For most of us, travel is a business necessity. This month's column is your survival guide, filled with inside tricks and tips that will save you precious time, money and sanity.
As a business traveler, I often book airline reservations with minimal advance notice. Travel urgency can result in unfriendly flight schedules and exorbitant pricing. Seasoned travelers quickly learn they can improve their options by flying to an interim, less populated, city and continue on to their final destination from there. By using two round-trip tickets to complete one trip, you will dramatically reduce your airline costs.
Here's an example: A few years ago, flying to Salt Lake City from California was expensive. However, one airline was pushing its new route to Reno, Nev. I bought one round-trip ticket from Burbank, Calif., to Reno and another from Reno to Salt Lake City. This meant I had a stopover, but I was expecting that anyway. Not counting the money I lost in the Reno-airport slot machines, I saved about 40 percent.
Drive a Little, Save a Lot
Flying between major airports typically involves a premium price tag. However, using a secondary airport located a few miles away can result in significant savings. For example, La Guardia is near JFK airport in New York and Burbank is near Los Angeles International Airport. These lesser airports offer bargain ticket prices and very convenient parking. Driving from a smaller airport to your final destination can certainly be cheaper than flying direct.
I could never imagine a restaurant that charged different meal prices based on when you made your reservation, yet this is what airlines do every day. This is called "profit yielding," and it means the price of your ticket bears little resemblance to the actual costs associated with filling your particular seat. This has led to a secondary market for excess airline seats.
Several companies prepurchase seat options and consolidate otherwise wasted seating to provide discounted fares. Check out these websites for fantastic savings:
Often these tickets are not available until a few days before flight time. For the last-minute business traveler, this can be a blessing. In fact, the less advance notice you have, the deeper the discount.
The Travel Pass
Several U.S. airlines offer amazingly discounted travel passes. Each leg of any trip will cost about $100 between any U.S. cities. The catch is both your citizenship passport and location of purchase must be outside the U.S. and Canada.
When buying airline tickets online, you are rarely given a seat assignment. If you arrive at the ticket counter without a seat assignment for an overbooked flight, you will be the first person bumped off that plane and forced to take a later flight--which may be several hours or even a full day later. Once you purchase your online ticket, call the airline immediately to arrange your seat assignment.
Know the Weather
Before you travel, visit www.weather.com to discover the climate you should encounter at your destination. Arrival is not when you want to discover you should have packed a jacket or raincoat. You can also be more prepared for potential weather-based delays and cancellations by checking weather conditions at points of departure, layover and arrival.
Midnight is not the time to receive driving directions about an unfamiliar road. Before you fly, visit www.mapquest.com and print out complete driving directions for each leg of your route. Consider printing area maps so you can quickly find alternate paths just in case an expected highway off-ramp is under construction.
Symphony at 30,000 Feet
Noise-canceling headphones eliminate most of the low-frequency drone emanating from the airplane's engines and air conditioning. Movies and music will sound clearer and, at only $50, it is a great investment in your travel comfort.
Pack for Security
In 1988, a Toshiba radio filled with explosives brought down Pan Am 103. On Sept. 11, terrorists used box cutters to control those fateful flights. Airport security is now searching for everything and anything that can pose a threat. Nail clippers and key-chain knives are banned on all U.S. flights and will be confiscated at the security counter. Closed carry-on boxes are likely to be opened and searched. Pack smart and be prepared to bear all to the security staff. Bring books and a sense of humor to survive the long lines.
Before your flight, call the airline or find your airport on the web to learn the specific security restrictions and time allocations required at each airport in your itinerary. To expedite your passage through security, use a sturdy laptop bag with all accessories in the bag's clear or mesh holders. To dissuade theft, select a bag devoid of any company logo that could imply the contents are valuable.
Business-class airline seats typically include power outlets for your convenience. These outlets were not designed for today's cutting-edge, power-hungry laptops. If you draw too much energy, the outlet will temporarily shut down. If this happens to you, charge your laptop with the computer turned off or operate your computer with the battery removed to reduce the system's power demands.
If you travel often, consider buying a modem saver/line tester. This simple device can save you the cost and hassle of replacing a modem damaged by a badly behaving phone line. There are several models at igo.com starting at less than $40. Likewise, a power strip can be a lifesaver if your hotel or conference room does not offer enough electrical outlets. It can also double as a small extension cord.
STSN's site (www.stsn.com) will help you find one of the 500 hotels that offer its high-speed Internet service. This broadband connection is always on, and typically costs only $10 per day. If your hotel does not offer Internet access, consider subscribing to www.netzero.com before you travel. NetZero provides 10 hours of dial-up Internet access per month in return for displaying periodic advertisements. Here are some popular hotels offering online access:
Travelers rarely describe their airline experiences as pleasurable. With meal service and convenient routings being phased out, you must be savvy and resourceful. A little research before your trip will save you hundreds of dollars and countless inconveniences.
Plan ahead, pack light and inform your staff that they can watch your flight in real-time at www.flytecomm.com. And don't forget that a day filled with cabs, airports, long lines and a rent-a-car might be better spent relaxing on the train. Amtrak offers frequent schedules, low fares and plenty of legroom. Who knows? Maybe thinking about all the money you are saving might make your trip a pleasure after all.
Doug Carner is the vice president of marketing for QuikStor Security & Software, a Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based company specializing in security, software and management for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.quikstor.com.