BUSINESS TRAVEL

8 Easy Ways to Become an Expert Traveler

A veteran business traveler shares eight secrets he's learned over the years--from buying a Tom Bihn bag to carrying a spare battery.
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A recent survey found that Southwest Airlines had the best customer service in the airline industry, and it deserves it.

Want proof? Just call Southwest Airlines to cancel a flight: The company will do it without a charge. Now try the same with some of the other airlines, and you could pay up to $300.

Want more proof? Just listen to this hilarious Southwest flight attendant go over her flight's safety procedures. I wish all airlines could be like Southwest.

But let's not complain. In 1927, it took Charles Lindbergh 33 hours to fly from the U.S. to Paris. And no movies were shown. Travel today, especially business travel, is a marvel. For the business traveler, it's all about comfort and speed. I travel frequently, and I've learned a few ways to make the experience even better. Let me share them.

1. Join a loyalty program and stick with it.

Pick an airline, a hotel, a car rental company, and be loyal. On US Airways, I frequently get upgraded to first class (even though, ahem, they charged me $200 to change a flight recently). At Marriott hotels, I'm checked in faster and find it easier to get late checkouts. At Avis, my car is waiting for me when I arrive. These are little things--but still huge things when you're trying to travel in comfort and save time. You'll get more thank-you's and offers to help. Top customers are just treated better by companies. Don't you do the same for yours?

2. Take advantage of temporary office space.

The airline clubs are fine, but I prefer Regus, which is available in more than 1,800 locations around the world and provides me with an office away from home. There I can do my writing, my phone calls, and even meet with out-of-town clients in a professional setting and with privacy. I also like Regus because it provides fast Internet service, administrative support, and office equipment such as faxes and phones, and it has different programs available for small-business owners.

3. Get Global Access and TSA Precheck.

This is huge. I travel to the U.K. a few times a year and no longer have to wait in line at immigration when I return. I just slide my passport through the scanner, offer my fingerprints, and away I go. Domestically, the TSA Precheck lines are significantly shorter than the usual security lines, and I'm not asked to unpack my bags before they go through the scanner. These services have cut down my airport time significantly.

4. Lose the Rollaboard.

Never, ever check luggage. It takes too long to retrieve and costs extra. Adapt, pack less, and buy a Tom Bihn bag. Why? It will fit anywhere, even under a seat when you're crammed into one of those little regional jets with smaller overhead space. And you can fit the universe inside.

Don't believe me? Check out how this guy packs his stuff, and prepare to have your mind blown.

5. Have a data plan.

I'm online all the time, and when the Internet is slow, I'm slow. Unfortunately, not all airport or hotel Internet services are created equally. That's why I'm committed to my Verizon data plan. For the extra $20 per month, I get 4G access most places I go, and I wind up using that service more frequently than public Wi-Fi.

6. Carry a spare battery.

Let's face it, no matter what your laptop manufacturer says, your battery is going to go on you midtrip, right? Fork over the extra bucks and buy another one. The battery usually weighs around a pound. It will not only provide you with an additional four to six hours of work time, but it will also be a source to charge your smartphone when you connect via the USB port.

7. Squirrel away some cash.

Each time you travel, go to the ATM and take out a hundred bucks in cash. Then, don't spend it. Use your credit card everywhere you go so you can accumulate points. When you get home, take the hundred bucks and stick it in an envelope. After your fifth trip, take your $500 bucks; make amends to your spouse for all that time you've been away and treat yourselves to a great weekend. Or just save it. You've earned it!

8. Buy a good pair of headphones.

You'll thank me the next time you're sitting next to that guy on the plane who wants to tell you his life story and all you want to do is politely zone out to Phish.

Happy, and safe, travels!

Last updated: Apr 16, 2014

GENE MARKS | Columnist | Owner, Marks Group

Gene Marks is a columnist, author, and small-business owner. He oversees the Marks Group, a 10-person technology consultancy to small and medium-size businesses. A certified public accountant, Marks has also worked in the entrepreneurial services arm of KPMG. He writes for The New York Times, Forbes, and The Huffington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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