Working in communications at a major airline opened my eyes to so many things. For four years, I had the incredible fortune of getting to see the world for the cost of dinner and a movie.
I’ve had the privilege of walking with giraffes in Africa while they ate their breakfast; landing in a helicopter on a glacier in Alaska and drinking glacial stream water fresh from the source; marveling at Iceland’s green and pink northern lights as they danced over the arctic; off-roading in the endless camel littered sand dunes of a desert in the Middle East; floating in the clear waters of the Caribbean; and exploring ancient European cities.
Working behind the scenes also gave me unique insight into how the sausage is made. Ahead, I’m sharing five invaluable things I learned about how to travel most affordably and efficiently. Below these 5 secrets the airlines don’t want you to know.
There Really Are Better Times To Fly
Sometimes you don’t have a choice but to fly out on a Thursday or Friday and return on a Sunday, or to travel during Christmas or Easter week. But if you do have the flexibility, you’re more likely to get cheaper tickets (and have a more pleasant and less crowded travel experience) if you fly during off-peak times. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally the least traveled days, and Saturday night is also a good bet. Book that late morning flight on weekdays, or go for the second rather than the first flight of the day to beat the early morning business rush. If you have to travel around peak times over holidays, consider flying on the actual holiday for better pricing and less hassle. (Note: this also reduces the time and cost of getting to the airport during rush hour.)
Embrace The Off-Season
In addition to the best times of day and days of the week, think about off-peak times of year for travel. I’ve had the entire flight and boutique hotel to myself on a Caribbean island in May or July. Talk about good service and true relaxation! I’ve had awesome deals to the arctic during winter months (the best time for northern lights). I’ve seen deals where airfare and hotel and meals combined during off-peak times cost what most would pay in airfare alone during peak travel times. Right after New Year’s, Labor Day, and late spring (before summer travel really gets going) are great times to book domestic travel.
It Pays To Be Nice
While some airlines have strict rules about upgrades, it always pays to be nice to your airport and flight crew. They take a lot of flak from customers all day long, and one customer going out of their way to be complimentary can go a long way. You never know when your kind words might be returned with an upgrade, a free drink, or extra snacks. Flight attendants also love when you leave magazines behind for them to read on long flights; they love it a lot less when you leave a giant mess. Also, feel free to ask for travel tips from these travel veterans — they will be happy to show off how much they know about a destination, and may point you to a hidden gem you won’t find in guidebooks.
Safety Always Comes First
Another hidden benefit to introducing yourself to the flight crew is that they will know you’re someone they can count on in case of an emergency. Let them know when you board if you have any first aid or medical training, or any other helpful skills, and that you’re willing to help if needed. The inflight crew will take a mental note of who you are and where you’re sitting, and will appreciate that you went out of your way to be helpful. You never know when you might be called for your superwoman moment and actually get to be a hero! And even if you don’t save any lives, your willingness to help could result in extra snacks, beverages, or a move to an emergency row seat with more legroom — all for being a responsible citizen.
Pack Smart & Be Prepared
Part of flying well is preparing to make your life easier. Pack light and bring a roller carry-on bag rather than a checked suitcase (saves time, money, and the chance of your bag getting lost). Roll your clothes rather than folding them in your luggage so you can fit more, and lay some dryer sheets in between items to keep things fresh.
Want to breeze through security? Don’t be cool and wear your new thigh-high lace-up boots. Don’t bring 32 electronics. Don’t pack your bag so tight that you can’t get it closed again after you take your laptop out for security. Wear slip-on shoes (with socks, please!), leave your laptop and other electronics at the top of your bag so you can pull them out quickly, and bring one shawl that you can use as a blanket or a jacket and easily remove.
Bring an empty water bottle so you can fill up in the airport and stay hydrated in-flight (airline employees who fly a lot swear by this). And be sure to pack some healthy, nutrient-filled snacks so you’re not nibbling on $12 pretzels or less savory items in-flight. The energy you’ll maintain from the water and protein-rich treats will help you hit the ground running when you reach your destination.