Travel: Easy Come, Easy Go
Between long waits on the tarmac and having to pad around the security line in your stockinged feet, what's left to love about business travel? Certainly not the rundown "elite" passenger lounges, most of which resemble a forsaken Holiday Inn lobby that got its last makeover in 1989. Nevertheless, we've scrounged up some strategies and resources that make traveling something close to enjoyable. We interviewed travel experts and entrepreneurs who log more than 200,000 miles a year on business trips. On the following pages, you'll find their best tips for a better business trip.
The best of first class
Suites are the new seats in first class. And with lie-flat beds now standard, airlines are offering more than free champagne to impress jaded travelers. Treats like Singapore Airlines' Givenchy pajamas (shown below with the contents of the Singapore amenity kit) have catapulted the carrier into the highest realm of in-flight luxury. Other contenders include Virgin Atlantic's swinger-lounge-cum-massage-parlor, Emirates Airlines' private suites with closing doors and minibar, and Qatar Airways' separate terminal for first- and business-class passengers at its hub in Doha replete with a Jacuzzi and saunas. To compare the best of the best, visit Skytrax for rankings of top airlines.
Snacks on a plane
Exactly how fattening are those snack packs the flight attendants peddle? Health columnist Charles Stuart Platkin's website, The Diet Detective, lists the caloric content of the snacks offered on six of the largest domestic carriers (dietdetective.com/content/view/
1916). United Airlines received highest marks for its healthy assortments, such as the trans-fat-free and vegetarian Smartpack, which includes organic peach applesauce and Bear Naked granola. The lowest ranking went to Delta (OTC:DALRQ) for its snack basket: Platkin recommends tossing it all except for the granola bar and peanuts.
The security line fast track
The future of airport security is here and it involves iris scans, prescreened passenger lists, and biometric wallet cards. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is in the midst of rolling out expedited security procedures, dubbed the Registered Traveler program, via five separate companies. Those who don't have time to dither in long lines can hand over about $100 and a slice of their privacy. You still have to dehydrate your carryon and remove your shoes, just in a shorter line.
The first of these, called Clear (flyclear.com), has launched express security lanes at five airports in New York, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Orlando, and San Jose. Give Clear four fingerprints and an iris scan, and it claims to cut average wait times down to a few minutes. Another company, Fast Lane Option, or FLO (fastlaneoption.com), promises to create its own express lines later this year.
Even after this slightly Orwellian process is up and running at more locations, frequent travelers might be better off keeping their biometrics to themselves and using "elite" frequent-flier status to get shunted into more sane security lines.
Searching for a good seat
Window or aisle? If only it were that simple. Here are some websites that can help.
This site offers strangely spellbinding details about every nook and cranny of seats on a wide array of carriers so you'll know to eschew row 16 (doesn't recline and close to lavatories) for row 12 (full recline and extra legroom). It even lists which plane models have electrical outlets, TVs, and earphone jacks.
If you're flying Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV), shell out five bucks at this site to reserve one of those coveted A passes, and be the first in line to jockey for a seat.
Angling for an upgrade? This site helps you get the most out of your frequent-flier miles and find the best way to swap, say, Amtrak Guest Rewards for miles on Continental (NYSE:CAL).
Plug in your airport and carrier, and it lists the percentage of delayed and canceled flights. FlightStats also estimates when a particular flight will really take off and land.
Schlep no more
For the few travelers who prefer to pay to be unencumbered (or have been burned too many times by careless baggage handlers), a handful of door-to-door luggage delivery services will pick up your bags and deliver them to wherever you're going. But expect to pay more than $100 each way for economy service on a bag weighing up to 45 pounds. Overnight service can run about $250 per bag. International service costs even more. Here are a few door-to-door forwarders that do the dirty work for you, along with their rates for shipping a 45-pound bag overnight from New York City to Los Angeles.
Luggage Free typically offers refunds for late shipments. ($220)
Luggage Forward offers a refund and up to $500 if your domestic shipment doesn't arrive on the right day. ($305)
Luggage Express is an arm of a large logistics company, which is how it offers low rates. ($153)
SkyCap International bundles FedEx (NYSE:FDX) shipping with its own customer service. ($159)
Make dirt-cheap international calls
Using your cell phone to stay in touch while abroad is easy--if you don't mind paying astronomical charges. Our advice? Find a Wi-Fi hot spot and make those calls using a VoIP service. The most popular option continues to be Skype (NASDAQ:EBAY), which costs just $30 a year for unlimited calls to the U.S. and Canada and about two cents a minute to most other countries. If you want to make Skype calls from your laptop without being tethered to it, pick up the Plantronics (NYSE:PLT) Audio 910 Bluetooth headset ($149). Another low-cost option is GizmoCall.com. It allows you to make calls from your Web browser, and international rates are comparable to Skype's. You can also make free calls to Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) Messenger and Windows (NASDAQ:MSFT) Live users.
If you make a lot of calls while overseas, you might want to invest in a Wi-Fi Skype phone from Belkin ($199) or Netgear (NASDAQ:NTGR) ($229). They're both easy to use, but these one-trick VoIP ponies offer only a few hours of talk time. An even better idea is to outfit a Wi-Fi enabled smart phone, like the T-Mobile (NYSE:DT) Dash ($199) or HP (NYSE:HPQ) iPAQ 510 ($299), with Skype 2.2 for Windows Mobile, which is a free download. That way you can check your e-mail and make cheap calls from the same device.
Five ways to lighten your load
Shoes go first. Shoes are the silent killer of efficient packing, adding bulk and weight. To economize, pick one or two pairs of versatile footwear and coordinate your clothing with them.
Pack by color. Base your wardrobe for each trip on one set of colors so you can mix and match. And a bonus tip that works well for men and women: Take at least one suit jacket that can be worn with jeans.
Buy it when you get there. One upside to the vast sameness of America is that you know exactly where to shop for anything from toothpaste to a tasteful new suit.
Use the hotel laundry service. The most you really need is a few days' worth of clothing.
Ditch the laptop. On short trips a PDA will usually cut it. If you have a lot of typing to do, pack a folding keyboard such as iGo's Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard ($130).
What flies at security
The TSA rules about what you can and can't put in your carryon can be confusing. Here are a few interesting things that will and won't make it through the security gate.
|A bottle of wine||Corkscrews|
|Gel candles||Three ounces of Jell-O|
|Gel shoe inserts||Gel-filled bras|
|A large jar of grape jelly||An unlimited amount of KY Jelly|
|Scissors with blades longer than four inches||Rounded butter knives|
Contributions from Nitasha Tiku and Mark Spoonauer