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Ultimate Hacks ForFrequent Flyers
Regular readers of this here blog will know that we at The Broke Backpacker love overland travel. It allows travellers to fully immerse themselves in a new land by rubbing shoulders with the locals and watching the landscapes pass by.
However, we appreciate that over-landing is just not always possible. Maybe you’re short on time, or maybe the distances are simply too vast to realistically cross by land(for example UK to Papua New Guinea!) or maybe you need to cross an ocean!
These days, I fly an awful lot so consider myself to be a proper, hard-core, frequent flyer. Over the endless miles I have flown I’ve picked up some great tips which make frequent flying a lot easier and cheaper. So without further ado, let me share with you some of my ultimate hacks for frequent flyers!
The modern airport experience is not a pleasant one. The days of “the holiday begin at the airport” are well and truly over and no number of overpriced, ill-advised 7 am beers will change that. There are the ever more invasive (and inconsistent) airport security checks and the endless raft of queues.
If I add up how many hours I have spent queuing to check in, drop luggage or get through security it probably adds up to weeks of my life which I will never get back. Therefore one of the best things a frequent flyer can invest in is some kind of VIP/Skip The Queue service which lets you cut in front of the line at check-in, bag drop and even security. Yes, it does add an extra cost but is well worth it in terms of what it saves in time and stress.
You can either buy these perks individually with your ticket (for example Ryanair call it “Priority” and charge $40 per time)or you can sign up for longer-term value. For example, US-based readers can pay just $100 for TSA Global Entry five years of hassle-free security screening. The now defunktMonarch used to offer a membership club whereby they arrange priority check-in and security even if you weren’t flying with them – we are still waiting to see if another Airline decides to plug the void.
VIP Lounges can also be a welcome reprieve especially for long waits, delays or for peak times when airports tend to get a bit crowded. You can take a nice comfy seat (the one you can actually sleep in), make use of the free, fast Wi-Fi and even grab a complimentary drink. Some people may find it a bit decadent to book a VIP lounge but when you consider how much the regular airport lounge charges for drinks and Wi-Fi, it can sometimes actually work out cheaper.
Whilst anybody can make a one-off booking to skip the queue or get in the VIP lounge, us Frequent Flyers should look at joining some kind of club which allows us to benefit from these services permanently and all over the world.
Collect Air Miles
Air miles is a tried and tested hack whereby every mile you fly is collated. A flight from London to Paris will net you about 300 miles whereas London to Sydney will bag you a massive 10,500. Air Miles can then be redeemed and used to pay for other flights. Most providers have moved beyond simply letting you use Air Miles for flights and now you can use Air miles for hotels and car rental too. In some cases they are even transferable so you can take your whole family away for a break.
It is never too soon to start collecting Air Miles. I let 1000’s of miles slip away before I finally saw sense and started collecting them. If you are currently signed up to a plan, do it right now! Unless of course, you would prefer an Aero Plan….(see below).
Use an Aero Plan Credit Card
Whilst collecting air miles to use on later flights is great, Aero plan goes step further. Aero plan is a service whereby you can turn your everyday expenditure into air miles by taking out an Aeroplan credit card. An Aero plan credit card allows you to accrue air miles simply by using it – every time you pay using your Aero plan credit card you get air miles! If you get into the habit of using your credit card for day to day expenses (coffee & bus tickets) as well as the big purchases (laptops, backpacks and er, flights) then you will very quickly amass a f**ton of air miles which you can use for your next trip.
Aero plan is making your own expenditure work harder for you and is a well and truly canny travel hack. Obviously, you need to make sure you manage your credit card and make the requisite payments.
I highly recommend researching which Aero plan Credit Card is best for your needs. Some offer a generous welcome package (i.e., free miles) whereas some offer lower fees. Others offer a better return rate per spend whereas others have special partnerships with particular airlines and service providers.
Get an International Sim Card
Frequent flyers will all know the pain of landing in a new airport and not be able to order an Uber because there is no free Wi-Fi and your data plan doesn’t work. Seasoned travelers too well know the pain of getting lost in strange cities because your maps don’t work offline and not be able to call your hotel because your domestic sim plan doesn’t allow for international calls.
For a good few years, I was in the habit of buying a local sim in each new destination I visited before I eventually discovered the joys of an international sim; a sim that works for calls and data anywhere in the world. I simply carry it in my cabin bag and pop it in my phone when I land!
Carry a Quality Cabin Bag
Cheap and inappropriate carry on, cabin bags are the scourge of many a flight and investing in a specialized, high quality carry on bag is the wisest thing a frequent flyer can do.
They are readily identifiable as being within size limits so you don’t need to waste time measuring at check in and you won’t run into issues with jobsworth airport attendants trying to tell you its oversized. The good ones are designed for efficiency and are properly compartmentalized allowing easy access to your documents, liquids, and computers making the security experience a lot faster and less stressful. They also last a lot longer than cheap ones which tend to fall apart after just a few trips.
And check this, a professional looking carry on bag is also far less likely to be weighed or pulled aside for a thorough security search. This can save you valuable minutes and potentially even jail time!
When choosing a proper Carry on Cabin bag, always look for;
Size approved by international standards
One that can be carried as a backpack
Lightweight but strong materials
A reputable brand
Take a look at our guide to the Best Carry on bags.
Get an E-Passport
OK so there is no “Skip TheQueue” service for Passport control (though there is a priority line in some airports) and we all have wait in line for Border Force to give us the once over. However, more and more airports are introducing more and more e-Gates which you can only use if you have an e-Passport. Do not underestimate how much time you can save by using these, one time in Tel Aviv I observed that having an E-Passport (or Biometric Passport)would save saved me 30 minutes of queuing.
To take advantage you need a chipped passport and the chip needs to be working. To keep your chip working take care of your passport by keeping it in a passport cover and keeping it away from electronic devices as they can fry the chip. If you do not have an e-Passport then I recommend you consider getting one even if your current passport has years to run on it. Yes it will cost you a few bucks but frequent flyers will reap the time benefits.