it online.

4. Airline websites are good. I'm a fan of Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia etc - but lately I have found that their prices differ very little from the actual airlines website. When that is the case, I book directly from the airline. Why is this better you may wonder?
- the airline will be more efficient about notifying you of changes, cancellations etc than one of these ticket clearing houses.
- if you need to make a change you get to work with the airline directly and avoid extra fees from the websites.
- if you have the airline credit card you might get extra points / miles for booking directly with them.

5. Speaking of credit cards, once you have decided which airline you wish to be loyal to, see if they have a way to gain miles associated with a credit card. I have two such credit cards - one for American, one for Lufthansa. With the AA one, I earned 75,000 bonus miles and got a free companion ticket for signing up. With Lufthansa I get 3x miles on any purchases I make directly through them. So say I buy a $1500 ticket to Germany, I get 4500 miles for purchasing the ticket and another 5000 for flying. Not bad.
If you get the credit cards, find out what other mileage bonus exist. American for example has a VIP Diner program. I registered my credit card (actually I registered both my CC's) and when I eat at a restaurant in the program, I gain extra miles. So ironically enough if I eat at one of the participating restaurants and pay with my Lufthansa card, I get miles on Lufthansa AND American. I don't have to save receipts, mail in forms or anything. All I had to do was register the card.
(Disclaimer: these cards usually have an annual fee, but I've decided it's worth it.)

6. Be flexible! If you are flexible with days and times, you might be able to fly cheaper. I would also like to add that fares are cheaper off-peak....but as a teacher I really don't have the luxury to take advantage of that.

7. Fly to the further out airport. Sometimes these smaller airports or airports in nearby cities have better fares. BUT do your homework first - it may be cheaper to fly there, but you may find that transport to/from is expensive or takes a lot of time - then it may not be worth it.

8. Take the bump. If the airlines needs a volunteer to take a later flight - DO IT! Usually you will be put on a flight within 3 hours and you are nicely compensated. Once I was compensated 800 € and put up in a hotel and given meal vouchers -- plus I got an extra day in Europe. Once I paid $1.26 for a round trip ticket because a voucher I had covered the rest. Today I took a bump. I received a $300 voucher and waited about 3 hours til the next flight. Think of it as earning $100/hour. Not shabby!
It's important to let it be known you will take a bump - don't be afraid to let a gate agent know you are willing to even before they ask. Today when they asked, I jumped up and yelled " I'll do it" - they saw me and I got it!

9. Book in advance. BUT not too far in advance. If you plan a trip, don't ever book more than 6 mos out. More than 6 months in advance, airlines rarely feel pressure to sell the seats, and thus the cheapest fares have not been issued yet. I've found that for international flights, about 4mos in advance is ideal. Domestic ideal is about 3 mos. that being said, don't wait too long either - once you hit 1 month the cheaper fares are dwindling, at two weeks they tend to be few and far between, at 7 days or less they are non-existent. All that aside, if you are traveling for a major event such as The Olympics or World Cup, you should probably ignore my advice about waiting until 6 mos beforehand!

10. Be aware of new routes. If an airline begins to offer a new route, your favorite airline may lower their fare on that route to compete. This could work greatly to your advantage.

11. Stay aware. Sign up for email notifications of fare decreases - especially for routes you travel often. Even if you don't plan to travel that route for a while, it keeps you aware of fare trends. Also sign up for newsletters and e-alerts. Like your favorite airline on Facebook, follow them on Twitter etc. you will find they often announce specials via these mediums.

My last bit of advice won't help you get a better fare, but it may make your flight more comfortable. On long haul flights I often bring chocolate for the flight attendants. A bag of Hershey miniatures is perfect. They appreciate it, and I tend to find they are nicer to me (ie free drinks or such) PLUS I usually give them any magazines / books I finish. Also I make a point of thanking them beforehand AND when I disembark. A little kindness goes a long way - I've even heard of people who have been upgraded onboard when they gave the flight attendants some treats - but it's never happened to me.

Don't forget to buckle your seatbelts when seating and in the words of Moses Beacon from "Come Fly with Me" .... Happy Flighting!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:In air: LGA to DFW