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Posts Tagged with “travel”

Protip: Airline Customer Service via Twitter DMs

Here’s a secret for those of you who travel a lot like me for business. Some airlines have fantastic customer service via Twitter Direct Messages (DMs), even better than using the phone for most issues in my experience!

Over the past several months, @AmericanAir has been a pleasure to work with over Twitter DMs for when travel issues unfortunately happened. I’ve shared this little secret with friends and they had similar success with other airlines like @VirginAmerica and @Jetblue, especially when phone wait times were atrocious. Also, I’m definitely not the only one who has noticed this.

In the end, I hope more airlines and businesses follow this customer service model, or at least offer it as an option. For most issues, it’s usually simpler to deal with things over direct message (text) than having to interact with someone over the phone, especially when you’re on the go. I even see a future where you can even automate most of these interactions so you may not need a human being for a good portion of customer service requests.

Anyways, happy and safe travels!

Travel Tip: Last Minute Hotels

In the past, I have blogged about travel tips (e.g., airline meals) so I figure I would continue the tradition but focusing on last minute hotels (although you can do this on a non-last minute basis). It’s not that I’m very frugal, I’m just not a fan of the price gouging that happens in the hotel industry. You may find this useful if you’re under tight travel budgets or there are times when a conference is in town and hotels raise their prices significantly.

This tip exploits mainly Hotwire and Priceline and focuses on North America (although I’ve had success with Hotwire in Europe). I’ll show you an example of how it works. For example, I need a hotel in Houston next weekend for a graudation party. I do a quick search on Hotwire (this would also work on Expedia’s Unpublished Last Minute Deals) and it shows me a bunch of options…

The downside is you don’t see the actual hotel you’ll stay at, but you do get access to some reviews and the star level. Here’s where the magic happens. I cross reference these examples with the forums from BetterBidding

If I match up the star level and amenities, I can see that the second hotel listed in the Houston Galleria is going to be the Omni. From my experience, I’m almost always able to figure out the hotel from the star level amenities. From the twenty or so times that I have done this, only once it hasn’t come up with the hotel that I expected (it was another four star hotel so it was fine). If you prefer to use a bidding service like Priceline, you can check the BetterBidding forums on recent successful bids to get a good idea on what you should bid for…

In summary, Hotwire and Priceline in combination with BetterBidding work great if you need a reasonably price last minute hotel. The only downside you face is that you won’t earn loyalty points for your stay with the hotel. Other than that, I hope people find this useful.

Travel Tip: Airline Meals

Awhile ago, I blogged about my advice for when it comes to traveling since I’ve done quite a bit in my lifetime so far. I had a friend approach me recently complaining that he’s put on about 20 pounds since he started a consulting job a few months ago. He wanted some advice how I manage my diet when I travel. Well, there’s the typical advice that you try to order anything that has fish as the main course as that comes with healthier items generally. The other bit of advice I have is that when you’re eating airline meals, contact the airline in advance and modify your meal profile to say that you don’t eat gluten or have some type of gluten allergy.

This will make your meals significantly healthier. I find that my meals now come with fruit and other healthier items than starchy gluten-related things. On top of that, you get the extra laugh of looking at the plane attendants reactions while you chug a beer on the flight (I’m sorry, gluten-free beer is disgusting still… if you find a good one let me know).

Hope this helps and enjoy traveling!

Running in Mainz and Jetlag

I had the pleasure of arriving on time in Mainz, Germany yesterday morning.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years via all my travel is that the best way to fight jetlag is to exercise once you get to your destination. I don’t think there’s a large body of scientific evidence, but from personal experience I find that exercise does something to my body’s circadian rhythm that lessens the pain of jetlag. So the first thing I did when I got off the plane was to take advantage of Mainz and its picturesque trail that hugs the Rhine…

On a side note, a few of us went to a Chinese restaurant last night (I know, sacrilegious in Germany) and I was amused by my fortune cookie treasure…

You’re a winner! Thanks for the reminder…

Confessions of a Travelholic

I had a colleague of mine recently come to me and ask how to travel more optimally given that he’s taken a consulting job, that you guessed it, involves about one hundred percent travel. I’m coming close to breaking about 1,000,000 air miles so I figure I would share some wisdom I acquired over the years regarding traveling.


The first and foremost thing you need to do is get status on an airline and choose an airline alliance. It makes a world of a difference when traveling, from free upgrades to just saving you time at the airport (e.g., quicker lines). I fly American Airlines (AA) which is part of the oneworld alliance whenever I can. To help you get status, some airlines have “challenge” programs like AA which helps getting some level of status easier. For example, I can do the platinum challenge on AA and get platinum status with only flying 10,000 miles versus the usual 50,000. I highly recommend browsing the Flyertalk forums and FlyerGuide wiki to see if your airline has a program. Another option is to do a “mileage run” which allows you to get status by flying a route to get the most miles for the lowest price. It’s a bit crazier than the challenge route but hey, you can always turn a mileage run into a vacation 🙂

Most airlines also allow you to fly standby on earlier (or even later) flights at NO COST. As a frequent traveler, this is something you can take advantage of to get home earlier or get somewhere later.

In terms of managing your itineraries I recommend a service like to keep things in one place. Also, there are services like that help you search for cheaper flights across airlines if price is an issue for you. For more advanced users, you can check out ITA Software‘s search which powers a lot of what the airlines use for their booking systems.

Also, if you’re interested in how much miles a route will be, I tend to use the Great Circle Mapper to get a good estimate. For example, if I was going to go to Frankfurt from Austin with a stopover in Dallas, I would get a map like this…


If you fly a lot, having a good seat is important. If you’re a techie, it’s also important to have a seat with power so you can use your laptop in the comfort of your seat. I use the website SeatGuru to find out information about the variety of planes there.

Remember green seats are good!


Never check in your bags. Period.


Airline lounges are key if you’re stuck in an airport for a long time. One thing to note is that if you have an American Express Platinum card, it gives you access to pretty much any airline lounge out there. In the oneworld alliance, I’ve found the best lounges to be from Qantas and British Airways. Depending on the airline alliance you choose, feel free to browse other airline’s lounges within your alliance (they usually let you).

I also recommend that you have hotel reservation lines on speed dial. On top of that, I have some specific airport hotels (Chicago Hilton and DFW Hyatt) on speed dial in case I’m stranded at an airport. If there’s really bad weather, chances are everyone wants to stay at the closest hotel available. Don’t be the guy that gets to sleep at the airport because you weren’t savvy enough to get a reservation.


For hotels, just like airlines you should choose an alliance as you’ll get better benefits that way and more rewards. There’s lots of options to choose from, but I highly recommend staying with the Starwood or Hilton set of hotels. They tend to have the most hotels available worldwide and when it comes to cash in reward points, they make for nice vacation lodging.


To keep up with the mantra of picking an alliance, in rental car land it’s important to just stick with a brand. There’s quite a bit to choose from but I recommend using Hertz or Avis as they are the stronger brands out there. I’ve heard good things about National and used them for a recent ski trip but I’ve had no issues as a long time Hertz user.


So if I was going to summarize my advice, I say that choosing an alliance for both an airline and hotel is the most important thing you can do to make your travel easier. Other than that, enjoy your time in the sky.

Anyone else have some good travel tips?

On the Road Again…

I’m off to Germany today from Austin for Eclipse Summit Europe 2009.

The first order of business is to eat the ceremonial last breakfast taco I’ll have for a week.

Austin Torchy's Breakfast Taco

I started using recently to manage my travels. I highly recommend it to anyone who travels quite a bit and needs to share itineraries with family or colleagues. It also allows you to see if you have any friends that will be in the area at the same time you are (hi Boris!).


On top of that, it even turns traveling into a game!


I’m a bit disappointed that I’m in second place… I think I can fix that with a planned vacation to Fiji.

Finally, TripIt has an iPhone application so you can check your trips on your phone.

TripIt iPhone

So give TripIt a try if you travel quite a bit.

Ok, time to go. I hope to see everyone in Ludwigsburg.