Use this intel for smoother, hassle-free travel.
Whether you're an occasional traveler or a seasoned international jet-setter logging hundreds of thousands of miles each year, chances are you've encountered some stress-inducing situations while getting from point A to point B. Perhaps you've been crammed into a tightly packed economy-class seat because you couldn't secure an upgrade, waited in seemingly never-ending security lines or been unable to take advantage of elite-tier perks such as priority boarding and free lounge access. Flying can be hassle-prone, but it doesn't have to be. Follow these insider tricks from experts for easier, pain-free air travel.
Choose when you book strategically.
To snag the lowest ticket prices, your strategy should be to rely on the right sites and apps. Christine Sarkis, senior editor at SmarterTravel.com, recommends using an airfare price predictor tool like Hopper, "which claims 95 percent accuracy on predicting whether a flight price will rise or fall," she explains. Another savvy tool for predicting when to buy your tickets is Google Flights. Zach Honig, editor-in-chief of the travel rewards site The Points Guy, recommends signing up for Google Flights fare alerts, so you receive an email when the price drops for your desired destination. Kayak and Flyr are other clever forecasting tools to track airfares and time when you buy tickets to get the lowest price.
Stay in the know.
Aside from tracking your desired routes, it's equally important to stay educated about typical airfare pricing for your selected destination so you can act quickly when a bargain becomes available, says Gary Leff, industry expert and author of View From the Wing. To snap up a deal, he recommends using websites like The Flight Deal. If price is your top priority, Daraius Dubash, who manages the travel advice site Million Mile Secrets, also suggests using hidden-city ticketing services like Skiplagged. This app and website helps fliers find often-overlooked inexpensive two-leg flights, so you can buy a cheaper ticket with a connection, and then simply skip the second flight.
(Zak Kendal/Getty Images)
Consider when you travel.
For stress-free flying, your technique should be avoiding peak travel times for business travelers on Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons, Honig says. If you're price-sensitive, flying on Saturday evenings can help you dodge high crowds and ticket costs, he adds. And if you're planning a leisure trip, look for flights to resort destinations in the offseason, Leff says. With fewer people going to resort destinations, you'll optimize your chances of getting an upgrade, he says. And since flight pricing is demand and supply driven, it can be worth checking the price of premium-cabin seats (with the exception of peak holiday travel dates) if you're planning a getaway between peak and off-peak times, he adds.
Rely on a pro to optimize your chances of getting an award seat.
If you're new to the points game, the trick for redeeming an award seat through an airline's alliance network is turning to an expert. "Have a sense of who the partners are and where they fly," Leff says, but remember that U.S. airlines don't display partner award options on their site. Start by searching for availability on a partner's site. For example, if you want to redeem American AAdvantage miles for an Etihad Airways flight, visit the Etihad site. But before you call to make your reservation, be forewarned: Agents are not incentivized based on successful award redemptions, Leff adds. Dubash advises contacting the experts at Points Pros or Upgrd for a pain-free booking process.
Zip through security screenings.
For a speedier check-in, it pays to enroll in Global Entry, which requires a one-time fee of $100. "For $15 more than TSA PreCheck, you get the privileges of PreCheck – expedited screening, shorter lines, etc. – plus expedited screening at customs and immigration when you enter the U.S.," Sarkis explains. "Just make sure to sign up well in advance of your trip, since Global Entry requires an in-person interview and it can take a while to get an appointment," she cautions. Beyond this measure, it's important to arrive early, Leff says. And make sure your seat is assigned when you check-in, not when you get to the gate, he adds.
Sign up for a co-branded credit card to attain lucrative elite status privileges.
Savvy points and miles enthusiasts know travel rewards credit cards afford generous perks that are well worth the investment. While the annual fee attached to many cards may seem off-putting, particularly if you don't fly frequently, they often yield lucrative perks. Certain credit cards, such as the Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard and the United Mileage Plus Card from Chase grant privileges that are "very similar to the entry-level elite status on airlines, such as one free checked bag and priority boarding," Dubash explains. Plus, with the right card, you can take advantage of services such as airline fee reimbursement, Global Entry fee credits, travel insurance and airport lounge passes or membership, Sarkis adds.
Slip away to the airport lounge.
If you want to unwind in an airport lounge, but you don't travel frequently enough to enjoy this elite-status privilege, there are some techniques you can employ. The first hack: Pick the right card. The Citi AAdvantage Executive card grants 60,000 bonus miles as a sign-up perk, and allows authorized users to bring up to two guests with them to the lounge, Dubash explains. "You can split the $450 annual fee among the authorized users, so that you can get into the lounge for less," he adds. Chase's United MileagePlus Club card also offers two one-day United lounge passes each year, Leff says. Alternatively, you can buy it on a one-off basis (for around $50).
Select where you sit strategically.
For added comfort on your next flight, put in a little extra legwork to ensure you pick the right seat. Instead of redeeming your hard-earned frequent flier points, you can use savvy tools like SeatGuru to peruse your plane prior to takeoff and select the seat that best suits you. Dubash suggests using the free app to compare factors such as seat pitch, Wi-Fi connections and in-flight entertainment systems. Routehappy, another trusted tool, allows you to compare factors such as the seat space and layout, entertainment options, Wi-Fi availability and power ports to ensure you choose an optimal seat.
Secure a seat upgrade.
If you want to leapfrog from economy to a premium economy seat or jump from business to a first-class seat, the key is staying attune to available seats through apps like Expertflyer, leveraging your frequent flier points or executing the right bidding strategy. To better your odds of getting an upgrade, fly at off-peak times, Leff says, when there are fewer fliers and lower demand. If you haven't accumulated enough miles to attain top-tier elite status perks like complimentary upgrades and if you want to try your hand at the auction game, remember to place your bid close to your flight date and assess the cost-benefit before committing to ensure you don't wind up paying more for a higher class of service than the actual price of the premium seat.
Rely on Google's Project Fi.
If you frequently travel internationally and you want to make calls at a reasonable rate, Dubash suggests downloading Project Fi to trim international data roaming fees. "It is super easy to sign up and use," he says, pointing out that it's only $20 per month (as well as $10 per gigabyte of data use) to take advantage of unlimited texts and the ability to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hot spot, while international calls cost 20 cents a minute. The only caveat: "You need a Nexus phone to activate the service, but unofficially you can use an unlocked iPhone and other phones," Dubash says. Currently, Project Fi is compatible with Nexus 6, Nexus 6P and Nexus 5.
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