I travel frequently for academic conferences, speaking engagements, lectures, and the sort. While I don’t profess to be an expert in the airline mileage realm, I have adopted a number of practices that tend to make my life easier when on the road and in the air. In that spirit, I offer the following “tips” for an academic frequent traveler (I define a frequent flyer as someone who travels >25K miles a year, or at least in that vicinity):
1. Buy noise canceling headphones to muffle the screaming kids and loud annoying people who frequent airports.
2. Buy an airport club pass or get a credit card that comes with one. This is primarily so you can drink before/between flights to further muffle the annoyances.
3. Get an airline-specific credit card that gives you miles. I recommend the premium card with the annual fee, which you will “make back” in other perks (see above re. club access), a higher rate of miles earned per dollar spent, and their typically-generous insurance policies, which cover things like hotel rooms and rental cars if you experience a travel delay.
4. Aim for frequent flier status on a single airline. The first class upgrades are nice, but rare unless you make it to one of the higher levels of their status system. The real reason to get elite status is the airline’s customer service will go out of its way to reroute you if your flight is canceled or weather delayed, which is a frequent occurrence.
5. Get Global Entry. It comes with TSA Pre Check access, which means you get to go through a line that is slightly less molest-y and slightly faster than the normal TSA line. But the real benefit here is at U.S. customs if you travel abroad. It can and will reduce an hour long wait in the airport customs line to 5 minutes via a passport swipe kiosk.
6. Sign up for rental car “fast lane” loyalty programs, even if you don’t use a company very often. It takes about 5 minutes online, but it will save you half an hour or more of waiting in line, filling out paperwork, and declining insurance and gasoline options that you don’t want at the rental car counter.
7. Learn to pack lightly. A backpack that can fit under your seat even when the overhead bins are full is ideal for short trips of <3 days. If you can’t fit everything in that you’re probably taking too much crap (exception duly noted when the event you are attending requires Burkean formal attire).
8. Use hotel laundry services to reduce your luggage. The price premium they charge is offset by the baggage fee of an extra suitcase and the annoyances of carrying an extra bag around.
9. Use rideshare services like Uber and Lyft when they are available to get to & from the airport. They’re cheaper and more responsive as a rule, but I also really enjoy sticking it to the government-supported taxi cartels.
10. Dress comfortably. You’re about to spend several hours migrating through an assortment of crowded spaces full of smelly people, frequent food and other spills, dirty furniture and seats, filthy restrooms, and TSA patdowns. Contrary to myth, business attire won’t get you an upgrade (those are given out by airline status) and it makes you look pretentious in a place where comfort is – and should be – the norm.