My So-Called Travel Life

I’ve had a few recent comments on here on the blog suggesting that I’m out of touch from my readers, that all I do is flying international premium cabins. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of my travels are really quite mundane, average experiences – not average for the leisure traveler flying once a year with family perhaps, but average for the frequent flyer

I turn up for my domestic flight about an hour before departure. I pass through security like everyone else, though I certainly have my routines. Maybe there’s an elite line, maybe not, but lines are rarely bad when.I fly.

If I’m not wearing a jacket I don’t even use a bin. I use a checkpoint flyer laptop bag, so I unclip it so it lays flat. Laptop doesn’t come out of the case. Keys and blackberry go in the laptop bag, I never set off alarms. Black rollaboard goes on the belt, I leave my 3-1-1 Freedom Baggie in it. And I always wear slip-on shoes for travel.

Up to the club lounge, grab something cold to drink and maybe some small snacks — if it’s like this morning as I write, it’s the AAdmiral’s Club at DCA, there’s just 2 stale-looking mini donuts and a couple pieces of fruit. I pass.

I avail myself of the facilities, odds on they’re cleaner than in the terminal or plane. And then assuming I’m upgraded I head to the gate about 20 minutes out (give or take based on distance of lounge to gate). If I’m in coach I head over 35 minutes out, have to board first to safely secure overhead space.

I rarely check a bag, I need to be gone about a week before I do. Earlier in the year I did six days on a 20 inch carryon (yes 20-inch, not 22). Granted the trip was to a beach destination. Four nights in Paris in Winter in the same 20-inch.

Two week Asia trip? I will check one bag.

Packing only takes me about 10 minutes. I have a shelf for the electronics I pack – headset, power strip, kensington power adapter, cell phone and laptop cords, noise cancelling headset. Right beside it are my freedom baggies, a stack of plastic bags for dirty laundry, and travel-sized items like deoderant and tooth paste, and my travel razor. Then toss in the likely number of slacks, jeans, shirts, a second pair of shoes to go with the one I’m wearing, and the relevant undershirts, socks, and I’m good to go.

The 20 inch carryon has a suiter section, it’s not great actually because of its compact size but I don’t really want to lug a bigger bag. This one will fit easily wheels first into an MD80 or 737 overhead. But it protects the suit well enough that a quick steam in the hotel bathroom will straighten it out.

Sitting onboard watching the people stroll past with their pillows and ‘European Hostel’ backpacks that would never fit in the overhead (let alone the sizer), I know we’ll be pushing back late as we wait for the last folks boarding the plane to gate check their life’s belongings.

I’m connecting but that’s alright. I never book 30 or 40 minute connections even when they’re legal, and I try my darnedest to avoid last flight of the night.

On the one hand I believe that if you’ve never missed a flight you’re wasting too much time in airports. And I know if I misconnect I’m at least top of the standby list for the next flight. But I plan methodically so that I can move stress-free through Airworld. No escorts for me or super-personalized service when I’m not on a first class award redemption with a better international carrier. I spend my share on tickets but will never be the sort of high spender that’s invited to American Concierge Key or United Global Services.

Lunch isn’t caviar. It’s this…

… or this:

Today I am surprised by how nice the American club on the A Concourse in Dallas is, I’m not an AA regular so don’t pass through here all that often. Most of my American flying, rare as it is, is just down to Miami. The club is nicely renovated and a bartender came around taking (and delivering!) drink orders.

My first flight today had no pre-departure beverage, instead the flight attendant took pre-departure orders for post-takeoff service.. which took a full 45 minutes to deliver. The second flight offered a tray of pre-poured water, juice, and soda. And the snack was enchiladas… with hummus. Really?

Touch down on time, over to the car rental lot, I could be in any city.

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, 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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  1. I’ve earned almost a million frequent flyer miles in my life and have never set foot in a lounge or flown business/first. I clearly need to up my game.

  2. we could be twins in our travel planning and routines.. Have you experienced the TSA agents that just cannot believe that you are not using a gray bin? I love those lol

  3. so this is the ordinary life?? as SADE says
    yes as a Ftalker I do have a very ordinary life but I like to mix it with the A380in F
    as one does.

  4. Yes, most of us don’t travel high class all of the time. I rarely fly first despite some status and I don’t “mileage run.” I don’t have the time, money, or patience for it. Overall, flying is not as fun as an adult as it used to be.

    But I say if you can go high class, do it, I don’t blame you. It’s an inspiration, even if unrealistically obtainable for most.

  5. Thanks for the insight into the mundane travel for work life. I lived it for a few years about 10 years ago and have been glad ever since that I found another job. I was buying full fare tickets most of the time and used miles to upgrade every single flight. But being gone for 2+ weeks a month took its toll on me, even though I was single and not dating at the time. It was no fun leaving for a job on Sunday night, getting home late Friday night just to spend Saturday doing laundry and yardwork and then do it all again the next week.

    Even though someone who blogs like you MUST travel a lot of mundane trips in order to rack up miles it’s very nice to actually hear it. Usually the posts are surrounding how to maximize your miles use and not how you earned the miles.

    Thanks again for the post!

  6. nice blog entry! this is the REALITY of flying for most of us. this is actually why i laugh at some people who stick with certain airlines because the miles are more valuable than another. personally i do this kind of trip over 100 times per year, so frankly i’d rather these trips are as comfortable as possible, rather than focusing on the one trip a year you might get to do an cathay’s first class! so when you hear all the aa is better than delta comments, think about it 🙂

  7. Great entry. I just transferred jobs and am no longer doing the DEN-YYZ shuttle (yes.. for me it was a shuttle). This is exactly what my weekly, and sometimes daily, commute was like. I don’t miss it in the least. I love reading your blog for the great trip reports because it gives me ideas on using my miles to explore new and exciting parts of the world. Domestic/Canadian flying… not so much.

  8. Gary, nevermind the naysayers. You and Rick Ingersoll complement each other very well in covering all the programs and opportunities available. Your blogs are the first I check each day on my RSS reader (even before news/sports/weather). I may rarely fly F/C or stay on the Executive Floor, but from just a year of reading yours and Rick’s blogs, our family of four will be able to visit Hawaii (the Chase-BA 100K offer) in 2011 and Alaska in 2012 (concentrating miles from various sources into Alaska Mileage Plan). For that, you have our deepest thanks.

  9. Actually I would like to second Jon’s above. Yours and Rick’s blog are also my first daily reads ahead of the news! Been very helpful

  10. Frugal Travel Guy, View from the wing, One Mile at a time

    the first 3 sites I check daily

    thanks for the hard work you put into this blog

  11. Gary: I am so proud of you for telling it like it “normally is”. Premium international travel is a perk you have earned and well deserve.

    Frugal Travel Guy

  12. I live in the US but work in global business. I typically make 1 week trips to Europe or Asia at least once per month. I rarely make domestic trips. Overseas flights are always booked in business and domestic flights in coach. Miles are accumulated primarily on Star Alliance (LH – I’m a Senator) and SkyTeam (DL – Diamond Medallion). LH really likes me and occasionally gives me a bump up to F – like last week. I usually take my 20-inch TravelPro or Hartmann carry-on bag and very rarely check luggage. Like George Clooney says, checked luggage slows you down (and if I need to stay more than a week, I have my clothes laundered). Like you, when I make connections I try to leave at least 1-2 hours buffer in case of weather delays, etc. In most cases, I need to fly to a gateway city to catch my international flight. It would not be cool to be sitting in ORD because my first flight segment was late causing me to miss LH. I also try not to book the last flight of the day since that also reduces my chance of being stranded (miss the LH flight to MUC? No prob, there is a FRA flight about an hour later).

    I don’t know what you do in your “real” life, but your blog is relevant to me and has made me aware of a few promos that I may not have heard about it (or at least, I heard it from you first). And I enjoy the seat/lounge pictures, etc. I have no use for Oneworld, so it is always nice to see what the other guys have. And I totally agree with you on the DL Skypesos racket.

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