This is especially true for semi-frequent fliers who often patronize the same airline but not enough to make elite status. The big advantage is free baggage in an era when every major carrier except Southwest is charging for it, and charging a lot. Say you get a Delta Amex or a United Visa V -4.39% card, and you fly four times a year on the airline. Both charge $25 for the first bag each way, so that’s $200 a year you save. Or consider this: United recently started selling annual subscriptions for baggage fees – staring at $349 – to take one free bag each trip, the same allowance as you get buying tickets on an airline branded card – except almost every credit card is much cheaper than the baggage fee. The entry level Amex Gold for Delta is free the first year (as are most cards), gives you 30,000 bonus miles (most have similar offers) and then costs just $95 annually (some are even less). It costs less than one checked bag on two flights a year, plus you get bonuses like double miles on purchases and priority boarding. Some cards have annual certificates for free companion tickets and other extras. If you fly somewhat regularly on any given airline, it is worth checking out their card offerings – which usually have start up promotions.
Airline Lounges – For Frequent Travelers Lounge Access is Worth Every Penny: This one comes from Everett Potter, longtime travel journalist, editor, and head honcho at Everett Potter’s Travel Report, a weekly news blog for smart travelers in search of value. “If you’re on the road a fair bit, pony up for a yearly membership if you’re loyal to a single airline. If not, consider spending the money for an Amex Platinum Card, which gets you into both AA and Delta lounges. It isn’t inexpensive – currently $450 a year – but consider that without one, those one-time entry $50- $60 lounge entry fees can add up fast. Lounges are a haven with WiFi, if available, the staff will always change your seat to a better one if you ask, and if you’re delayed – and who isn’t – it gives you a quiet place to work, nap, or have a meal far from the maddening crowd. Membership also gives you up to $200 Airline Fee Credit every year which can you apply to baggage fees, flight-change fees, in-flight food and drinks, etc., bring the real cost down by nearly half.” American Express AXP -4.2%’ full priced personal Platinum Card (not corporate or Delta versions) also includes lounge access to USAirways and Airspace lounges (Note: one confusing thing about credit card lounge access programs is that it they are usually limited to when you are flying that airline, whereas members who pay the regular annual fee at can typically use those clubs whenever they want, regardless of who they are flying). One other advantage of airline specific lounges Potter alluded to in terms of seat requests is that they have actual airline staff who can change your tickets. Airports have become such an inhospitable place where “customer service” counters now often consist of banks of phones, so when something goes wrong on one of my frequent airlines I head straight to the lounge where there is almost never a line and staffers are usually more accommodating and helpful.
Airline Lounges – Use Pay-To-Play Airline Clubs: This is the other side of the lounge debate, from Chris McGinnis of Travel Skills Group and The Ticket and Bay Area Traveler newsletters. “Unless you are a super frequent traveler, the $400-$500 annual fee for airline club membership is not worth the high cost. Occasional lounge users will do better buying day passes ($50) at airline clubs (just walk in the door and ask). Or look for the new generation of ‘pay to play’ clubs such as The Club or Airspace lounges. Another good resource for those on the lookout for lounges is the new Lounge Buddy app which uses your smartphone’s GPS to locate the lounge nearest you.” The day passes are especially good deals at newer and flagship international lounges, which tend to have better food and drink offerings. Remember that everything you eat, drink and read in the lounge versus the airport is saving you money. A couple of glasses of wine and a USA Today might be $20 in the terminal, but it’s free in the lounge. Priority Pass, an annual limited subscription to a group of 600+ lounges worldwide, is another alternative.
Ask For Hotel Upgrades: There is no easier way to get something for nothing on your next trip then to ask the front desk clerk at check-in about a possible upgrade. They usually have the discretion to do it, and the worst that can happen is they say no and you are exactly where you were before. Some people play an anniversary or birthday card hoping for special treatment, but a simple “Do you have anything better available,” or “is there any chance to get something nicer?” with a smile and some polite courtesy can be all it takes. Arrogance or anger will rarely get you anywhere. Even just asking about what type of room you are booked in, such as “what’s the view like,” or “do you have anything on a higher (lower) floor” can start an upgrade dialog. Remember that hotel rooms are commodities that expire every single day and if a better room is going to be vacant, it doesn’t cost the hotel any more to give it to you, and they might build loyalty. It is especially easy to wrangle an upgrade when your room isn’t ready on time, or any kind of mistake has been made (you requested a king and got two queens). Likewise, if you check in and there is something wrong with your room, like loud plumbing noise or a view of an alley, don’t be afraid to complain, but do it nicely and right away.
This is another proven tip that has worked for me from well-traveled journalist and broadcaster Michael Patrick Shiels, who rarely goes anywhere without jacket and tie, and once broadcast his award winning radio show live from Monaco in a James Bond worthy white dinner jacket and black bow tie (you can see more of Shiels’ travel and golf writing here). “People dress down – or just plain sloppy – so much these days when traveling that it is easy to stand out just by looking respectable. In my experience, everyone from the check-in clerk at the airport to the hotel front desk takes me more seriously and is nicer, especially when something goes wrong and I need help.” I was on a flight from the US to Ireland when they needed a coach passenger to give up a choice seat to accommodate an elderly couple that had been separated, and the gate manager chose me, and rather than stick me in the middle coach seat, upgraded me to business class for the transatlantic flight, and I am pretty sure it was at least in part because I was wearing a blazer, slacks and dress shoes and not sweats. If they have to move someone to a premium cabin where the other passengers paid thousands of dollars, they aren’t moving the slob. Likewise, when I’ve had a flight cancelled or seriously delayed and insisted on being rebooked on another airline rather than a much later flight, something the airlines do reluctantly, it has worked out for me when I’ve been better dressed. This advice certainly applies to the hotel upgrade in the last tip (#8) as well.
Book the Cheapest Rental Car: When going with a major player like Hertz, Avis or Alamo, book the smallest, cheapest car you could live with – you almost certainly won’t end up in it. The exception to this rule is when for a specific trip you need a specific car type or size (four sets of golf clubs in Ireland, a family of five on a ski vacation, an automatic transmission in Europe). Here’s the deal: while they show all these different styles on their sites, actual rental lots rarely have them all, and they almost never involuntarily downsize you (if this happens you’ll pay less) – instead they almost always upgrade you. Usually this is automatic but if not, they still frequently offer, and the rental car agent might say, “We have you in a Ford Focus, is that OK?” To which you say, “Actually that’s a bit small, do you have anything else?” Even in a worst case scenario where they won’t upgrade you for free, you can always pay more for a bigger car if you want one, which is what you were going to do in the first place if you simply booked the bigger car. I’m a Hertz Gold Club member so I get upgraded more easily, with a one class upgrade automatic, but on three recent trips I booked the worst subcompact they had and ended up in an Infiniti M series, a LexusSUV and a Buick sports sedan. Here’s a bonus rental car multitasking tip from Michael Patrick Shiels: “Upon landing at an airport, I go straight to the rental car desk BEFORE I go to collect my checked baggage. This gets me in line before the other passengers from my flight, and it is good use of time during the lull in which one waits for baggage, saving time on both ends.