Being a frequent flyer can sometimes come with a hefty price tag after you factor in all the additional expenses that go along with booking air travel. There are the additional fees for checked-in baggage, upgrade fees for seating with extra legroom, and don't forget the money that will be spent on ground transportation during the course of a trip. Over the past year I've done my fair share of flying back and forth between New York and Los Angeles. In the process, I have figured out how to make the treks as seamless and cost-effective as possible through trial and error. Whether you have an upcoming business trip or are planning a vacation, here are some tips that hopefully can help you out in the future.
Register for frequent flyer programs. This one is kind of a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many people don't take advantage of loyalty programs. Register with every airline you travel with, even if you selected a carrier solely because of a cheaper airfare. Chances are if you booked with them once, you'll probably fly with them again (unless it's Spirit Airlines). Remember that bonus miles can add up quickly -- especially if you have a credit card that has a partnership with your preferred airline. You'll be on your way to booking flights with reward points before you know it.
Travel with the right luggage. It's always great to have wardrobe options when you're out of town. However, do you really need to bring 13 outfits if you're only going on a three-day trip? Pack accordingly and you might save yourself the expense that comes with checking in baggage. For those who prefer to travel with carry-on luggage, be careful with the ones that have swivel wheels that protrude out from the bottom. I've seen a few grumpy TSA agents make passengers check in their bags because those wheels prevented them from fitting into the bag sizer at the gate.
Research ground transportation options. When heading to the airport, try to figure out the best way to get there without spending a lot of cash. Long-term parking is usually the most expensive. Taxis and private car service companies can be pricey as well. Uber and Lyft will give you door-to-door service to the airport just as quickly, and at a lower cost. Shuttle buses are also a money saver provided that you have time to spare and don't mind the multiple stops at different terminals. And of course, you could always go the freebie route and bum a ride off a friend or relative. Whatever option you utilize, just make sure it will also be readily available upon your return.
To expand a little bit more on Uber and Lyft, some cities restrict these car services from doing direct airport pick-ups. I learned this from an Uber driver a few months back, and he provided the following work-around: "Take one of those courtesy hotel shuttle vans and then request a car once you get to the hotel." Slightly underhanded, yes, but in this day and age, sometimes we have to go with whatever works.
Minimize the car rental drama. Depending on how good or bad the experience, renting a car can set the entire tone for your trip. Beware of chatty and cheerful car rental agents who will distract you with talk of the unseasonably mild weather while they pad your online reservation with extras such as roadside assistance and a navigator system. It's also a good idea to take a few photos of the rental car before you drive off the lot -- in case there are preexisting dents or scratches you didn't see upon first inspection. Lastly, if you are renting from a company that is off-site from the airport, don't be afraid to take a neighboring company's shuttle van if it shows up at the terminal first and presents a faster opportunity to get you to your rental.
Know when to tip. When using courtesy shuttle vans, it's a nice gesture to tip the driver a couple of bucks if you can spare them. I especially recommend it if you are hitching a ride just to get to an Uber or nearby car rental company since technically you are not supposed to be one of the passengers.
Happy and safe travels!