5 Tricks to Better Travel During The Summer

Traveling by plane is bad enough sometimes – delayed flights, unavoidable mechanical issues, and there’s always those times when you just miss your flight. But as you travel during the summer, it always helps to a few helpful tips to get through your travels relatively unscathed:

Be flexible (obviously)

If you’re flying from one place to another, there’s a good chance you’ll have to connect somewhere. While this can be a pain at times, it gives you options if you know your airline’s network.

For instance, I was stuck in Charlotte a couple weeks back because of weather; the airplane my flight was supposed to be on got stuck in Tampa because of weather (more in a minute) meaning I spent another two hours in lovely North Carolina. That said, I know US Airways (or American, rather) has hubs elsewhere – including Philadelphia and Phoenix – that offer connections to my ultimate destination, San Diego.

Unfortunately, taking an earlier flight through Phoenix and connecting on to San Diego wasn’t an option because I’d literally have just seven minutes to get from plane to plane. Not going to happen – and that was the last flight of the night.

I could’ve ask nicely for them to rebook me through Philadelphia, which has another flight directly to San Diego, or soon through Dallas. Or even Charlotte to LAX to San Diego (but again, I’d miss the last flight by about half an hour – a non-option).

United works similarly – they’ve got hubs in Newark, Houston, Chicago, and San Francisco, with flights between each of the hubs and nearby destinations as well.

My point: if you know where your airline flies and you’re stuck in an airport, it never hurts to ask. Customer service agents don’t always consider putting you on slightly-odd routes (and they may not book you on them even if they’re open), but it never hurts to be a little wiser before you walk up to the counter.

Make backup plans

Mechanical issues happen, as do cancelled flights. If you need to be at a wedding on a certain day, fly the day before, or even the day before that. Things happen from time to time, and as I’m experiencing first-hand, there is sometimes simply nothing that can be done.

BIG ONE: Travel earlier in the day

Two hours delayed and world's my oyster / Dave McCulloch

Two hours delayed and world’s my oyster / Dave McCulloch

When you travel earlier in the day, you simply have more options. There are more flights from A to B to C, or just A to B. But the other part has to do with weather; generally, severe weather happens later in the day than earlier – which can also help reduce turbulence once inside the aircraft if that bothers you. My flight today – and the subsequent delays – are a result of weather, something that would’ve been less of an issue if I traveled earlier in the day. I couldn’t avoid it, and so I paid the price: delays.

Be patient, be kind

As I was meandering around the airport, I passed a gentleman in the terminal who was upset because he had to walk to a different terminal for some reason or another; he was obviously displeased as he said loudly “I’m never flying this f***ing airline again!” as he walked away.

I get it – we all get frustrated. But taking it out on customer service agents and gate agents isn’t going to do you any favors. Rumor has it that being generous to agents (I wouldn’t calling it bribing) with fancy chocolates can sometimes help your situation – and sometimes not, but certainly getting terse with someone who stands between you and your next flight isn’t going to help your situation.

Find a bar – maybe inside an airline club.

An overpriced underhyped margarita at Charlotte-Douglas Airport's Tequileria / Dave McCulloch

An overpriced underhyped margarita at Charlotte-Douglas Airport’s Tequileria / Dave McCulloch

When all else fails, go have a margarita. It’ll probably improve your mood.

If you have access to an airline club, sometimes they offer adult beverages at a very nominal cost – or sometimes not at all (but bring tip money because karma).

Airline clubs generally range from $30/day to $50/day, but I know the American Airlines Admirals Club offers a 30-day pass for $99. Considering an airport margarita’s easily $10 in a bar, it only takes a few flights in 30 days to make up for it.

But in any case, my $10 margarita at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport’s Tequileria was worth it – and certainly helped with my mood.

Do you have favorite travel tips for the summer? Share them below.

New US Customs app eliminates a form, speeds up air border entry

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This form can be a thing of the past in a few U.S. airports.

If you’ve ever traveled abroad and had to fill out one of those paper slips with information about your trip just to go through Customs, you know it can be aggravating to find a pen, hold on to another piece of paper, and write legibly – all while juggling landing, luggage, and maybe even children.

A new mobile app for iPhone released does away with the paper slips – and allows you to answer the “are you traveling with $10,000 in cash”-type questions on your phone ahead of time, and presenting it to the officer when you’re going through Customs, potentially reducing the time it takes to get through the process, and just making it easier overall.

Per CBP,

“MPC currently offers U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors a more efficient and secure in-person inspection between the CBP officer and the traveler upon arrival in the United States. Much like Automated Passport Control, the app does not require pre-approval, is free-to-use and does not collect any new information on travelers. As a result, travelers will experience shorter wait times, less congestion and faster processing.”

From the looks of it, the process seems pretty easy – and you even get (have?) to take a selfie in the process. CBP provided some screen shots of the app:

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Of course, if you have Global Entry ($100 and totally worth it), none of this is even needed — because Global Entry allows you to zoom through Customs by using a kiosk and answering the questions right then and there. Because you’re already pre-screened and given a background check, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t have to actually talk to a human being — something it looks like you still have to do with Mobile Pass. Don’t forget that Global Entry makes you eligible for TSA PreCheck when flying domestically too.

I didn’t notice the app until recently, and apparently the CBP press release was written about it back in August. Unfortunately, it’s only available in certain airports – Atlanta (ATL), Miami (MIA), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), and Seattle (SEA – SeaTac) – but it sure beats having to fill out that darned paper while landing or waiting in line.

And perhaps if you’re like me and have horrible handwriting, it’s definitely worth its weight in megabytes.

Have you used Customs and Border Protection’s free app yet?

United sues 22-year-old over low fare “hidden city ticketing” secret; secret is exposed

Ever heard of “hidden city” ticketing? Until yesterday, most people hadn’t either – until United Airlines and Orbitz decided to sue the 22-year-old New York City entrepreneur who developed an ingenious site called Skiplagged.com to allow people to easily search for this secret way to save a ton of money on airline tickets.

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It appears his site is no longer producing working results, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.

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Love TSA PreCheck? Hate the line? Make sure you know this one trick.

It’s almost New Years, meaning the chaos of travel is either about to start back up (for business travelers) or about to end (for holiday vacationers). But for everyone traveling during any busy season, there’s always one thing that bites – going through security.

If you have TSA PreCheck, you know it’s the best thing to happen to airport security ever. But, because of PreCheck’s popularity, sometimes the dedicated line can be HUGE! Sometimes the PreCheck lines can even be longer than the normal lines!

Fortunately, if you have any status with the airline you’re flying, you’ll also see a line for First Class passengers (to which having airline status will usually grant you access), even if you’re not flying in First Class.

But – which line should you go through? First class will most likely be shorter, but PreCheck will obviously be easier because PreCheck.

The right answer: Go through the First Class security line (again, even if you aren’t flying in First Class).

If you have TSA PreCheck, you can usually just go through the First Class or status lines, and the kind TSA human will shuffle you over to the PreCheck line.

I’ve done this countless times now at half a dozen airports over the years since PreCheck was implemented, and it’s worked without fail. If you have PreCheck and you have status, always go through the First Class or status security line.

Update: This PreCheck trick didn’t work for one user (see comments) at Newark. But in my experience, I’ve never had an issue at a multitude of airports. Happy hunting!

Another update: I got word that it doesn’t work at Orlando on the gates 70-129 side as recently as last week. I have used this trick there before, but this was some time ago and not on the part of the airport.

6 great ways to fly for cheap during the holidays

Now that Christmas is quickly approaching, there’s a lot of travel going on – and in many cases, if you haven’t yet booked your holiday travel, it’s going to get really (more) expensive, really fast.

Fortunately, there are solid ways to find pretty inexpensive travel through the New Year – though that’s not to say it’s always straightforward. A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that Sundays are now the best day of the week to buy tickets, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be significantly cheaper, especially if you’re buying within 7 or 14 days of travel.

Here we go with six ways to save big.

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