This week, we're sharing tips of a completely different kind. Instead of programming tips, we thought we'd share some ideas about something else we do on a regular basis--travel, specifically air travel. Those of you who also travel regularly probably know many of these things, but for those of you who aren't road warriors, you may find these ideas helpful someday.
With today's economic situation, flights are booked much more fully than in the past. This not only makes for less comfortable flights, but when a cancellation occurs, it can often be days before all of the passengers on the cancelled flight can get where they need to go.
First of all, when you travel by air, it's a good idea to join the airline's frequent flyer program before you book the flight and to make that your number is recorded on your reservation. Even if you don't fly frequently enough to ever get a free flight out of it, being a member of the club gives you just that little bit of extra status over non-members and you never know when that may come in handy!
If you're at the gate/airport when your flight is cancelled, immediately pick up your cell phone and call your airline's 800 number to rebook. Don't waste time commiserating with your fellow passengers or complaining about the situation to the airline staff. There are likely to be at most a handful of available seats on the next available flight and you want to get one. You may want to line up with the dozens of others from the flight just in case you have trouble getting through, but chances are you'll have your new flight booked via telephone long before your fellow passengers who waited patiently (or otherwise) in line at the gate.
We mentioned not complaining to the gate agents. Always be especially nice to the agents; they usually have quite a bit of discretion on changing your seat allocation and even upgrading to first class. As the public face of the airline, they take a lot of flack from the traveling public when things go wrong. If a fellow passenger is giving the agent a hard time, you can earn yourself some brownie points by reminding them that the current problem is not the gate agent's fault and perhaps they should give them a break and let them do their job. It's not uncommon in these circumstances for the agent to express his/her gratitude by giving you a better seat assignment, or even giving you a "non-existent" seat. Let's face it--they didn't create the bad weather, cause the plane to break down, "lose" the crew, etc., so do yourself a favor and be nice to them.
If your flight is cancelled due to weather or some other factor beyond the airline's control, don't look for anything in the way of compensation, including hotel nights or meals. If it was cancelled due to equipment failure or unavailable crew, for example, and you are delayed for a significant period of time, they should be offering you meal vouchers and a hotel voucher if the delay extends into the next day.
Unfortunately, our experience is that getting your hands on the voucher may well prove more time-consuming than it's worth. Sometimes you're just better off biting the bullet and booking your own hotel, especially if the delay is weather-related because the local hotels will fill up quickly. Before we got smart, we would sometimes wait for an hour or more to get a voucher for a hotel a 30-minute drive from the airport, only to find that our new flight would leave at 6:30 a.m. and it was now midnight!
Remember too that you will probably not be able to get your hands on your checked luggage if you have to go to a hotel. So always, always have in your carry-on luggage whatever you need to last at least 24-36 hours. Toiletries and a change of clothes will go a long way and having any medicines with you is a really good idea.
One last thing before we close. Flights are very often oversold these days (i.e., the airline has sold more tickets for the flight than there are seats) and when this happens they need to "persuade" some people to switch to another flight. The gate agent will announce: "We're looking for X passengers with flexible travel plans. ..." The usual initial offer is for a $200 travel voucher. Unless you really want the money don't accept the first offer. Wait until it gets to $300 or more. We recently were on a flight where the offer crept up to $500, plus meal vouchers, plus a guaranteed seat on the next flight. Sometimes they will even up the ante and offer a first-class seat on the next flight. Recently a young lady on one of our flights got $600 and a meal voucher. The original flight had only cost her $400. One approach that sometimes works is to go to the desk when they make the original offer and tell them what your "price" is. In other words tell them that if the voucher is for $400 (or whatever) you're prepared to take the offer but not at $200. It avoids getting trampled in the rush when the offer does get up to a reasonable level!
We'll offer further tips on rental cars, hotels, etc., in future blogs. In the meantime if you have a travel tip to share please use the Comments section below to let us know.