Travel planning has come a long way in the last few years. We travelers were once beholden to travel agents and those agents survived on commissions, vendor kickbacks and volume discounts. Today, exit the commissioned agents and enter the greatest asset ever introduced to the travelling world. Enter the Internet along with its nearly inexhaustible supply of travel-related web sites!
We all want to have the classy vacations, efficient business travel and the most enjoyable weekend getaways. By following a few simple guidelines I can help you achieve all of the above.
First, determine your expectations. What do you expect in terms of air travel, lodging, local transportation and cuisine. Open your writing tablet and grab your pen. I listed the four major aspects to a trip above. Let’s take them one at a time. This article will focus on air travel. Look for my other articles on the three remaining travel items (lodging, local transit, cuisine) soon.
First class or coach? In the case of air travel you don’t necessarily get more if you pay more. Do you think sitting in first class, sipping champagne and having an extra entree choice is important? I don’t. This is just my opinion but perhaps I can sway those of you that insist on buying that business or first class seat on the plane. You’re going to get there at the same time as everyone else! As Nike used to say, “Just Do It!” In other words… get on the plane, sit down, eat what they bring you and don’t wake me if I’m trying to sleep in the cramped coach seat next to yours. When we disembark the aircraft (after it arrives safely at the gate and have checked the overhead bins for items that may have shifted during flight) we’ll each have a little extra cash in our pocket.
Now that we’re flying coach, how are we going to book this ticket to our destination? It depends. Are you time/airline flexible? Some people aren’t and that’s understandable. If you don’t care what time you arrive or what airline takes you there then I’ve got a quick answer for you. Priceline.
Priceline is an auction site. Well… sort of. You can bid on air travel at Priceline.com and almost always get a screaming good deal on your flight(s). The only drawback to a Priceline booking is that you will have to work a little harder than you would with other methods. Priceline will allow you to bid any price you want and, if your offer is not totally unreasonable, you will get it.
The work part of the equation comes in the form of multiple plane changes and inconvenient flight times. Priceline sells the seats the airlines can’t. For example, if you are flying round-trip to New York from California, you can book that trip for $149. That’s right $149 for a round-trip ticket! Keep in mind that you may be flying on two (or more) airlines, multiple flight legs at seemingly ridiculous times (i.e. “The red-eye”). If you’re flexible, you can get there cheap! That example was based on personal experience, in the Fall of 2005. Times, rates and conditions change. None the less, you will do well with Priceline.com.
For people (including myself) that have certain requirements while flying, I have other answers. I like Southwest Airlines. Maybe it’s the cattle-like way the planes are loaded, perhaps it’s the cutesy announcements over the PA system or, it could be that I like the little “Plane Crackers” they throw at me! Actually there are a number of reasons.
First, Southwest has gotten me there (wherever there is) on-time except for two trips in my fifteen-plus years of flying with them. Both incidents were weather-related and out of their control. Next, nearly every plane they fly is brand new. They have the newest fleet in the air. Also, I like Southwest because of their business plan. Herb Kelleher (Southwest’s CEO and co-Founder) knows how to run a business, he knows how to run an airline. Year after year, Southwest turns a profit. Even in the post-September-11th era, Southwest has consistently made money. This instills a lot of confidence. Finally, I like Southwest because they SAVE ME MONEY! Yes, it’s true. Southwest often costs less (or is comparable) to all the other major airlines.
Southwest bonus tip: Book your flight at Southwest.com. It’s the most comprehensive airline site on the web. Also, remember to print your boarding pass before you leave for the airport!
To recap, if time and convenience aren’t as important to you as saving money… use Priceline.com. If you want a great airline at a reasonable price… fly Southwest Airlines.
I’m going to end this article with some simple (but often overlooked) money-saving tips for the air traveler.
Don’t eat at the airport! It’s not normal for a piece of pizza to cost $9.00. It’s also wise to stay away from the airport bar. Airlines have been known to deny boarding to intoxicated patrons. The drinks are overpriced anyway. Bring a sack lunch in you carry-on bag.
If a friend or relative can’t take you to the airport, take the bus or a hotel shuttle. Taxi service, with few exceptions, is very pricey. It may be less expensive for you to check into a hotel the night before your flight and utilize their free airport shuttle than to take a taxi on the day of your flight. Check it out.
Tip appropriately, but not too much. If you take my advice and stay in hotel the night before your flight, you’ve found yourself multiple gratuity traps. There’s the housekeeping staff, concierge and bellman at the hotel. Don’t forget the shuttle driver on the way to the airport. The skycap “service” at curb-side requires some cash. What about the waitress and bartender I told you to stay away from once you get to the airport? If you fell for all of these traps, based on average tip scales, you’ve just spent $25.
That’s it. Please use these tips and travel through the air cheaply (or at least cheaper) and with maximum efficiency and safety.