I am so excited about going to Poland in less than 2 weeks that I can barely think about anything else. I am literally counting days until I see my dad, sister and my three little nieces. They are 5, almost 4 and 2.5 years old and all three of them at their very cutest 🙂 Although I am leaving on the 13th of November (and it is still 11 days away), would you believe me if I told you I already started packing?
I love traveling. Not just getting to the final destination, I love the process of traveling just as much. I don’t mind arriving at an airport 3 hours ahead of time just to walk around after I am checked in and all set. I like watching people, I like getting coffee while waiting, I like reading ‘trashy’ magazines at the stands. I like the business; I just enjoy the ‘adventure’ vibe all around.
The upcoming trip is a ‘once a year’ trip home so I am always trying to make best out of it (and keep it as budget friendly as possible of course). This includes not just the time with my family but quality of travel as well. I would love to share with you today some tips and tricks that I have found really helpful.
A Simple Guide to Smart Travelling :
1. Free miles = Free tickets
Let’s start with the obvious, for the record, shall we? Even if you are not traveling as much, it is still totally worth to sign up to start earning the miles. You can earn miles toward bonus travel not just by traveling but also by signing up (and using) airline specific credit cards. Not getting much into details here, as others (such as Mark) already described the process much better than I would, but if you are planning any trips at all, then make sure to definitely at least set up an account with the airlines you are using on your next trip.
My return international ticket to Poland cost a whooping $126. Yes, you read that right. It took some miles and some serious planning (and being ok with 2 layovers and an 18 hour travel time) but hey, I am saving $1,100! For that price you can give me 3 layovers if need be. All these savings will be used towards my dad’s bills, stocking up his pantry and some small treats for my nieces.
2. Extra luggage anyone?
No, thank you. I will keep my $110 safe in my wallet.
That’s exactly how much one will pay if they take a second check-in luggage to Poland, regardless of size. And trust me, since we Poles are known for bringing lots of gifts home (pretty much 95% of my luggage are gifts), half of the people traveling on LOT airlines have 2 ginormous bags for check-in with them. Most of them have no clue that they will be charged. It is actually kind of fun (and very sad at the same) to watch people struggling to move their things around in their suitcases or trying to argue the fee out.
Make sure to check ahead of time if your airline requires you to pay for check in bags. If you travel just for a weekend and you need to pay $25 to check in any luggage, that’s $50 round trip. Possibly you can ‘squeeze in’ in the carry on? If you travel internationally and need to pay for a second piece of check-in, unless absolutely necessary, try to fit all into one bag.
Or possibly you can do what I am doing :). Since I am planning my annual trip back home a few months ahead of time, I know exactly what dates I will be at my Polish home. 3 weeks ago I shipped all the treasures I was going to gift my sister and nieces via a local delivery service. I shipped approximately 44 pounds paying only $40 or so. Definitely less than additional $110 and I am avoiding the hassle of actually carrying it with me. Phew. The delivery time is approximately 5 weeks and the package shall arrive 2-3 days after I arrive. It will be delivered to my dad’s home’s door. Genius! 🙂
If you want to send packages super cheaply to Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia and Ukraine and you live either in NYC or Chicago you can do it through Polamer service. I have used it for the last 12 years and never had any issues!
3. Lounge around
If you paid with a credit card that partners with your airlines of choice you may qualify to use their lounge while waiting for your flight. It is so nice let me tell you. I was able to do it once and I felt like a queen. The perk came with a piece of chocolate, a glass of wine and free wi-fi.
A few years ago when I was traveling from Warsaw to NYC on a red eye flight, my seat did not recline. Not a little bit. I went through a sleepless 9 hour long hell. I was trying to sleep but I just couldn’t while sitting perfectly straight. There were no other seats available and none of the crew was able to fix the seat for me (well, there were not really trying that much either). After a couple of hours of trying to recline it I gave up, but I was miserable pretty much the entire time.
So I complained.
Once back home I called the airlines and I complained about it. It was more just for the sake of it as I did not expect anything. But instead of nothing I got a hefty amount of frequent flier points transferred into my account as an apology. Hey, I’ll take it! See #1.
So yes, complain. About crappy food, broken seats, delays, scratched suitcase, impolite flight attendants. At the worst you get nothing, but you may be nicely surprised.
5. Use a travel agent
well, not if you are using frequent flier points of course. If you have 0 points and need to actually pay for your flight, if you can and if you know of a good travel agent, use her. Why?
Let me explain. I work as an Executive Assistant and I handle all the travel for my multiple bosses. Let me tell you, I witnessed first hand that a travel agent can do things that a regular person cannot. Simple as that. Travel agencies have deals with airlines and when they purchase flights, especially international, and especially last minute ones, for full coach fare they can ‘bump’ you up to biz class. For domestic travel when paying full coach fare, they can do some magic and get you upgraded to first class. Of course if a flight is full on biz and first class, even a travel agent can’t do anything but more often than not, biz/first class seats are NOT sold out. Most of the people you see traveling in biz / first class are either using their frequent flier points or they were upgraded, just like you could have been..
Not to mention a travel agent has access to a much bigger inventory since the airlines do not offer most of their discounts to sites (such as Kayak.com or Expedia) directly.
6. More on upgrades
Even if you do not use a travel agent and cannot count on anyone’s help to get upgraded, if you arrive a bit earlier at the airport you can most likely get an upgrade to first class for around $500 at the terminal. It does not seem like cheap at all, but you would have paid many times over if you got first class ticket in the first place.
7. One way only?
No way! One way only is never, repeat after me, NEVER cheaper than a return flight. Actually, it tends to be much more expensive than a two way fare. Not so long ago I was looking for a one way ticket to LA and then making a drive back to NYC (two week road trip for T. and I, as I have always wanted to do it). The one way ticket was nearly $750 while a return was around $315! I surely don’t get the logic here.
If you need to go one way, double check what a return fare is. You do not need to use the return flight.
8. Rule 240
They Rule 240 says that the airlines MUST put you on a competitor’s flight if their flight is delayed and the other flight will get you faster to your destination. As far as I know, while it was a rule for every airlines in the past, currently it is a rule only for Alaska, Frontier and UNITED. But of course it does not hurt to ask other airlines as well if you find yourself delayed on a connecting flight.
Of course, even though the Rule 240 is what it is – a rule – the airlines will rarely tell you upfront that this is your option.
Do YOU have any tips and tricks worth sharing?