11 Tips For Traveling In The Current Environment

Things are rough out there. There are fewer agents to help you and more changes to flight schedules. Everyone is stressed on the road. Here are 11 things you can do to make travel go a bit more smoothly. Some are very basic tips, but even if they aren’t new to you they’re good reminders I think.

  1. It’s hard to get through to airlines on the phone. When their website won’t help you, and hold times are long, dial an international call center (e.g. Singapore for Delta, Australia or UK for American)

  2. When you don’t get the answer you want, hang up call back – even metaphorically. Agents don’t always give you the right answer, or all the exceptions they could. So keep trying until you get told no at least 3 times: telephone, twitter, airport check-in, customer service desk, gate, club lounge.

  3. Keep checking for price drops. Hopper.com will advise on the best time to book based on historical pricing, but non-basic economy tickets usually don’t have change fees anymore, so keep checking for the price to drop and then cancel/rebook for an airline credit for the difference. HotelSlash.com will track hotel price changes automatically.

  4. Book your hotels direct unless there’s big savings through an online travel agency, which there rarely is. When you book through a third party some hotels give you a worse room. You also give up hotel points and credit towards elite status.

  5. Avoid online agencies entirely. They’re ok for comparison shopping but they are a pain whenever anything goes wrong, with terrible customer service and interminable wait times for help from agents who don’t know what they’re doing.

  6. Autoslash.com for cars. Rental cars are more expensive than ever, sometimes now the most expensive part of the trip. Consider car-sharing services like Turo, though pickup is sometimes clunky. For traditional rentals, AutoSlash applies all known discounts and coupons, and tracks price changes to help you rebook when prices fall.

  7. AwardWallet will track itinerary changes for you not just miles. You want to be ahead of the game on schedule changes, because you may want to adjust your plans – or use them as an opportunity for a refund.

  8. Don’t like your seat? ExpertFlyer.com has a free option to track seat chart changes. It will notify you if/when a better seat opens up.

  9. Elite status matters most during irregular operations. Focus on a single airline if you can because they’ll treat you better. You get priority phone help and higher priority getting on alternate flights.

  10. Don’t spend on an airline credit card, but you might want the card of the airline you fly most because benefits are in some cases like the lowest level of status – such as free checked bags, priority boarding (which also gets you a free carry on when flying United basic economy)

  11. When things go wrong during your travels, don’t rely on the airline to solve your problem.
    • Know what flights have available to get you where you are going and ask for them. A simple way to do this is just searching for a new ticket you can buy.
    • Get ahead of the game by learning where your aircraft is coming from and seeing if it is on time (though what plane your flight uses can change). Some apps will show this, but just google your flight # and look where it’s coming from at flightaware.com.
    • Don’t wait for their low-end hotel, get your own if you booked with a credit card that offers trip delay coverage and your circumstances qualify. Also be aware of baggage delay your card may offer (plus extended warranty, purchase protection et al).

I’ve purposely stayed away from specific challenges of Covid like testing and managing international travel. Those rules change quickly. The most important thing, then, I suppose is to adapt and give yourself flexibility. Plans are going to change, you should avoid anything non-refundable (lodging) and avoid anything where you can’t at least retain a credit. Pick travel providers you’re confident will still be there later when it comes time to use that credit.

And recognize that rules can change even while you’re on a trip, and that you need to know entry conditions even for cities you may connect in (because irregular operations could mean you get stuck there). Good luck out there!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I think you forgot the one that might be the most important of all: get a lounge membership (directly or via credit card) for the airline you fly most often. Sure, the lounge itself is nice enough, but lounge access really pays off during irregular operations. I can’t count how many times the Admirals Club “angels” have saved my bacon, for example. So I consider the annual fee to be “travel insurance” — sort of.

  2. It might be helpful to include at least one “best” international call center for each airline/alliance.

  3. Best advice I’ve can recommend about rewards travel is compare cash prices to points redemptions. Compare first, business and economy class points redemptions to cash at same levels.

    I’ve seen way too many people redeem first class on a 2 hour flight for an unfavorable rate when coach is around 200 bucks

  4. All great tips. Knew most of them from past reading, but learned just now about the Expertflyer feature for tracking seating charts. Nice!

  5. Very useful post, Gary. Most of it I already knew, but it was especially good to be reminded about the international call centers.

  6. Work with a qualified travel professional.

    My AA Platinum client missed their Business class award reservation connection to CDG on Wednesday 09/01due to Hurricane Ida weather delay from DCA-JFK.

    I had American Airlines revalidate a ticket 4 times, JFK-LHR-CDG twice on BA
    (BA denied boarding but that is a whole different story)

    3rd revalidation was on last AA flight JFK-LHR which got cancelled AT 1:00 AM Thursday morning.

    AA did not schedule JFK-CDG for Sept 04.

    They hunkered down in NYC waiting for flooded roads to settle and we got them on AA JFK-CDG on Friday Sept 03 (Business class, AAdvantage web special tickets)

    Yes, they lost 2 days in France, but they are happily settled in the Lancaster now and happy to be enjoying their long awaited vacation.

    Kudos to American Airlines Platinum desk who exceeded my expectations not one, but four times.

    I was up until mid night Wednesday getting this done, very stressful but clients were very appreciative.

  7. More articles like this, please. I’m a million miler on United, but still learned a few new tricks from you and your readers.

  8. I recently had a problem with Viator. It occurred to me, I should use them for information and book directly with the vendor.

    Thank you for reiterating that!

  9. Great advice, I agree on a few suggestions, but a few of the tips are really new for me, despite the fact that I’ve been traveling for years.

    I’ll just copy your text to my wordpad and memories them, just in case I need them in the future.

    Great blog, bookmarked, and hope to browse around soon 🙂

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