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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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!
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.)
This post was written by Frankie Thompson who was a Travelette from 2012 – 2015. Originally from London, UK, Frankie was nomadic for several years before settling in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, where she lives with her Australian partner and baby boy. She spends her time buying vintage dresses, riding a rusty old bike around the canals and writing books inspired by her travels. Frankie blogs about travel, writing and motherhood at As the Bird flies blog.Tweet