Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tips for smoother air travel

A recently published book written by travel industry veteran Steffan Ileman contains a number of tips that can help make your next airplane trip smoother and more hassle-free.

The book “What The Airlines Don't Tell You: New Guide to Cheaper Travel Exposes ‘Trade Secrets’ of Airline Pricing Strategies” contains some tips, but no surprises or new information, on its title topic of helping travelers get the lowest price on airfare. However, Ileman does proffer several useful tips intended to reduce or eliminate some of the unpleasant surprises that occasionally accompany air travel.

In pretty much every area of our lives, each of us has to evaluate whether any action is worth the risk, cost, or hassle. So it is with Ileman’s suggestions, and I’ll share my thoughts as I detail his recommendations.

Insuring your purchase

When you purchase your tickets, for which Ileman recommends using a professional travel agent instead of doing it yourself, he recommends also purchasing flight cancellation insurance, “which will cover the non-refundable portion of the ticket if you have to cancel for ‘medical reasons’.” The purchase of any type of insurance, which is merely a vehicle to transfer risk from one party (you) to another (the insurance company), requires a cost/benefit analysis and the outcome will be different for each individual.

I don’t often get sick and don’t believe I’ve ever missed one flight because of illness. Because trip cancellation policies cover only very limited circumstances, I’ve never found them worth the price. For those who become ill frequently, it may indeed be a wise purchase.

It is also important to shop around if you’re considering travel insurance because coverage varies.

“While each policy is slightly different, travelers can enjoy reduced or completely covered costs for medical issues while traveling, lost prescriptions, stolen passports, missing airline tickets, and much more,” according to the web site TravelInsurance.com, which provides comparisons of travel insurance policies.

Don’t simply purchase the first policy your travel agent offers. It may be fine, but the agent may also have a vested interest in seeing you purchase a specific policy from a certain insurance provider.

Avoiding the hassle of lost luggage

Has your luggage ever been delayed or lost altogether? Ileman has some useful tips on how to minimize the chances of that happening again.

One recommendation is to fly either non-stop or direct flights whenever possible. A non-stop is just as its name suggests, while a direct flight will make a stop (or perhaps more than one) but will not require a change of planes. Those options offer the fewest opportunities for screw-ups where baggage is concerned.

When it is not possible to fly non-stop or at least direct, avoid itineraries with more than one connection. The reason is simple: the probability of misdirecting your baggage increases with the number of connections. Pretty intuitive if you think about it, but many of us haven’t.

The author also advises fliers to be sure there is adequate time between connections for both them and their bags to make it onto their next flight. I completely agree, in large measure based on a personal experience that came out of not checking connection times closely when booking a trip to a family Thanksgiving gathering a few years ago.

My wife and I had just 45 minutes to make our connection at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX) and literally ran to make our connecting outbound flight. When we were greeted by the gate agent’s quip, “You made it!”, my response was, “Yes, but will our luggage?” Her response was, “Well, you did, didn’t you?” The implication was that our bags would as well.

They did not. To add insult to injury, I had to make a two-hour round trip to the airport to collect the bags the next day because US Airways would not deliver them to my hotel, even though the delay was their responsibility.

On the whole, I would rather spend a couple of extra hours in an airport than go a day or longer at my destination without a fresh change of clothes.

Ideally, Ileman says, fliers with sufficient connection time should check their luggage only to the transfer point, collect it, then re-check it to their final destination.

That will eliminate many of the opportunities for the bags to be misdirected or simply left behind instead of being loaded onto the next flight. However, it also means leaving the secured area, collecting and re-checking your bag(s), then going back through security – which is often a lengthy process – to get on to your next flight. It could also mean paying additional checked baggage fees.

If you’re willing to go through the hassle and possibly the expense, fine. I would rather spend my time between flights in an airport club or lounge, checking my e-mail or simply relaxing. Your call.

That tactic might be better suited to flights with lengthy connection times of three to four hours or more. In those instances, Ileman says, baggage is consigned to a “holding area” to be reclaimed when the plane for the next leg of your flight arrives. In many cases, he says, bags are left sitting in those holding areas. His advice to claim and re-check your baggage would seem more likely to be worth the additional effort in cases where the layovers are longer.

Getting a bargain room rate

When it comes to where you’ll lay your head for the night, instead of using various Internet hotel booking web sites such as Hotels.com, Ileman recommends calling the hotel directly and speaking to the reservations or sales department for the best rate. The challenge with that approach is being sure you’re speaking to the reservations office at the property, not central reservations.

When speaking with the hotel's reservations department or, as an alternative, the front desk or manager on duty, I recommend being straightforward about what you want. Don’t be shy about saying something like, “Hotels.com is offering a room at your property on the dates I’m asking about for (the quoted price).” Most often, the hotel will at least match that rate because it would prefer to sell you that room at the same price as an outside vendor and keep for itself the commission it would otherwise pay the vendor. Occasionally, they will also include something additional, like a complimentary cocktail or breakfast.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

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