Road Warriors of today often turn to the Internet as their sole source of information for buying travel, but as any savvy travel agent will tell you, there are many ways to buy the same thing when it comes to buying a trip. While many frequent travelers pick up some tricks of the trade while on the road, buyers should remember that with most major purchases, we turn to professionals for their product knowledge and expertise, such as real estate agents. Knowing their suppliers and changes in the market, travel agents can still offer more than just savings, but also ways to optimize mileage accrual (bonus miles), and unexpected amenities like room upgrades and preferred seating. Some travelers hesitate to use an agent because of service fees, unlike baggage fees and various others, when a small fee to an agent can reap big benefits. When was the last time you benefited from paying an airline fee? Whether you are making the purchase on your own, or with an agent, the following insider tips may prove to be helpful to you at some point.
Travel Professional Tips for Frequent Travelers:
1. Does this airline offer a paid upgrade program? – Tired of losing upgrades to platinum tier frequent travelers? Depending on the market being flown, travelers may have options to upgrade from economy to premium economy, business class or first class, while some airlines don’t offer paid upgrades at all. Some airlines (if offered) only allow upgrades as you approach 24 or 48 hours prior to departure via online or kiosk check in, sometimes with a minimum qualifying fare. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, for instance, allows users to buy a paid upgrade from economy to “economy comfort” class (premium economy) on most fares where the class is offered on long haul international flights, immediately after ticketing, regardless of where you purchased your ticket (i.e. – travel agent, online etc.) or how far in advance your flight is scheduled. However, the upgrade can only be processed via the KLM website, which is charged in Euros and the amount is based upon the distance of the flight. For instance from Dallas/Ft. Worth to Amsterdam the approximate one way charge is 120 Euros (approximately $161 U.S. Dollars). Domestically, US Airways allows passengers, regardless of status to buy an upgrade, subject to availability at check in for a small fee based upon flight distance. Ask for details about these programs with other airlines, which are often not widely promoted.
2. Can I save money with split ticketing? – Some airlines such as JetBlue and Southwest do not have reciprocal ticketing agreements with each other, which means that if you want to fly from Austin to Orlando last minute for example, most online travel sites will only price the best roundtrip fares for you, when you might actually save money buying a one way ticket on JetBlue in one direction, then the return on United or Southwest. You cannot buy a single ticket with JetBlue and multiple other airlines. This can mean that unseen savings can go unrecognized. There are many airlines around the world like this. The same is often true with international travel, whereby money might be saved by splitting up your travel into two or more tickets because, for example, the single ticket price from SFO to London roundtrip, then separately, London to Cairo roundtrip may be less expensive than buying one ticket with SFO to Cairo connecting via London roundtrip on one ticket. A promo fare from London to Cairo may offset and reduce your total ticket costs, but you won’t know until you price it out accordingly.
3. Can I get mileage on my primary airline? – With so many mergers and acquisitions, a traveler can consolidate their mileage accrual with one or two primary airlines when using partner/alliance carriers, but the process must be managed carefully. Just because a traveler has their United frequent flyer number listed in their profile, they won’t automatically get United credit when they fly US Airways or Continental. Depending on the reservations system or software being used, special formats need to be used to designate which mileage account you want to receive credit for. If you historically had a US Airways, Continental and United account in your profile, but now want everything to credit United, it won’t unless every time you book United partner airlines, your United account is designated as the account to credit. Forgetting to do this can cost you hours of research and follow up time for retroactive credit.
4. What are all of my possibilities when trying to spend mileage for free travel? – All too often, a frequent traveler gets told that no inventory is available on the flights they want for free award travel. Before you fork over double miles for an “anytime” economy class award, ask if there are any “saver” business class or premium economy awards. Sometimes a “saver” business or even first class award can require less mileage than an “anytime” economy award which is typically twice the amount of mileage required for a normal economy saver award. You could end up with a more comfortable seat, for fewer miles than you anticipated. This is especially true for holiday or peak season international travel.
5. Are there any wholesale or package options for me with this trip? While there are some marginal savings to be had by buying airfare and hotel together on some online travel sites, the savings and benefits are often dwarfed by a different version of the same package purchased through a travel agent’s preferred supplier network. The same air itinerary and hotel, can yield a lower price and provide bonus mileage with your purchase. The biggest savings to be had from purchasing these kinds of packages can be found when faced with the possibility of having to purchase airfare in excess of over $500 per person, or most definitely when buying business or first class travel, as the savings from contracted/private fares can be significant. Even if the savings is not different from the use of your agent versus buying the package online, your agent can often insure that you get those bonus miles previously mentioned.
Remember, there are usually multiple ways to purchase the same thing with travel, and there is no shame in asking someone for a little help. However, if you do manage and book your own travel, it is important to stay on top of program and rule changes affecting air, car and hotel purchases. With a little help, you can become an empowered passenger.