Whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, you want your experience to be as luxurious as possible. And why shouldn’t it be? Travel is a major investment, and you can choose from dozens of providers in the vast marketplace, based on your personal needs and preferences.
Airlines, hotels, and car rental companies recognize that you have options, and their goal is to be competitive and gain customer loyalty by offering discounts, exclusive amenities, and upgrades. You don’t need super-VIP status to take advantage of these perks. You simply have to know where to find them. Here’s our best advice for upgrading your travel experience this year.
UPGRADE TIP #1: BE PART OF THE ONLINE CONVERSATION
It makes sense: Companies show love to their biggest fans. That starts with signing up for frequent traveler programs and email communications, but it doesn’t end there. Using a provider’s points-bearing credit card is another great way to gain access to their most-valued inner circle.
But the best way to demonstrate loyalty—and reap the rewards—is by joining the conversation in a public way. Major travel brands take note of social media users who routinely tag them, share or post positive content, and amplify their brand. In return, they often post deals and upgrade offers they know only their most engaged followers will see.
UPGRADE TIP #2: BE INFORMED WITH SOLID INTEL FROM THE PROS
Engaging in online travel communities does more than score brownie points with your favorite brands. It connects you to valuable stories and insights from travel bloggers, industry gurus, and other experienced jet-setters who have traveling (and upgrading!) down to a fine art.
For example, did you know more than 50 airlines offer “auctions” where you can bid for a better seat? Or that using points for upgrades instead of airfare will make your miles stretch much farther in the long run? Or that it’s nearly impossible to get an upgrade on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays, which are peak business-travel days at most airports?
When it comes to cashing in your hard-earned points for swanky upgrades, trust the folks who’ve been playing the long game.
UPGRADE TIP #3: BE ASSERTIVE (BUT NOT PUSHY)
When traveling, and especially when requesting perks, the old adage rings true: It never hurts to ask. Many travelers lose out on available upgrades that are free or inexpensive, simply because they felt too intimidated to ask or assumed their “status” didn’t warrant special treatment.
Rest assured that travel professionals don’t think in those terms. A smart strategy is to ask as close as possible to check-in, and never ask for a freebie. Instead, ask how much it would cost to upgrade. If it’s available, chances are you’ll get an upgrade for free, but only if you ask nicely.
In the vast majority of cases, speaking up pays off. And if you’re traveling for a birthday, anniversary, honeymoon, or special occasion, it never hurts to mention that as well.
UPGRADE TIP #4: BE PROACTIVE
It can take years to hone your individual travel style. But when it comes to finding the best bang for your travel buck, there are lots of ways to be proactive:
- Book all aspects of your itinerary as far in advance as possible
- Look around for better deals on car rentals and hotels with free cancellation
- Take advantage of very late or very early flights
- Avoid third-party sites and book directly with the provider when possible
- Arrive at the airport as early as possible
- Request upgrades when booking or at check-in
UPGRADE TIP #5: BE PREPARED TO SWITCH PROVIDERS IF NECESSARY
If you travel frequently, there’s a good chance you’ve enjoyed a long and positive relationship with a specific airline, hotel, or car rental company. There’s a lot to be said for loyalty, but at the end of the day, a partnership only works if both parties feel satisfied.
If you’re running into persistent problems with getting upgrades or attentive service, it could be due to policy changes that are beyond your ability to negotiate or control. Instead of waiting (potentially years) for things to improve, it might be time to give another company a chance to earn your business.