19 Genius Travel Secrets From Frequent Flyers
What perks come with spending a good amount of your life in the air? Free upgrades and a robust knowledge of travel hacks. Frequent flyers know how to pack, how to get through the airport seamlessly, and how to have the best in-flight experience. It's how they survive.
As you plan your next trip, you can steal these secrets. We have tips from Virgin America flight attendants, the editor in chief of The Points Guy, and even a man who has visited every country on earth. And as someone who travels the world with airline miles myself, I've mixed in some of my own secrets. Read up before you head out.
Have a Go-To Outfit
Regular travelers limit packing to one carry-on whenever possible. One way to do this: have a comfortable, go-to outfit that works for most occasions. I like to wear this outfit on the plane, because then I can pair it with the perfect jewelry, jacket, scarf, and other accessories without having to take up space in my luggage. It's like getting one complete outfit for free.
Added bonus: make slip-on shoes part of this ensemble. Here's a tip from Christina Flores, a flight attendant on Virgin America: "I recommend investing in a pair of easy-on-easy-off shoes that are fashionable and comfortable. That way you're not stuck in line struggling to unlace high tops or release multiple buckles on your boots."
Check Your Attitude
Frequent flyers know the secret to getting special treatment during a flight: be nice! "Most passengers seem pretty miserable when they're flying," explained Zach Honig, the editor in chief of miles travel site The Points Guy. "You'll really stick out if you smile and be polite in all of your interactions with airport and airline staff."
Another tip for getting on a flight attendant's good side? Make eye contact during the security demonstration. You might be the only one.
Get Free TSA Precheck by Signing Up For a Travel Credit Card
I doubt you'll meet a truly frequent flyer who doesn't have TSA Precheck. The program makes airport security a relative breeze. At more than 150 airports, you can access shorter lines and keep your shoes on. Many travel-oriented credit cards will cover the $85 sign-up fee.
Chris Guillebeau, who has traveled to every country on earth, is all about the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which provides a credit for TSA Precheck in addition to other perks. "That one card will get you enough points for two round-trip tickets, and you're not locked into a single airline. You'll also get free primary car rental insurance, and no foreign transaction fees."
Email Copies of Important Documents
Keep your most important travel documents in the cloud. That means either emailing yourself copies or creating a file on Google Drive or Dropbox you can easily access. Important documents include your passport, your driver's license, and your hotel and other confirmations. Even consider having a copy of your birth certificate.
I once had my passport stolen in Prague but was able to get a temporary one at the US consulate quickly because I had a copy of all my documents, including my birth certificate. Today you don't even need a scanner or copy machine to make duplicates — just snap a photo with your phone. Be sure to get both the front and back, when applicable.
Do Research Before You Pick Your Route and Seats
Pack Laundry Detergent in Your Toiletry Bag
Another trick for packing light: plan to do laundry while you're on your trip. I make this easy by filling a travel-sized plastic bottle with laundry detergent. Then I can wash socks, underwear, and other items in the sink from my hotel room. (Throw in some clothespins if you want to assist with the air-drying.) If you're staying at an Airbnb that has laundry, this will also save you time in the event that your rental doesn't provide detergent.
Wear Your Night Cream on the Plane
Long flights can dry out your skin. Luckily, there's an easy solution: apply your night cream before you head to the airport. Just like at night, a heavier moisturizer will have time to sink in and do its job. Look for ultrahydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid.
Pack Sleep Gear in Your Purse
First-class passengers get amenities kits that often include eye masks and ear plugs. You can make your own kit if you're flying coach. By blocking your major senses, you'll never notice that crying baby again. Throw in some cozy socks for even more comfort.
Wear an Oversize Scarf on the Plane
Regardless of the season, an oversize scarf must make your packing list. I suggest wearing it on the plane, where it doubles as a blanket and doesn't take up space in your bag.
In general, layers are key: "I like to bring versatile items that aren't bulky and can be layered based upon the weather — like scarves, skinny jeans, ballerina flats, and tank tops," said Raya Dharnidharka, a flight attendant for Virgin.
Keep a Toothbrush Handy
Have toothbrush and toothpaste easily accessible on the plane. You might not be fresh after a long flight, but at least your breath will be. Anything that helps you stay in your routine, including brushing your teeth before sleeping or after rising, will make travel feel less disruptive.
Download Free Magazines on Your Kindle
Ever feel like you get the most reading done on planes? Since books take up space, frequent flyers opt for digital devices like a Kindle — which has an awesome Amazon Prime perk. If you're a member, you can download free magazines like The New Yorker, Elle, or even Us Weekly onto your Kindle. That saves you space and money you would otherwise spend at the airport newsstand.
Avoid Snack Boxes
What do frequent flyers order off the in-flight menu? Honig told us: "I prefer a hot meal if one is available. Otherwise, I'll go for a salad or a sandwich. Those calorie-packed snack boxes are a last resort."
Choose the Aisle and Window Seats When Traveling as a Pair
If you're traveling with a partner, leave the middle seat open when choosing your seats. These are the last seats to fill up, so you'll likely have a free seat and extra space in your row. And if someone does show up, there is a 99.99 percent chance they will switch with you so you can be next to your travel buddy.
If Your Flight Gets Canceled, Pick Up the Phone
Flight delays and cancellations will throw your plans off course. To limit the consequences, call your airline's customer service number as soon as you find out. "There's a good chance you'll reach the phone agent first, and every second counts, since you'll be competing with dozens or even hundreds of other passengers to get on an alternative flight," Honig said.
Pack Travel-Sized Dry Shampoo
Brooke Flemming, another flight attendant for Virgin, has the perfect hack for keeping your hair looking good after a long flight: pack a travel-sized bottle of dry shampoo.
"A simple topknot is my go-to style when traveling," she explained. "It's quick and easy but still polished. When I land, I can always take it down, and there's a nice little wave from being twisted up all day. Just spritz on some dry shampoo at the roots and I'm good to go!"
Never Use the First Bathroom You See
Whether you just made it through security or just got off the plane, skip the first bathroom you see and head to the next one. The first one is always the most crowded.
Request a Ride as You Walk Out
"I request my Uber when I'm about three minutes from the front door," Honig explained. If possible, ask your ride to meet at the departures level to avoid the traffic backup at arrivals.
Save Leftover Currency When You Get Back
Instead of spending all your extra cash on junk at the airport, save a few bills and coins for your next trip. I like to put each type of currency in a plastic Ziploc bag. Before I head abroad, I'll swap out my dollars for the appropriate foreign currency. Planning ahead like this will save you time and stress when you land. If you have a leftover metro card or tickets, throw them in the baggie, too.
Note What You Didn't Use Every Time You Unpack
Does carry-on-only travel seem unrealistic? Here's a tip from Guillebeau that will help you work up to it: "Make a rule to only take things you actually use on the trip. So when you get back and realize there are shoes or clothes or just stuff you never used, you don't take it next time." After a few trips, he promises, you'll easily be down to a carry-on.