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12 Travel Hacks for Flying

Written by 6 July 2014 17 Comments

Flying over Austria 600x361 12 Travel Hacks for Flying

I’ve always been a frequent flyer – taking at least four flights a month – but it’s only in the last twelve months that I’ve become a savvy frequent flyer.

What I mean by this, is that for a long time I sort of bumbled my way through booking flights, boarding them, suffering delays and long layovers and getting lost in airports. I was beginning to hate flying. Then I remembered my 11-year old self and how I felt when I first boarded a plane and travelled with my family to Gibraltar. I was instantly intrigued by this unique mode of transport. I think I always have been, I just buried it after one too many delays at an airport gate.

But some time ago I thought enough was enough and I began to approach the art of flying a little differently mainly because I was conscious of all the time and money I was wasting. Now that I need all the time I can get to write books and keep my freelance business I wanted to make flying a more relaxing, less time-consuming and more profitable process. Here’s how I do it from booking my ticket to enjoying the journey!

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1. Think about what’s more important: time, money or enjoyment?

These days booking flights is something of a science. Thanks to low-cost airlines, the increased opening of regional airports and the option to fly a number of different routes if no direct option is available it’s possible you’ll have more options available to you than you realise when booking a long or even short-haul flight.

If you have lots of flexibility – i.e. you don’t mind when you leave, how you get there etc. – then you can really go to town on what kind of route you do and you can even add a destination to your journey (see no. 7 below). However if you are less flexible, my best advice is to consider if the cheapest route is really the “best value” if it means you’re getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning and have a three-hour journey to the airport because not as many trains and buses run then.  Also ridiculously early starts can mean you arrive in a destination feeling rubbish and so you can’t enjoy your travels as much as if you’d left at a more sociable hour.

Because I work for myself, my time is my money, so I don’t mind spending an extra €30 – €40 on a flight if it means I have an easier and quicker journey to and from the airports I’m flying to and from, therefore meaning I am not taken away from my work for longer than necessary. The same goes for choosing an airline that offers check-in baggage as standard and be very aware that more airlines are charging for outsize baggage these days. For example, even if they aren’t the cheapest for the route I want I normally always try to go with Lufthansa when I go snowboarding in Europe (if I can) because they have a free ski/snowboard bag allowance.

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2. Use multiple flight search websites

While I’ve long had my favourite search engine for booking flights I’ve found that actually using a few will give you surprisingly different results in terms of available flights and comeptitive pricing. Google Flights is normally where I start looking and then I also check routes and prices on Skyscanner, Expedia and Momondo. I’m not affiliated to any of these websites, these are just the ones I honestly use!

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3. Don’t always book months in advance

Flights are typically released eleven months in advance. While on some routes it pays to book as early as possible, this is not always the case. Hours and hours of research has been done on it and I won’t bore you with the details here, but it doesn’t always pay to book in advance and this is 100% confirmed by my personal experience. The optimum time to book your flights is apparently 21 days before your day of departure, and I have definitely found that booking a flight within 7 days does run a risk of steep price increases, but at the same time booking 14 – 8 days before a flight has shown the same price as shown 1-2 months previously.

4. Get to know and ENJOY your airports

Although it is not true of all airports, many of the bigger and well established airports have much to offer the traveller. And I’m not just talking about duty free shopping. From free yoga studios to luxurious spas, 4-hour hotels to museums, libraries and cinemas, airports have lots to offer travellers so if you are faced with a long layover do some research to find out exactly what you can do in that specific airport.

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Don’t dismiss the possibility of leaving the airport either. My local departure point is Schiphol where you can get a train direct Amsterdam Central Station in less than fifteen minutes and for less than €5,00. (FYI if you do have a layover at Schiphol this article is really useful showing you what you can do at the airport or on a quick walking tour of Amsterdam.) Of course, not all airports are the same, and some are many miles away from a city, but you won’t know until you do some research.

And if you can’t find out through an internet search, why not email the airport customer services or reach them on social media to see what they suggest you do while you’re waiting.

5.Dress to impress

I’m the first person to encourage elastic waists and unflattering sportswear for a flight, and I’ve been told it’s a bit of a myth that only well dressed people get free upgrades but I do know that I’ve only ever been upgraded (twice) when I’ve been on a work trip, i.e. I was wearing smart clothes and had brushed my hair. While an upgrade may feel like pie in the sky to you – ooh, I wish airlines served pies on board planes – if you’re not in it to win it, it will never happen.

Flying 600x434 12 Travel Hacks for Flying

6. Sign up to frequent flyer programs. NOW.

I shudder when I think about the flights I’ve taken that could have contributed to the frequent flyer programs I’m now a member of. It was after my third long-haul flight to Southeast Asia that I realised I was missing a trick here and I am now a member of most of the key airline alliances. If you’re a frequent flyer or are likely to travel a lot in the near future, I strongly recommend you take a few hours out of your day to do the same. You’d be surprised how quickly you can earn miles and benefits.

7. Think outside your country.

Millions of people don’t live near to a large international airport and therefore a long-haul flight can begin with a long-haul train journey or drive in the car. In the UK, for example, even travelling to London Heathrow can take 3-4 hours for people to get to the airport from surrounding areas (and 1-2 hours for those living in London!!) but it doesn’t have to be this way. Stop thinking of your national airports as hubs but instead look at the links your regional airports provide to international hubs. For example, KLM fly from 14 airports in the UK to Schiphol and from Amsterdam you can reach 200 destinations worldwide (and I’ve already given you clues to what to do while you’re waiting!).

KLM at Schiphol 600x361 12 Travel Hacks for Flying

You can also look at this as a way to extend your journey and add a destination you would otherwise have overlooked. A few years ago Icelandair made it possible to fly to and from the US and Europe with a stop on their beautiful mid-Atlantic island. I don’t know how many people took them up on this but it has proved incredibly popular and successful.  This tool lets you look up routes and airlines offering stopovers.

8. Use social media

If you do sign up to frequent flyer programs be sure to add your social media account details if you have the option. Airlines are increasingly using social media to connect and reward customers so it may be worth following a few of your most regular or favourite airlines either on Facebook or Twitter. Airlines and airports are also using social media to handle customer service issues and this may be a quicker way of getting help if you need it. I’ve certainly used Twitter to communicate with Lufthansa, KLM and British Airways in the last 12 months and had responses within an hour or so each time.

Newcastle 600x400 12 Travel Hacks for Flying

9. Always look up school holidays

If you’re not a teacher or a parent you may be wondering why this is on the list, but flying in school holidays can be considerably more expensive than at other times. And don’t forget that other countries have school holidays too. Take the time to do a quick Google search to find out the dates you should avoid travelling. The bonus is that avoiding school holidays also means avoiding crowds (no offence, teachers and mummy/daddy friends!).

10. Ask about your bags

If you ever have any worries that your bag hasn’t made it to a connecting flight, or your just concerned because you checked in late, a great tip a fellow perpetual traveller gave me was that you can ask the service assistants at boarding to check if your bag is in the system. They may not be able to tell you if it’s on the plane but they will certainly confirm that it’s labelled to go to the right place.

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11. Paying for a lounge could be cheaper than not

When I was on my way home from five days living as a husky dog handler I was exhausted and hadn’t washed properly for four days. When I landed at Oslo airport from Tromsø I was desperate for a shower, strong internet and some good food. I treated myself to lounge access, which cost the equivalent of about £25.00 for four hours. I had internet, a comfy chair and access to free food and drink. Unfortunately I was to discover they didn’t have a shower (gutted!!) but I made good use of the sinks in the bathroom in the most creative way I could! As you’ll know Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world and a bottle of water and sandwich would easily have cost me  £20 so the fact I could enjoy all these comforts plus endless snacks and two ice cold beers for not much more was a no brainer. When I have a layover of 3 hours or more, I now always look into getting lounge access so I can get work done – it effectively pays for itself and stops me going duty free shopping!

Prinses Amalia Flying 600x375 12 Travel Hacks for Flying

12. Know what you’re getting.

If you like a window seat and want to make the most of this then make sure you check the route your plane will take and ensure you’re sitting on the right side for the best possible view.  Airlines will vary on how early you can check in so when you make your reservation, make a note of how early you can check in and set a reminder so you can do so at the earliest possible time and secure the seat you want. Also you can find out how “good” a seat is by using Seatguru. Most airlines will let you check the meal options, the in-flight entertainment and the route the plane will take online before you depart; so make sure you don’t watch all  the films on offer before you go!

Another tip that you may want to consider if you’re travelling in a pair is that my boyfriend and I often pick seats that have a spare middle seat in the middle between us in the hope that  this discourages someone from sitting there. This always works when a flight isn’t full, and even if someone does sit there it’s likely they’ll want to swap for either the aisle or middle seat. Another thing we also do when flying with a new or “unusual” (!) airline is to order a vegetarian meal as we’re not sure what kind of food you’re going to get. Not eating meat can help reduce chance of a peculiar meat dish and I’ve grown to prefer vegetarian in-flight meals.
So those are my twelve top tips for getting more out of flying and airports. Please do add your own in the comments, I’d love to hear them!

(And if you’re intrigued by the photos of the vintage plane – here’s the story of this special 1944 DC-3 that I flew on recently.)

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17 Comments »

  • Laura Gingerich said:

    LOVE THIS. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve suffered from choosing a cheap flight only to regret it. Splurging (a little) when booking flight tickets in order to have an enjoyable and easier trip is so important! Also, love the idea of dressing up a tad. Again, thanks you Travelettes for keeping it real when it comes to traveling :)

  • gina said:

    interesting thoughts – with 4 flights a month i guess you’re going to have the good tips!!
    http://thewanderlusthasgotme.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/A-day-in-valencia.html

  • Katie said:

    Good tips, I always wondered why I never get free upgrades, I will go a little fancier to the airport next time :)
    Katie
    http://www.worldwidevegetarian.com

  • Jamie said:

    Great article! There were definitely some unique tips in there I’ll have to try out. Booking Flights is one of my biggest worries while planning travel! I’ll have to remember these tips when I move to Europe at the end of summer.

    Thanks!

    Memoirs of a Pilgrim
    pilgrimmemoirs.com

  • Elizabeth said:

    Enjoyed this article and thanks for some interesting tips! :)

  • Eco Holiday Asia said:

    Interesting Article ! Thank you for sharing great Idea . Keep flying , delay no worries , you can do somethings interesting .

    Eco Holiday Asia
    Kathmandu.
    http://ecoholidayasia.com

  • Rianne said:

    Great tips! I wasn’t aware of the fact that you can ‘buy’ access to a lounge, but if I ever end up having to wait long times I’ll definitely look into that!

  • Julianne said:

    Super helpful! I also find that buying on a Tuesday or Wednesday truly is cheaper (I’ve been on sites when the prices go down), AND always bring moist towelettes to clean the dirty seats.

    xo Julianne
    http://reallifesurreallife.blogspot.com

  • Kaylin said:

    The cheap flight thing is soooo true. I had a choice between flying RyanAir or EasyJet to Italy from Paris last year, both are low budget airlines but the RyanAir was about 20 euros cheaper than the EasyJet one for those particular days I could take the trip. I almost bought the RyanAir one before I checked to see which airport it flew from. Luckily I did check because the EasyJet flight left from Orly Airport, which is pretty easy and cheap to get to from central Paris by train or bus. RyanAir however, left from Beauvais airport which is way outside of Paris– 85km!! (52 miles!) It would cost over 20 euros to get there, as you had to take a train to Beauvais city from Paris and then a bus to the airport from there, plus it took much longer as well. The buses/trains to Orly ran every 10-15 minutes, whereas the trains to Beauvais only once or twice an hour. I had some friends get stuck leaving from Beauvais flying to other places in Europe because they didn’t check beforehand how it would be to get to that airport. Even if the flight was significantly cheaper, I would have rather flown from Orly so that I didn’t waste all that time going so far out to Beauvais airport.

  • Hannah Wasielewski said:

    Great tips! I had no idea you could buy “lounge access” which gives you free food and drinks. That seems worth it! My next long layover, I’ll be looking into that!

  • Catherine said:

    Fantastic and all valid tips and tricks Love the blog

  • Frankie (author) said:

    Thanks so much everyone! So glad it’s a useful article for you all :-D

  • Weekend Reads #5 | The Travel Hack said:

    [...] 12 Travel Hacks for Flying {Travelettes} [...]

  • Janie said:

    Great tips! I will definitely keep each of these in mind when traveling! Thanks for sharing! -Happy Travels!

  • Sara @ The Let's Go Ladies said:

    GREAT post! I never used to understand people who said they were sick of flying or found the experience to be a hassle – I couldn’t imagine many things more exciting than travelling somewhere, especially by plane! Of course, then I got older and started doing more of it and it all started to make sense… So, I’m definitely going to take your advice to heart!

  • Maja | Mexatia.net said:

    Ha! I love your tips! I always fly dressed nicely and I’ve never been upgraded. I think it is time, flying companies! :)

  • [LINKS] Travel Talk #5 - Like a Local Mag said:

    [...] 12 Hacks for Flying – Do you value time or money more? When’s the best time to book? To lounge or not to lounge? A savvy traveler shares the answer to these questions (and more) to ensure you’re flying well. [...]

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