Weary Business Travelers Look For Ways To Cut Flying Costs And Hassles
By Kim O’Connor

Shake-ups across the air travel industry have given even the most seasoned travelers a newfound fear of flying. Faced with sagging sales and rising costs, airlines have taken increasingly drastic measures to cut their losses by implementing fare hikes, add-on fees, layoffs and route cuts.

The good news is that now more than ever, the power to plan a smooth trip is in your own hands. Learn how to reclaim those friendly skies by following a few simple steps.

Shop Smart
Online tools have made booking your own travel arrangements easier than it has ever been, but the sheer number of options available can be overwhelming.

Streamline your search by using a free Web tool like This comprehensive and efficient travel search engine compiles the best fares from most major airlines and lets you search major third-party booking sites such as Travelocity and Expedia with a few extra clicks.

A Kayak search will give you the lay of the land, so you can estimate how much you’ll spend and how much time you’ll need to set aside for travel.

Keep in mind, though, that travel search engines have blind spots. Southwest Airlines, for example, does not list its flights on any third-party sites. It’s almost always best to book your ticket directly with the airline, even if you find the lowest fare on another site. Most airlines offer a low-fare guarantee and won’t charge a booking fee if you buy your ticket online.

As you evaluate your options, be aware that most airlines have adopted an a la carte pricing approach. In 2008, many airlines started charging extra for services that used to be free, like speaking to an agent over the phone or checking luggage. Frequent fliers are usually exempt, but most travelers can expect to pay $15 to $25 per bag.

Visit for an overview of which airlines charge for what. But to avoid unwelcome surprises, make sure to check your airline’s Web site for up-to-date information before you pay for your ticket.

Hire A Travel Agent
Still overwhelmed? Now is a great time to hire a travel agent, whose fees have become more affordable in the wake of do-it-yourself Web sites.

Barbara Seaver, a technology consultant based in Chicago, has her travel agent book each of the 20 or so trips she takes each year.

“My agent can see all the options,” Seaver explains. “She has the software and the capability to find combinations that work and give me the least expensive ticket at the best time. It just makes life so easy.”

Because of their long-term relationship, Seaver’s agent knows that she prefers an aisle seat and tracks her rewards program points.

More importantly, a good travel agent can help clients mitigate snafus as they arise. Many will even waive rebooking fees when your travel plans change due to, say, a client’s shifting schedule or your unexpected brush with the flu.

Stay Savvy
Finding a good fare might feel like a coup, but keep your eyes peeled and your ears open even after you’ve paid for your ticket.

Most airlines will keep you posted about the status of your flight if you register for notification via e-mail, phone or text message. Do yourself a favor and take care of this simple step just after booking, so it won’t slip your mind.

While you’re at it, program the airline’s customer service number in your cell phone; that way, it will be handy if something comes up.

Jeffrey Kovick, spokesperson for United Airlines, recommends that you take advantage of technology when it’s time to check in for your flight.

“We encourage customers to take advantage of the self-service mechanisms that can help them navigate through the airport more quickly and easily,” he says. “In addition to the easy check-in kiosks that are at the airport, customers can check in online.”

Most carriers allow you to check in up to 24 hours before departure, which will save time at the check-in counter when you arrive at the airport.

Similarly, security checkpoints are evolving. Some airports offer expedited lines for frequent fliers who can, with the flash of a pass, bypass long waits with less experienced travelers. Other airports have self-selecting security lines that don’t require elite status with an airline; watch for signs labeled “expert travelers” to take advantage of this option.

If you encounter an unexpected delay or cancellation once you’re at the gate, proactively search for alternatives.

For a region-wide issue like bad weather, your best bet is to pursue more than one course of action simultaneously and immediately. Try calling customer service from your cell phone as you seek out a customer service desk or, better, a self-service kiosk. Often, disrupted fliers are automatically rebooked by an airline’s customer service staff, but until you have a new itinerary in hand, assume that you are your own advocate.

Travel Comfortably
Most major airlines offer members-only lounges for travelers who pay an annual fee. Rates vary from airline to airline, but you can expect to pay around $500 for a yearlong membership or $50 for a day pass.

Amenities, which usually include complimentary Wi-Fi connectivity and snacks, also vary, so a day pass can be a great way to scope out the goods. You can usually subtract the cost of the day pass from the annual membership fee if you like what you see.

For frequent travelers, airline lounges provide respite from the hustle and din of the crowd at the gate. Seaver, a long-time member of United Airline’s Red Carpet Club, uses the lounge to relax or stay productive on days when her work can’t wait.

“One morning, I had promised something to a client,” she recalls. “When I got to the airport, I went immediately to the Red Carpet Room and turned on my computer, got it done and sent it out. Otherwise, I would have been up until two in the morning the night before.”

Also, most lounges have a dedicated staff that can provide personal assistance with rebooking and seat selection—another valuable perk.

But you don’t have to spring for a lounge to follow the experts’ best advice for a smooth, successful trip: Try not to rush.

“Busy airports and full planes are not just the realm of peak holiday days anymore,” points out September Wade, spokesperson for American Airlines. “Give yourself plenty of time every step of the way.”

Plan to arrive at the airport at the recommended time, and then pad your schedule with 10 to 15 extra minutes for every stage of the journey—traveling to the airport, parking, riding a shuttle, checking in, and going through security. A few extra minutes at the gate are well worth your peace of mind.

Kim O’Connor is a freelance writer who recommends you choose Midway over O’Hare when you travel to the Windy City, where she lives.

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