Fourteen travel tips for infrequent fliers

I don’t fly often.  In many ways, I’m very thankful for this.

As an infrequent flier, though, I am vulnerable to being taken advantage of.  People who fly every month or even every week have parts of their travel routine down to a science.  I’ve traveled with fliers who not only have the basics down, but have the nuances of particular airports down so well that they just breeze through.

This is like anything else:  The more you practice deliberately, the better you become.

Rules change all the time

I’m sure you’ve gotten a number of notices from various online services saying that continued use of their service requires you to accept new terms and conditions, or adherence under a new privacy policy.

Tips for Infrequent FliersWhether we read them or not, understand them or not, these change the rules of the business relationship.

The more time that goes in between your air trips, the more the rules have changed in the meantime.  What you knew to be the rules as of your last flight may not be the case anymore.

Regardless, rules are rules.  They still need to be followed, even if you find out about them in the middle of your security check.  Even if you lose all of your personal hygiene supplies to TSA.  Even if you need to pay extra fees for your slightly-oversized baggage.

Some extra prep can go a long way

My last flight, which was down to New Orleans to participate in FinCon, was the first I’d taken in quite a while — well over a year, I think.  While I did manage not to get taken advantage of too badly, there are a number of things I would have done differently.

Here are a few of the preparations I made for my trip.  Along the way I’ll explain the places I could have done a bit better.

  1. When booking the flight, use an aggregator.  Aggregators let you compare flight prices for a bunch of airlines side by side.  Travelocity (check rebates) and CheapAir.com (check rebates) are fine choices.  (I used Travelocity for my flight.)  There’s also Google Flights.  If you have more time before buying your ticket, you have a few shots with Priceline.com (check rebates) to get a really cheap ticket.laptop
  2. Be on the watch for upsells.  Travelocity offered a number of opportunities for me to spend more money on my flight not only during the registration process, but after as well.  Expect a number of cross-sells such as trip insurance, rental car and hotel combos, and more.  This happens during the booking process, and after, with follow-on emails.  (They already have your attention, so they’d be foolish not to milk it for all its worth.)
  3. Take some time to understand the rules for your ticket.  Look at transferability.  Can you transfer the ticket?  What about changing the itinerary?  Is there a cost?  What about flight cancellations?  Know what you are entitled to, and what you aren’t.
  4. Take some time to understand the rules for your baggage.  How many bags can you carry on?  What are the size and weight limits for carry-on and checked baggage?  What are the restrictions as to what liquids can be carried on?  I took the extra step of making sure that each dimension restriction was met individually, not just the total.  As it turned out, they didn’t verify the size of my luggage, but I probably could have gotten away with a slightly bigger bag for carry-on.
  5. Think about the nature of the trip, and leave room for what you’re taking back.  Since I was going to a conference, I knew that I would be getting some swag, so I left room in my bags so I didn’t have to check any baggage on the way back.  My wife even suggested packing some of my socks and briefs that had seen better days, with the intention that I’d just throw them away there!luggage
  6. Investigate parking options, if needed.  If you’re near the airport then there’s no need to consider parking, but if you’ll be parking your car near the airport, check around for garages that may have a better rate than the airport.  I didn’t do this and paid about twice what I needed to.
  7. Investigate options for getting from the destination airport to your hotel.  Are there shuttles that give you a better deal than a taxi?  Check around.  I didn’t do this, and may have paid more than I needed to.
  8. Check in at home, if possible.  This turned out to be a big time-saver.  I had my boarding pass in hand as I entered the airport.  Since I wasn’t planning to check any bags, I went straight to the security line.
  9. Be on the watch for more upsells on check-in!  Yep … again.  I was offered the opportunity to double or triple my airline miles for a fee.  I was also offered the opportunity to rescue my paltry cache of miles from expiration.  The airline miles I get only have marginal value because, well, I don’t fly all that much.  I got a few magazines subscriptions before with the miles from my last trip, and the 143 or so were what was left over from that.airport
  10. Plan not to check baggage, if possible.  It’s not only faster (see above) but it’s also cheaper.  There was a fee for any checked baggage, even the first one.  I used to be able to get one checked for free.  Now, that’s complimentary only for people who fly a lot more than I do.
  11. Leave plenty of time to get to the airport.  The standard guidance is to arrive at the airport two hours before departure for domestic flights, and three hours before departure for international flights.  Since I was 70 miles away from the airport I used, I gave myself extra time above what Google Maps said the travel time would be.  Since I’m an infrequent flier, I don’t have as good a sense for how long traveling to the airport takes on different parts of the day.  So, I recommend being really conservative even if it ends up that you sit at your terminal for a bit.
  12. Consider taking a longer, but more familiar, route to the airport.  If you regularly travel along the fastest route to your airport, then this one may not apply to you.  For me, there was a route that was about 30 minutes faster than one I knew pretty well, but I had never taken it before.  I didn’t want to risk missing my flight because I got lost.taxi-png
  13. Bring snacks.  This isn’t absolutely necessary but it can save a bit of money.  I brought 3 pounds of almonds that I ate not only on the plane but throughout the conference.  Mainly, because I wanted something besides carbs at the conference.  That, and I suspected that Ally Bank was going to bring their irresistible dipped Oreos, and I was correct.  (I know that I didn’t have nearly as many as Mrs. 1500 estimated she had, but, boy oh boy, it was a struggle!)
  14. Save those trial sizes that you get from your dental visits.  Wanted to mention this last one because I totally dropped the ball.  I completely forgot that I had a mouthwash and toothpaste trial size, and and bought new at the store for a really high unit price.  D’OH!

If you’re looking to take a trip soon, and you don’t fly often, the best advice is to give yourself more cushion than you think you need, and plan a bit more than you otherwise would.  That way you won’t be completely scalped at every turn.

What other helpful tips do you have for someone who doesn’t fly all that much?  Leave them in the comments below!

 

Amazon listens! (and what we can learn)

We do a lot of shopping through Amazon.  We love the convenience of our Amazon Prime membership, and even made the decision to get an Amazon rewards card.

Amazon is a great place to save some money, easily. Amazon more or less singlehandedly gave rise to the term showrooming.

We save even more on some of our staple foods with subscribe and save — automatic delivery of the same item at set intervals. We have a few more items that we’re looking to put on that list, which could increase the discount we get on the entire order.

We talked, and Amazon listens

There has been the occasional hiccup with some of our liquid items getting damaged in shipment.  Someone finds the leak in transit, and sends the item back, effectively canceling that order.  We can get a bit ahead on the stuff we want — “go long,” in investing parlance — so in the end it’s not a big deal.

We were convinced that the beef broth we get was due to inadequate packaging.  The picture on the left is characteristic of how little padding the shipped box used to have.  (This particular picture was actually the inner box in the picture on the right.)  Only about at eighth inch of corrugated cardboard surrounding the coated paper boxes with two gallons of broth.

amazon-beef-broth-win

My wife had already written to Amazon a few times about this.  But it’s clear that this time around the they listened and “beefed” up the packaging.  (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

Why did it take so long?  (not that I blame them)

The ideal outcome (for us) would have been a response like this the first time we let Amazon know about the packaging:

“Oh, of COURSE!  What were we thinking?!  We’ll go to our packaging engineers right this second and make sure this never happens again.”

Would that have satisfied us?  Certainly, and then some!  But I can see why the flimsy-by-comparison packaging happened for a while.

One damaged piece of packaging doesn’t necessarily indicate a systemic problem.  It could be that one of the employees in one of the logistics companies that Amazon uses was having a really, REALLY bad day, and took it out on our beef broth.  Or, packaging sometimes fail under normal circumstances.  It happens.

After this happens a few times — especially a few times with the same people, and the same products — then it’s more than just a bad day, and it gets looked at in more detail.

But in order for them to look at it in more detail, it had to happen a few times.  It must have, or we wouldn’t have gotten a second shipment that was as flimsily packaged as the first.

What can we learn from the timeliness of this decision?

Let me be clear:  I don’t fault Amazon for not turning on a dime to improve the packaging on our order.  It’s not Amazon’s job in life to ask “How high?” if we tell it to jump.  Its job is to be profitable — which is in our interest, too, since we like the convenience of buying our stuff from there!  Our job is to vote with our dollars (and to be reasonable customers).

In fact, there are several insights that come out of what happened here:

  • Data collection is valuable.   I have little doubt that Amazon stores a bunch of information about every last order that every last person has made on their site.  It’s that information that led them to improve the packaging on the broth.  They didn’t do it on a whim.  Part of that data collection was our correspondence to them, but other parts were the messy boxes of broth that came back to them, descriptions of what happened in transit, the shipping company, etc.
    • What can we learn?  If you don’t collect information, you have nothing to base decisions on except your gut.  (Not that that’s always bad, but it’s certainly not always good!)  Tracking your expenses helps you to find the sore spots in your budget.  Baselining helps you to see whether a deal is really good, meh, or not so good.
  • Data reduction is even more valuable.  Even a company as large and high-tech as Amazon doesn’t have the resources to chase down the root cause of every single problem delivery.  They only investigate the ones that are happening a lot — the ones that are costing them the most.  That’s where data reduction comes in:  Collect a lot of data, and look for the gems that will bring the most value.
    • What can we learn?  This is why comparison sites are great.  Search engines are the biggest; the best ones magically get inside your head and give you what you’re searching for, front and center, from the 34 million matches to your search term.  Or, instead of hitting over a dozen rebate sites, why not check out a rebate comparison engine that puts the highest one on top for you?
  • Profits are made at the margin.  We as customers see that Amazon broke our package, or that it got here safely.  Amazon, if it sees all of its packages getting to their destinations safely, will decrease the amount of packaging and cushioning until a few of them break.  Saving two cents on materials is huge for Amazon, because they deliver hundreds of thousands of items a week, if not over a million, items per week.
    • What can we learn?    Just like Amazon pushed the envelope on its packaging until it failed, we can push the envelope on our personal finances until they fail.  How long can you wait until sending out payment before it’s late?  How many emails per week can you send to a mailing list before people unsubscribe?  How low can you get a seller to go before they just say “no?”

If you play safe, you may be leaving lots of profits (savings) on the table.  But to know when to not play it safe, you need data, and need to find the right data in there.  This is useful whether you’re in business, or not.

The best deals, or the highest profits, are hidden in plain sight, right at the margins.

Work shirts for a breakfast sandwich

Clothes can say many different things. Such as: “I’m quietly confident.” Or: “I’m hip and stylish.” Or even: “I’m utterly tacky.”

Regardless of the specifics, all clothes say: “I’m not naked.”  This is largely what I demand of my clothing, and it’s largely what everyone else demands of my clothing as well.

My wife has a few more criteria than I do about my clothing, one of which is that the color of said clothing shouldn’t make me look naked. Because that’s nearly as bad as actually being naked.  (If you can picture Slim Goodbody’s evil doppelganger Fat Badbody, then you get the point.)

Aside from actual nakedness or faux nakedness, though, I’m brand-agnostic as long as it fits reasonably well.

And if the clothes come from a thrift store, so much the better!

Simple clothing needs make for small clothing bills

I’m a jeans-and-polo-shirt or a jeans-and-tee-shirt kind of guy.  It’s been my outfit for years at this point.  I can wear this to work, to the grocery store, to church, and to just about every other place I need to go.

The last set of blue jeans I got was at Walmart.  My wife had been looking in thrift stores, but hadn’t run across any there.  We finally bought some new ones at Walmart because my current set of jeans were just about beyond repair.  The top part of the inseam can be fixed only but so many times.

I run my polo shirts similarly into the ground.  Holes at the seams and frayed collars were noticeable at twenty paces.  (Or they seemed to be.)

I had worn some of these shirts for years, so they didn’t owe me anything.

This week, my wife stopped by one of her new favorite thrift stores, and found four new-to-me polo shirts for $2.75.

Not $2.75 each.  $2.75 total.

Not as tasty, but much more valuable.

Are all thrift stores created equal?

 The shirts weren’t all that my wife got at that store.  She also found some clothes for herself, and some fabric.  She believes that she got a couple of yards of wool for $2.  New this is $20/yard.

I’ve been to some thrift stores that were awful, frankly.  The employees complained, and they didn’t treat the customers well.

I’ve also been to some that really jacked the prices up.  Eight dollars for a used coffee maker, when a new one is ten?  C’mon.

This store is new.  My wife thinks that they may not really look into what exactly they are selling, or else they might be charging more.  In any case, the secret won’t last long, and unless the prices match a bit better what the demand will become, the thrift store will run out of good merchandise.

But for now, she’ll hit this store for all its worth, thankyouverymuch!

So … what’s the best clothing deal you’ve gotten at a thrift store?  I have to believe that someone out there has done even better than $2.75 for four shirts. :)