From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

Observations of a frequent flyer

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Note:  Edited on 8.30.2012, while sitting in the Delta Sky Club Lounge in Salt Lake City.

Note:  Edited yet again 1.20.2017.  See the end for edits.

See a pattern emerging yet? My core blog is about finance and economics with a focus on real estate. However, I like to ramble about other things on occasion, so these “pages” are more-or-less a blog within a blog. Get it?

Today’s ramble is about travel. I do it a LOT. I just came back from one of my five-day jaunts around the country (Baltimore, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Biloxi, and Panama Beach) and thought I’d jot down some of my random-esque observations about travel — particularly business travel.

1. It might surprise (shock?) the occasional traveler back in steerage that many, if not most, of the passengers up in the comp’d drink section did NOT pay full-fare. Indeed, many of the First/C passengers paid LESS than some of the steerage passengers. How, one asks? If you’re a VERY frequent flyer on legacy airlines (my fav is Delta), you learn quickly that booking a ticket a couple of weeks in advance, and on a Tues, Wed, or Thurs, gets you the best deal. THEN, if you’re up in the top-tier of the mileage club, you get all sorts of freebee upgrades. Twenty-three percent of airline revenues come from the handful of passengers in their top-tier mileage plans. The airlines do backflips to keep these folks happy — private phone numbers to call for service (with REAL LIVE people and VERY LITTLE wait-time), comp’d memberships in the airport clubs, companion upgrades, and your bags get “tagged” for expedited handling. Lesson learned? Fly the same airline as often as possible, even if it’s one leg of a multi-leg flight. Join their frequent flyer club, and be sure to accumulate the miles as often as you can.

2. Ditto with hotels, although they’re rarely as good at it. Marriott has an excellent reward program, but most importantly, they’re GREAT at making sure I get the sort of room I want, with the amenities I ask for, even at their lower-grade properties (e.g. — Courtyard). When I check into their top-tier properties (e.g. — Ritz Carleton, J.W. Marriott), they really want me to think I’m back home. Ditto also with rental cars — I’ve standardized on Hertz. Here’s a little surprise about rental car companies — while most cater to business travelers, not all do. Alamo, for example, really sucks for business travelers, while Hertz generally does the best job. By the way, when flying into a busy airport, NOTHING beats being a member of a rental car club (in my case, Hertz Gold Member) so that your car is already waiting for you, you DON’T have to stand in line at most places, and your credit card, insurance, and preferences are already on file.

3. Now, a tip about rental car companies — if your flight gets delayed, they usually pick that up (or at least Hertz does). HOWEVER, if you change flights, or your flight gets cancelled and/or you get bumped, you need to give them a call. They’ll generally only hold your car for two hours either side of your expected arrival.

4. Some of the IPHONE apps are better than others. Delta’s app is nearly perfect. On the other hand, Hertz’s is nearly worthless. I also use Flighttrack Pro. Finally, there’s a great website called flight aware (www.flightaware.com) that doesn’t have an app but DOES have a phone-friendly site. It’s GREAT for tracking flights and letting you know exactly where a flight is, if you’re waiting for someone at the airport. It will accept both flight numbers (airline/flight number) and tail numbers for planes flying on an IFR flight plan (or VFR, if using flight following and a discrete squawk code).  8.30.12 correction:  Flightaware now DOES have an app, at least for the IPhone.  It’s excellent.  Get it if you travel a LOT.

5. If you can help it, NEVER check a bag, even if you’re going on a long trip and it means that you’ll have to pay the exorbitant laundry fees charged by the hotel. If you MUST check bags, then use the outside bag check, if you can, and make friends with the guys at your favorite airline at your home airport. How do you make friends with them? Tip them VERY well. I hand them $10/bag even BEFORE I hand them the bag. Quick story — last time I checked bags, I FORGOT my carry-on at home, with all my “must have” stuff. The curb-check guy for Delta said, “no sweat, get someone from your home to run the bag by here, and ask for me — I’ll take care of it!” When we got to our destination, my forgotten bag came popping out of the baggage claim chute. If only the rest of airline service worked as well as those guy!

And finally, some random one-liners —

— Bose noise cancelling headphones. Plus, carry an extra AAA battery in the case.

— Memphis airport has surprisingly good barbecue

— Delta does NOT have a Sky Club at Dulles or BWI. Weird, eh?

— As big as Atlanta is, their baggage claim is w-a-a-a-a-y more efficient than anyone elses.

— If you fly in/out of BWI and rent a car, opt for the fuel option (that is, pay them for a tank of fuel). There’s NO convenient gas station to BWI, and the rental car facility is a LONG bus ride from the airport.  8.30.12 correction.  OK, there IS a semi-handy gas station to the BWI car rental facility.  If you’re approaching the rental facility from the airport, you’ll be driving south on New Ridge Road.  Keep driving south for about 2 miles.  You’ll come to the intersection (it’s an overpass) for MD Highway 100.  Continue under the overpass.  There will be a major gas station on the right.  TURN RIGHT AT THE LIGHT before the gas station and go in the back entrance (it’s w-a-a-a-aa–y easier).  After you refuel, then exit the back and turn left at that light back onto New Ridge Road, headed north to the rental car facility.

— In fact, I’ve now switched to the fuel option for every airport, after finding that the ONLY convenient gas station to DFW’s rental facility was closed for renovation.

— Acme Oyster House at the New Orleans Airport is fairly good — not as good as their actual locations in town (two — Metairie and French Quarter) but still better than most other airport diners.  8.30.12 update — this restaurant at the NOLA airport is no longer part of Acme Oyster House.  NOLA Mayor Mitch Landreau is pushing for a major overhaul of airport eateries.  I’ll keep you posted.  Oh, and by the way, Acme has FIVE locations, not two:  French Quarter, Metarie, Northshore, Baton Rouge, and Sandestin, FL.

— The smaller the airport, the better the bar. Best Bloody Mary in the world is in the Spokane Airport. Best beer is in San Jose.

— When traveling on business, eat about half of what you’d normally eat at home. Marriott has an absolutely wonderful buffet, which I’m sure will eventually kill me.

That’s all for now. I have no doubt I’ll add more to this later.

2017 Edits

Wow… 5 years since the last edit!  A few random notes:

1.  FlightAware now has a great app both for the phone and Ipad.  Check them out.

2.  Flighttrack continues to be the indispensable app for frequent flyers.

3.  Delta’s Iphone app is great.  Their Ipad app is terrible.  Go figure.

4.  Haven’t flown thru Memphis in 5 years.  Wonder how the BBQ is?

5.  Still don’t check a bag if you can help it.  However, American and United now have “Basic Economy” with NO carry-on.  Beware, those of you who have to fly in steerage.

6.  Best airport restaurant is One Flew South in the E Concourse, ATL.  Super service.  Asian fusion food.  Great drinks.

Written by johnkilpatrick

February 5, 2011 at 9:20 am

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