Top Airline Travel Tips and Hacks

Looking for Top Airline Travel Tips and Hacks?

“For complicated trips, I like flight-research startup site Flightfox, where experts compete to help you reduce the total cost of your ticket by fare hunting and tapping regional budget carriers.”

Eavesdrop on the Airline Experts

Full of opinions and insights from serious road warriors, the Flyertalk online forums are invaluable. Use them to size up airlines, loyalty programs, and even travel gadgets.

Find the Best Airfare

GetGoing: This blind-booking site nets up to 40 percent off flights if you let it pick between two destinations.

TripWatcher: Sign up to receive instant e-mail alerts when fares for a particular route drop.

Airfarewatchdog: The site’s analysts comb airline websites and other sources for the best deals, which appear in a daily e-mail newsletter.

Refund.meIf you think you might be owed money for a delayed or canceled European flight, it’ll help you file a claim.

Time Your Tickets

According to Kayak here are when the average airfares from the United States to regions around the world are at their lowest.

  • U.S.A.: 3–5 weeks out $351
  • Caribbean: 1–2 weeks out $482
  • Central America: 5–8 weeks out $622
  • South America: 5 ½ months out $953
  • Europe: 7–8 weeks out $1,041
  • Asia: 8–9 months out $1,313

Snag an Award Seat

Some airlines make it easier than others to cash in miles for a ticket. According to the annual Switchfly Reward Seat Availability Survey, this year’s standouts include Southwest, which had 100 percent availability in tests, followed by AirTran (95 percent), JetBlue (88.6 percent), and United (80 percent).

Manage Your Itinerary (Tripit)

Best for Business: Worldmate ($9.99)integrates with your calendar and LinkedIn, making it easy to network while on the road.

Best for Families: The Seat Tracker fromTripIt Pro ($49 per year) keeps tabs on cabin seat inventory and will alert you when elusive blocks of up to four seats open up.

Best for Road Warriors: The more trips you log using Traxo (free), the more perks from partner companies you receive: car-rental vouchers, free travel insurance, and even free flights.

Beat Jet Lag

The trick is to get on the right schedule while in transit. Sign up for a personalized plan with the websiteStopjetlag, which will give you an hour-by-hour schedule for meals, rest time, and even sunlight exposure, based on your travel itinerary.

Wait in Comfort in an Airport Lounge

Buy a Day Pass: All the legacy carriers sell them for their lounges both here and abroad for roughly $50.

Find an Independent Lounge: Airspace has a small network of lounges in domestic airports, which American Express Platinum card members can access for free. In Asia and Canada, look for spaces fromPlaza Premium ($49 per visit); No. 1 Traveller ($45 per visit) and Servisair ($28 per visit) have lounges throughout the U.K. Services such as Lounge Pass(from $35 per visit) and Priority Pass ($27 per visit, plus $99 annually) partner with airlines and independent companies to offer access to locations worldwide.

Choose the Right Card: For an annual fee, some credit cards—including American Express Platinum($450) and Chase’s United MileagePlus Club Card($395)—offer complimentary access to both airline and independent lounges. American Express also recently opened the Centurion Lounge at Las Vegas McCarran and at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport. Access is free for travelers with Centurion and Platinum Cards, and $50 for all other American Express cardholders.

Wear the Right Fabrics

Stay Warm: Cashmere wraps and sweaters are lightweight, but perfect for chilly planes.

Stretch Out: Lycra jeans move with you but maintain their shape. The best contain at least 10 percent Lycra.

Keep It Crisp: Look for wrinkle-free twill shirts and pants from brands such as L.L. Bean and Brooks Brothers.

Consider Comfort: Knit blazers are more pliable for ease of movement and less creasing.

Don’t Lose Your Luggage

Spy on Your Suitcase: Plant it with the palm-size Trakdot ($50, plus $13 annual fee). The small box automatically transmits its location using a GSM chip, allowing you to follow your bag’s route via SMS, e-mail, or the Trakdot app and website.

Pick the Right Carriers: The airline with the best record for luggage handling over the past two years? Virgin America, which averages just 0.88 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Following close behind: JetBlue (1.88) and AirTran (2.02). American Eagle, on the other hand, averaged 6 incidents per 1,000 passengers.

Ship Your Bags: Consider sending your bags straight to the hotel (or golf course, or cruise ship) through a service such as Luggage Forward or Luggage FreeOvernight delivery of a 25-pound bag from New York to L.A. will run about $150—more than your airline charges, but considerably less than UPS.

Find a Better Sandwich

The GateGuru app has detailed terminal maps and restaurant reviews for more than 100 airports around the world.

Get a Better Seat

Find the Best Plane: Not all aircraft are created equal. Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner features higher humidity and lower pressure (to minimize jet lag) and smart-glass windows that dim on command. The carriers flying the new aircraft: British Airways, LAN, and Japan Airlines. If cabin design is important, you can also look to SeatGuruand Routehappy, which both have flight-search functions that let you prioritize legroom, Wi-Fi connectivity, and seatback entertainment over, say, price and flight time.

Time Your Request: Ask for a new seat 24 hours before a flight. That’s when airlines start upgrading their elite fliers, opening up the “preferred” seats in economy that had previously been assigned to those travelers. Repeat your request at the check-in desk and gate.

Look Into Premium Economy: Though they won’t give you all the plush comforts of business class, these seats are often worth the extra money for the added four or five inches of legroom alone. International carriers have particularly nice premium economy seats.

Go Straight to Your Meeting

Tired of waiting around at the baggage carousel? US Airways, United, and American will now deliver your bags within 40 miles of a domestic airport within six hours of your flight’s arrival. The cost: $30 for one bag, $40 for two.

Here are the Criteria to Meet Elite Status for the Top US Airlines

Bottom Tier Elite Status (25K Miles)

Bottom Tier Airline Status (January 2014)

Middle Tier Elite Status (50K Miles)

Mid-Tier Airline Status (January 2014)

Top Tier Elite Status (75K, 100K, and 125K Miles)

Top Tier Airline Status (January 2014)
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