21 Secret Airline Travel Tips and Tricks to Fly Like a Pro


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It’s that time of year again where we’re all on the same agenda and no matter how early or late we get to the airport we’re always in a rush, forgot something we needed, our bag weighs just a little too much or that person behind us in the security checkpoint is still complaining about how long the lines are. Face it we’re all here for the same reason, but why does everyone act like their problems are any different from yours? Here are 21 secret airline travel tips & tricks to fly like a pro. No matter what happens, at least you can say you tried something different.

1. Cover Your Tracks

The first of our airline travel tips might feel like common knowledge to some of us, but it is still a powerful tip for the less experienced traveler. If you want the convenience of booking flights online you should also remember websites deposit “cookies” on your device that can track your interest in and intention to book a particular flight. Typically, on a given day, you might see the same seat offered at multiple price points. Prices can change from minute to minute. Use different browsers, if not devices, to search for flights for the best price. It doesn’t hurt to delete these cookies as well.

2. Cancel Within 24 Hours – No Charge

When it comes to airline travel tips, even some veteran travelers aren’t aware of common airline cancellation policies. Forewarning this does not mean we are telling you to book a bunch of flights just for the fun of it. For most airlines, you should be able to cancel/change your flight details up to 7 days before your scheduled flight and still get a refund if not a credit to your account. For instance, American Airlines allows you to hold onto a ticket up to 24 hours at the price you see it at. This will particularly work in your favor if you book directly with the airline’s website and not through a third party booking site. However, Expedia or Travelocity offer policies similar to those of certain airlines. It is good practice to read up on these policies whenever booking a flight.

3. Download The Airline Apps Before Your Trip

Before you leave home, download your airline’s app. These apps are there for a reason and most will give you real-time info on gate assignments, arrivals, and delays. They can also display your boarding pass, so you don’t have to go through every pocket trying to find it when it comes time to show it. As far as airline travel tips go, this is one of the easier but often overlooked strategies for streamlining the check-in and boarding process.

4. Notify Your Bank

I cannot count the times I have forgotten to call my credit card company or bank before traveling. It always ends up in a whirlwind of drama and panic when my card won’t work or I can’t pull out cash. Call your credit card company and bank especially when you’re going to a new or seldom-visited destination. Even though this may fall under general travel tips and tricks, it is highly recommended to do this before hopping on your first flight as it will prevent your card being flagged for suspicious use wherever you may land. Don’t put yourself through an anxiety attack you have control of.

5. Compare Prices

Don’t forget to compare prices from airlines in the same general area. Flying in or out of San Francisco, for example, may be less expensive if you fly in or out of Oakland instead. Pro Tip: Combine this with airline travel tip #1 above to ensure you find deals and prices exclusive of your recent search history.

6. Pack Less

Traveling with just hand luggage should be your goal. Taking less helps you travel cheaper (no check-in luggage fees), travel faster (no waiting for your bags) and easier (less to carry around). Any veteran traveler asked for airline travel tips will tell you to avoid checking your bags unless it is absolutely necessary.

7. Leave Your Flip Flops In Your Bag

In case of an emergency, it’s best to have a good set of shoes on that will your protect your feet from heat or sharp objects. This is not meant to imply you should wear steel-toed boots on your flights (that would likely cause more problems than it solves), but it does mean you should wear shoes that are comfortable, easy to slip on and off through security and cover your feet completely. Wearing shoes that are comfortable, yet functional is one of those airline travel tips that just makes sense but is not even a thought for many travelers until it’s already too late.

8. Avoid Security Queues With Children

Hey, we love kids, but any parent traveling with them takes way more time to do anything, anywhere, anytime. Go for the line with the least amount of children.

9. Guidebooks Are Just Extra Weight

Rather than taking those 3 guidebooks that your friends let you borrow, just leave them at home. You can simply scan the pages you really need and save them digitally for mobile access, or print them if you prefer something physical. Additionally, wifi is common enough that all of this information can be found on the internet directly from your mobile device. Keeping digital copies of your guidebooks saves space and reduces weight. Plus, live a little. Locals in any place you go know way more about the place you’re visiting than some book anyway. Pro Tip: If you do bring a guidebook, bring it in your carry-on luggage so you can review popular places and build a loose itinerary for when you land.

10. A Few Words Can Go A Long Way

We suggest learning a handful of words or phrases of the local language and familiarizing yourself with cultural norms of your destination. Not only is it just good practice to learn about other cultures, but communicating with locals in their native tongue shows respect and effort. It’s amazing how just a few words can go such a long way and panhandlers won’t try to take advantage of you if you can speak some of the language and show familiarity with the culture. Print off (or save digitally) a few words and notes to review on your flight, or even download a language learning app to help you prepare yourself for when you land.

11. Keep It To Yourself

We want to have faith in everyone and we assume because we are in a small space that our items are safe, but that is not always the case. Valuables, including passports, have been known to “disappear” from luggage in overhead bins. Keep your wallet, passport and other valuable items on you at all times. If you get up to use the bathroom or need to stretch we recommend taking these items with you or having them in sight. If you want to take an extra step, as a backup, take a photo or scan your ID and passport. These will be invaluable if your originals are lost or stolen.

If you have items like camera equipment in your carry-on overhead, check on them just before the fasten seatbelt light turns on prior to descent. That way, if anything is missing, you can alert an attendant right away.

12. Bring Ear Plugs

This is another one of those airline travel tips that’s not so much a secret, but more often than not, it’s something you don’t think about until it’s already too late.If you enjoy silence or just don’t particularly enjoy babies crying while you’re trying to rest your eyes, then ear plugs are worth their weight in gold. This is not something to underestimate while traveling. They can be put in your pocket or stashed in your bag. Something that small can make a world of a difference.

13. Bring An Eye Mask

Sure, it isn’t flattering, but blocking out light helps with jet lag as well. Light affects your circadian rhythm. It also helps you to mentally prepare for sleep and keeps you from being bothered once they start serving snacks.

14. Stay Hydrated

There is not some magic number of what you should drink on a flight, but health experts do recommend drinking more water than you normally do because air travel is dehydrating. Grab water once you get through the security checkpoint and don’t wait until a flight attendant asks to get your first sip of water. Pro Tip: If you forget a water bottle, make sure you drink bottled water served from a flight attendant rather than simply drinking tap water from the airplane. For the same reason, it is recommended to avoid hot beverages (like coffee and tea) that are mixed with tap water on your flight.

Avoiding caffeine is also important. Caffeine will keep you up, dehydrate you further and make you irritable. We suggest hot tea. If they have a decaffeinated tea available on your flight, you might want to take advantage. It has also been said it will help you with jet lag if you’re on an international flight.

This also relates to alcohol. If you’re the kind of person who falls asleep more easily after a glass of wine, then, by all means, drink up. But keep in mind that although alcohol is a depressant it can act as a stimulant for the first few hours after you drink it, which means it might actually keep you awake. It also can quicken dehydration and bring on grogginess. There might be a chance you get sick and no one enjoys that on either side of the spectrum.

15. Bring More Juice

Traveling drains your phone’s battery whether it be while you’re waiting to board, standing in security, or waiting for the plane to take off. We know you’re on your phone and even though charging stations are becoming commonplace in airports and even on airplanes themselves, this airline travel tip is all about being prepared. Just plan ahead. Bring an extra power pack to ensure you can keep yourself fully distracted at all times.

16. Snag A Window Seat When Booking

A window seat not only gives you a nice, solid wall to rest on, but it also means you won’t be disturbed by passing beverage carts. That way you only get up when you need to use the bathroom. Alternatively, if you know you need to get up often when you fly, choose an aisle seat instead. Some of the best airline travel tips are about catering to yourself, and in this case choose the seat that suits you best.

17. It Pays To Be Last

If the flight isn’t sold out and carry-on luggage isn’t a consideration, one tactic for claiming that extra sweet seat is to be the last person to board. You can look around to see if there are any empty rows or two empty seats next to one another. If you do have carry-on luggage and don’t want to chance losing space in the overhead bin, try waiting 10 minutes before boarding starts, and politely ask the gate attendant if there are any seats with empty ones next to them.

18. Say No To Vouchers!

This is one of those secret airline travel tips no airline is just going to tell you, so we’ll do it for them. You’ve been involuntarily bumped from a flight and the airline offers you a travel voucher. Do not settle for vouchers! They are the equivalent to Monopoly money. The airline must arrange new travel for you within two hours and if they do not then the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires they compensate you in cash up to $1,350. This is something airlines want to avoid because, let’s be real, no one wants to give away money. They are also required to tell you that you can receive a check on the spot. If the delay looks like it is going to cost you more than what the airline is offering you’ve got 30 days to try and get as much money as you can out of them. Keep in mind if you cash or deposit that check, you’ve essentially agreed to accept whatever they have offered you.

What if the airline still manages to get you to where you are going within an hour of the original arrival time? You shouldn’t have to complain at this point, and you’re not getting any compensation. BUT, if you arrive between one and two hours past your original arrival time on a domestic flight (or between one and four hours for international), they can owe you up to $675. For flights arriving more than 2 hours later you are entitled to 400% of your one-way fare.

19. Don’t Let Them Push You Around

Not all airline travel tips are for the faint of heart, and sometimes it’s all about sticking up for yourself. If your airline is at fault, it owes you money. Non-refundable tickets can become refundable. If a flight is severely delayed (typically over 2 hours), canceled or if there’s a schedule change in advance (like a route change on a nonstop flight changing to a flight with connections) you can get a full refund on a non-refundable fare. Additional fees are refundable, too! Make sure to mention fees you paid when negotiating any compensation or refund. Being nice can go a long way and these agents have to deal with a lot of people so, make sure to be polite while doing so. There is a polite way of getting what you want.

In Europe you’re entitled to even more. If you find yourself delayed on a flight from Poland to Turkey you’re entitled to even more than you are back home. If your flight is canceled because of something due to the airline, it’s required by law to feed you and put you up in a hotel. You also must receive a full refund for a canceled flight within 7 days. The EU has its own set of delay compensation guidelines as well that can range from 250 euros for short flights delayed under 3 hours and up to 600 euros for flights between EU and non-EU airports that originate in Europe.

20. Hotels And Hostels Are Not Your Only Option

Websites like Airbnb and VRBO are taking off with cheaper deals for places to stay when you travel. Apartments or rooms in private homes have been way more popular for travelers these days.

21. Free Calls

When you’re traveling outside of the U.S., use Skype, Google Hangouts or Whatsapp to make free calls and texts. Google Voice also offers free local numbers you can use for calling and texting friends back home while traveling abroad. If both parties are using WiFi, you can also just use FaceTime without paying roaming or long distance charges. Be aware that some countries ban FaceTime or it simply just won’t work. Pro Tip: Using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service can help you bypass country-wide restrictions on specific websites and services.

Lucas Derailya

Lucas around the web:

Lucas is the Director of Content at Driftr, creating valuable content related to the travel industry and how social media and technology are changing the way people travel today.

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