I travel so often these days that delays, cancellations, and other nuisances don’t really bother me anymore. Thanks to technology and the system that I use I have gotten to the point where I can book all of my own travel without the need for a virtual assistant. I would like to take this opportunity to share some of the techniques that I picked up along the 83,768 miles that I traveled in 2009.
My favorite site for booking airfare is Kayak. They have an excellent search menu that I prefer over Orbitz, Priceline and even the airlines’ own websites. Kayak simplifies the search to include all carriers and filters the times so you get exactly what you are looking for when you are looking for it. When I find a flight that I want to book I can click the link that takes me to the airline carrier’s page with the flight information ready to confirm and pay. Make sure that you enroll in a program that allows you to accumulate miles for free flights even if you only fly a couple times a year. They build up over time. The iPhone Kayak app is incredible. I use it when looking for quick quotes while I’m on the phone.
Once I have booked the flight I can choose my preferred seat. I use SeatGuru to find which seats have the best rating, and are most comfortable. This allows me to relax and avoid uncomfortable seats.
After booking a flight, I check my email for the itinerary and immediately forward the notification to TripIt, a social networking site for travel. This will store my flight information which can be edited and shared with others from my mobile phone. Once you have created your free online Tripit profile you can forward all hotel, air, and rental car reservations to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be stored in your profile. The Tripit iPhone app allows me to quickly access all my itineraries on the fly.
On my iPhone I downloaded Flight Track Pro (costs $10) which syncs with the Tripit account. Now all my Tripit flight itineraries automatically appear in the app. The Flight Track Pro app updates the times, gate info, airport maps, altitude, and distance while you are in the air. This app is particularly useful when picking up and dropping off people at the airport (I just wish my Mom had the iPhone).
My favorite hotel chain is Starwood Preferred Guests which includes the Sheraton, Westin, W, and Aloft hotels. I always check the SPG site first for a good rate because they offer the best redemption program that I have found. Check out this table to compare your hotel chain to others. Whenever you visit a new hotel be sure to enroll in their rewards program. It takes minutes and they give free amenities just for signing up.
Next, I look up Orbitz to find great deals. I like Orbitz because they sort by distance and have a good mapping feature. Some deals are exclusive to Orbitz. Orbitz works directly with Hotwire so I will use Hotwire if the exact location is not important. Hotwire gives you the opportunity to select an undisclosed hotel in a specific region. You can use the rating system within the specific area range. The only downside to Hotwire is they wont accept your miles and the charge is non-refundable.
Booking rental cars
I use Kayak first to check rental cars and Hotwire second to find a better deal. At times I have taken cabs to non-airport locations to save some cash but this is often more trouble than it is worth. Double check when the airport locations close. I have flown in late because of a flight delay and mid-air airport change and the rental car company was closed. Not a very fun experience when you book on Hotwire and the fare is non-refundable.
Most airport locations have Internet these days. Some give you free Internet for a specific period of time, while others will charge a fee for the day. It all depends on where you go. The American Airlines Admirals club has free Internet for members which helps out during long connections and delays. It also provides a great quiet location if you need to make important phone calls during a layover. I once hosted a webinar from the Admirals Club and they were very accommodating.
International travel is a whole other ballgame. Always double check http://travel.state.gov for visa information, travel alerts, and safety information.