You’re charging me WHAT for my flights?!

As a travel agent, I get asked all the time by clients, friends, and people in general to help them get better prices on their flights.  Most of the times they are asking about domestic flights.  Here are some pointers on which airlines to book through, the best day to book, etc.

The one airline I always recommend is Southwest.  Of course there are always pros and cons.  Most people either love Southwest or hate Southwest.  My personal opinion, I LOVE them.  The most important thing for me is great customer service, which Southwest has never disappointed me.  They have some of the most accommodating, upbeat, and sweetest attendants and customer service reps (in airport and on the phone).  I will pay extra for great customer service, whether it’s for travel, products, or service.  Although on Southwest, you don’t have to sacrifice price for great customer service.  Small business owners can delight in Southwest’s business friendly policies.  Below are the pros and cons.  Read on for other airlines and the best day to book…

Pros

  • No baggage fees.  Your first 2 bags are free of charge.  Yes there are weight restrictions, but this will save you at least $50.  Ladies, bring those extra outfits and shoes…and you can still go shopping.
  • No change fees.  If you haven’t seen Southwest’s commercials, most airlines (US Air, Continental, etc.) charge $100 – $150 if you need to change the dates of your flight.  A bunch of BS if you ask me, especially for business travelers.
  • Transferrable Tickets.  What does this mean?  Well let’s say you booked 8 staff members to fly down to Florida for a conference a month from now.  Two weeks before the trip, two of them resigned or were fired.  Now what?  On Southwest, you can use these tickets for your two new staff members; whereas on other airlines, you just lose your money.  Beware though; Southwest is planning to change this policy in 6 months.  So don’t book too early.
  • Better Rewards Program.  Personally I think their current program is much more simple and better than the new one they’re changing to in March of this year, but it still beats the other airlines.  Southwest rewards never expire.  That means no letters stating that your miles will expire unless you buy a magazine, transfer (at a fee), or donate your miles.  OK the donate part is good, but the rest is crap.  They also don’t have blackout dates.  If there’s a seat available on the flight, you can use your points (they don’t go by miles) for it.  Now there’s a concept!  If you want to know more details about this, go to their website .
  • Bigger & better seats.  Unless you fly first class most times, you’ll be happy with Southwest’s seats.  They’re all leather seats, and for a clean freak like me that is heaven.  Who knows what’s on those fabric seats…lice, bacteria…yuck!  Sometimes they’re itchy too.  Leg space is also more compared to most US Air, Delta, and Continental domestic flights.  Trust me.  I’ve been on all of them plus some!

 Cons

  • No seat assignment.  Huh?  Yuppers, Southwest has no seat assignments.  “First come, first serve.”  It’s actually first to check-in, first serve.  Like most airlines, you can check-in for your boarding pass 24 hours prior.  You will get a boarding pass with a letter (A, B, or C) and a number (1-60).  You want to be in the lower letter (A) and the lower number (15).  A1-15 is reserved for “business” (most expensive) fares.  The earlier you check-in, the lower your letter and number.  This letter and number tells you when you can board.  Group A boards first, B second and C last.  You can choose whatever seat you please.  Please know this so you don’t aggravate regular Southwest flyers like me!
  • No meals, just snacks.  The good news is you don’t have to pay for snacks or drinks, except for alcoholic beverages.  The bad news is you don’t have a choice to buy a meal.  So make sure you bring a meal onboard if you’re flying during lunch or dinner time.  The snacks, for the most part, are unlimited and free.  Most alcoholic (or energy) drinks can be paid with a drink coupon, which comes free with a “business” fare.  If you’re lucky, you get to sit next to someone like me who always has free drink coupons on hand (I don’t drink alcohol).

 

OK so what are the other airlines I recommend?  The next best are Virgin America and Jet Blue; followed by US Air, AirTran, and Delta; then United, American, and Continental.  The above is based on customer service records of travelers’ and my own experiences.  There are other domestic airlines, but I just mention the main ones.  Please keep in mind that Delta and Continental is a more upscale airline compared to US Air, United, American, and AirTran.  I always recommend using Kayak when shopping for domestic airfare, and using a travel agent for international airfare.  Most travel agents won’t touch domestic airfare, unless they’re in corporate or group travel.

Sign up for the rewards program.  Whether you’re an avid flyer or a random one, sign up for the rewards program.  There’s always some type of reward or offer you can use from them, no matter now menial.  At the least, you can always donate your rewards.  It’s always appreciated, and it doesn’t cost you a thing.  Just beware of spamming.  Make sure you set up your email preference to receive only what you want, such as award notifications and nothing more.

The best day to book airfare is TUESDAY evening.  Airlines tend to release fare sales on Tuesday mornings.  If other airlines want to match the price, it’ll be available by Tuesday evening.  On Southwest, you can easily change a previously booked airfare to the lower rate without penalties.  Tonight I saved $50 on a Southwest flight I booked last week, and it’s not the first time I’ve saved.  You can also try calling the 800 number if you have booked on another airline.  It helps if you’re part of their rewards program, be nice, and ask for a manager.  Finally, try not to book on Saturday and Sunday.  Airlines tend to raise fares on the weekends, when most people have time to book and make travel plans.

I’ll post tips on hotels, packages, and other travels at a later time.  I hope this helps and saves you money.  Bon Voyage!

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Souper Bowl time!!!

Today, I found a flyer on my door for the Souper Bowl.  For those who have not heard of it, the Souper Bowl utilizes “Super Bowl weekend to mobilize youth to fight hunger and poverty in their local communities.”  The non-profit was started in 1990 by Rev. Dr. Brad Smith, then a seminary intern at a Presbyterian church in South Carolina.  As of today, the Souper Bowl has raised over $50 million and collected over 22 million pounds of food.  It just goes to show you what one person can start.

So why should a small business help?  HINT: PR!  I will provide you with a few simple ideas on how you can make a difference in such a short period of time…the super bowl is this Sunday!  Get your staff and patients (or clients) involved.  If you are not a small business owner, I’ll go into ways you can help too.

Encourage your staff to bring non-perishable food they’d like to donate.

Ways to encourage your staff:

  1. Match their donations.  Example:  You have a staff of 10; each brings 5 food items, bringing the total to 50 items.  You can easily buy 50 food items at Costco, in bulk, at “wholesale” prices.
  2. Reward their giving.  Take them all out to lunch.  Give them each a little gift or you can raffle off a larger prize.

Ways to use it for PR:

      Photos, photos, photos.  Make sure you take photos of all the food you’ve collected and will be donating.  Take photos of you and your staff with the food, your staff at lunch or winning the raffle prize, etc.  Post them on your website, blog, Facebook, etc.  Send them to your local newspaper with a short write-up of what you did.

Encourage your patients (or clients) to bring non-perishable food they’d like to donate.

Ways to encourage your patients (or clients):

  1. Match their donations.  This obviously involves collecting more food than if you only involve your staff.  You can put a cap on your match.  Example:  100 patients bring 5 food items each, bringing the total to 500 food items.  You’ve placed a cap of “we’ll match your donation up to 100 food items” or “we’ll donate a food item for every patient (or client) who brings in a donated food item”.
  2. Give them discounts.  Examples:  Every food item brought in gives them a $1 discount.  Every patient (or client) who brings a donated food item receives $20 off their next appointment.
  3. Reward their giving.  Raffle off a few prizes (ex. $10 gift cards, movie tickets, teeth whitening, etc.)

Ways to use it for PR:

      Again, PHOTOS!!!  Take photos of all the donated items with you, your staff, even your patients (or clients).  Post them on your website, blog, Facebook.  Definitely send them to your local newspaper with a write-up.

There are more and better ways to help and gain PR from this if we had a bit more time.  You can reach a broader public and gain patients (or clients) while making a difference in your local community and the world-at-large.  You can also involve your patients and staff in even more ways that would encourage patient loyalty, staff motivation, etc.  We’ll go into further details on how to do this in a future article, or feel free to contact me anytime.

If you are an individual wanting to help, that’s easy!  Below are several ways you can do so:

  • Go through your pantry and gather any non-expired, non-perishable food items you’d like to donate.
  • Buy non-perishable food items at your local grocery store and donate them.  Some of them have boxes or barrels where you can drop off the food items.  No need to lug them back home.
  • Donate to the Souper Bowl of Caring.
  • Order the Souper Bowl special now through Feb 6th – two large one topping pizzas with four 20 oz. drinks for $23.99.  The Souper Bowl of Caring will receive $2 from every order placed.  Order at papajohns.com. Enter promo code TACKLE.
  • Get your family, friends, and neighbors involved.  You (and a few others) can pick up the donated items and deliver them to drop-off locations.
  • Have every guest coming to your Super Bowl party bring a food item to be donated.
  • Encourage businesses you frequent to participate in the Souper Bowl.  Feel free to direct them to this blog if they need ideas.