As airlines grow smarter with rewards programs so should you. Award seats are harder to come by because airlines are tightening their belts, and taking advantage of all ways of accumulating miles and redeeming awards. Arm yourself with the best information on how to be a savvy frequent flier in today’s climate.
KNOW THE VALUE OF A MILE The key to redeeming miles lies in how the airlines value them. The industries rule of thumb has always been that a mile was worth about two cents. The underlying formula: 25,000 miles were required for one round-trip coach ticket, which was estimated to have an average price of $500.00. $500.00 ÷ 25,000 = $0.02. But discount airlines and Internet fares have forced ticket prices down: the average domestic round-trip fare was $362.00 in third quarter of 2008. One mile has depreciated to around 1.5 cents today.
DO THE MATH To decide how much an award ticket is worth, make some basic calculations. Redeeming award seats makes the most sense when the cash value of a ticket is roughly in line with its cost in miles. For instance, when you find a last minute flight to a popular European destination that costs $600.00, and use 60,000 miles – or 1 cent per mile to buy it.
USE A MILES-CASH COMBO Half the battle of using award miles is finding available seats. Some newer programs offer a compromise: Delta’s Pay With Miles program allows you to “purchase” seats with a combination of miles and cash without having to worry about award seat availability. With Delta’s Pay with Miles you can use 10,000 reward miles to knock down the cost of the ticket by $100.00.
Finally, be aware that the miles you will – or won’t – earn are a factor in the “real” cost of the trip. While crunching the numbers is more subjective than ever, at least now you have some options for spending a little less (in miles) in exchange for certainty.
The other day when a friend of mine was getting ready to leave on a trip and was flying on three different carriers, he asked me what the baggage fee was going to be for each airline. Now for the most part, one can remember the cost of a candy bar, a can of soda pop or even the price for a gallon of milk. But now days, the ability to remember the cost per baggage is like trying to remember what the price of gas was last year at this time. The Airline that you are a frequent traveler on might be easy to remember, but what about all the other two Airlines that my friend is going to board from one city to another in a 2 week time period.
I told him that I thought that the fee was one cost, when in reality, I was wrong. The next day at work I found the cool grid that BCD travel had sent out. Attached is this link for your reference that should be helpful. It seems like sometimes you can find some great airfare, but by the time you pay all the fees for all your baggage, you might be paying the close to the same amount as your ticket cost you. You never know, you might be like my friend. You will either buck up and pay the baggage fees, take a carry on and figure out a way to wear two to three sets of clothes in a two week period or you will ask your travel agent to ship your clothes to you. The 3rd option might end up to be more cost effective in the long run.
Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell him I charge a fee for the shipping….
A few weeks ago, I spent cooped up in a travel trailer watching the rain come tumbling down for two days straight. I was trapped in the trailer with my daughter, her friend and her friend’s parents, who had invited us to go to camping with them. While sitting around waiting for a break in the weather we talked about a wide range of topics, including employment and travel.
He is in the military and she is a nurse and apparently they travel a couple of times a year, generally within the US. When they learned that I worked for a travel agency, he asked me the usual questions about all the places I’ve been and isn’t wonderful how I get all these great deals on travel (the only advantage I have is that I see the specials when they first come out allowing me to be one of the first people to purchase the ticket, rather than one of the last) and then he asked me why people should use a travel agent.
I took a moment to compose my thoughts and then I explained why I would say that people should use a travel agent rather than doing it yourself. I started with service. Travel agents are service providers, you call and tell us what you want and we do the work to get you that service. We are there to take care of you throughout the entire process of booking, traveling and even after you get home. If you have a problem with an airline or a hotel or a car rental and you booked it yourself, do you know what your rights are and do you where to start? Your travel agent does. Not only does your travel agent have lots of contacts in the business, your travel agent has a relationship with the vendors that allows your agent to get special treatment for you at no additional cost or at a reduced cost.
The next reason is knowledge and that is a big one. Most professional agents have traveled extensively and have access to news about vendors, resorts, hotels, etc., that the general public may not be aware of or they may not be aware of the importance of the news. For example, a co-worker of mine had a client that was setting up a trip to fly between two cities in Southeast Asia. There were two airlines flying the route, the customer asked for one and my co-worker had just read where that carrier had been banned from flying to/from the EU and the USA due to safety concerns. My co-worker told the customer about the ban and talked the customer into flying on the other carrier. It turns out that the original flight that the customer requested crashed, killing all on board. Needless to say, the customer was very thankful that he had listened to his agent.
Additionally agents get feedback from their customers which allows the agent to remain current about new situations that arise. Sometimes this may be something as minor as having a customer tell you that a hotel is changing brands or that the visa both in the Istanbul airport has moved from the right side of the hall to the left side and is now a little further away from the stairs. Or it could be something important like a construction project is starting next to a hotel and therefore the agent knows to steer people to other hotels or to request rooms on the opposite side of the hotel from the construction.
Then comes the biggest one, value. Yes, you pay a service fee to use a travel agent however over time a professional travel agent will save you money and ensure that you get the greatest value for the money spent. How does this happen? It is a variety of things, ranging from insuring that you frequent flyer number is transmitted to all the partner airlines and car companies, to using connections to get you an upgrade on a cruise or a room at a resort to dealing with preferred vendors who offer amenities at no extra cost to the customer to just being diligent and checking repeatedly to see if the price has dropped. Sometimes it simply knowing that an option exists. Many people say there isn’t a good reason to use a travel agent on domestic travel because it is so simple, I disagree that a travel agent can’t bring value to a trip, even if it is so simple to book. Let me give you a couple of examples, a traveler is flying from Salt Lake City to Atlanta on Delta. The traveler is departing on Monday morning and returning Wednesday night, the airfare is $1259.71. If you book your own travel, you may think that this is the only option since that seems to be the lowest fare no matter which combination of flights you pick for those dates. A professional travel agent can take a look at the fares and quickly determine that if you were to either fly into Atlanta on Sunday or return Thursday, you can drop the fare by as much as 50%! That will cover the costs of a decent hotel and extra meals and still save you money.
The other example would be if you are traveling to Orlando or other resort destination, your professional travel agent can easily compare the cost of doing everything ala carte or getting a package. Packages may include a car rental and a hotel stay, admission to attractions, in addition to the airfare. The nice thing about packages is that you know the total cost, including taxes and fees, which may not sound like much until you get the bill. Hotel room taxes in many resort areas are in excess of 10%, so on a six night stay at room rate of $150.00 per night, that’s an extra $90.00.
I have a friend in the entertainment business who travels extensively. Much of her travel is international and for several years I tried to get her to do her travel through me, instead she opted to do it herself. A couple of years ago she visited the United Kingdom to attend a wedding of a good friend where she was going to perform a couple of songs. She had listed the date on her website as a private performance, which is was, however when she arrived in the UK, she told Customs and Immigration that she was there as a tourist. About 9 months later, she was returning to the UK, this time to be the opening act on European tour. She landed in Heathrow, got to Customs and Immigration and was detained when she declared that she was a tourist. Apparently, the authorities had discovered that she had visited the UK several times before and worked without the proper visa and this time they weren’t going to let her into the country. They put her in a small room, where they kept her for 8 hours, then they handcuffed her and escorted her onto a flight out of the country. She later told me that she hadn’t thought that she needed a work visa because she wasn’t taking a job in the UK, she was just passing through. She no longer can visit the UK because of her error. Now she calls me to set up her travel overseas and I make sure that she gets the appropriate documents so that she doesn’t have any additional issues.
Last one, about a month ago a friend of mine told me that she wanted to go to Bali this summer and that the best airfare that she could find was about $1500.00 from Los Angeles. That was more then she wanted to spend. I spent less than 30 minutes working on her itinerary and got her tickets, for the dates she wanted for $859.00. Not only is she saving over $600.00, even adding in my fee, she’s flying on one of the ten best airlines in the world. She has been advised of the passport and visa requirements, reminded of baggage limitations, had seats assigned, told how much time she needs to allow to check in and has been given access to a 24 hour, toll free number to call if she encounters any problems, just to name a few of the additional services that she received by booking through a travel agent.
So the simple answer to my friend was simply that without a travel agent, you’re on your own.
This new client found us on Google. Not being satisfied with their present provider’s service or the cost for that service decided to make a switch to Christopherson Business Travel because CBT offered additional services, exclusive technology, and competitive transaction fees.
This new client was very surprised at how soon and how much they were able to save in just the first month with CBT. Their initial goal was to convert most of their travel to our online booking tool. While waiting for the online booking tool to be customized for them, our full service agent was able to save them an average of 23% on each trip (air, car, hotel, and fees). Our experienced, knowledgeable, and professional agents provide exceptional customer service AND positively affected this company’s bottom line. Now—that’s something to talk about!
A great destination is Vancouver British Columbia and the surrounding areas. There is so much to see and do in the area that it can keep a traveler busy for days. The variety of things to do is endless and can give a visitor the perfect mix of the experience of visiting a big city to spending a relaxing afternoon in a park, garden or on a beach.
Victoria Island – A quaint little island that features small shops to elegant buildings like the Empress Hotel built in the early 1900’s. The small town has small shops along winding roads that seem to be from another era. Another stop not to miss would be to see the Craigdarroch Castle built in 1890. Another highlight is the Buchart Gardens. It can be an experience just getting to Victoria Island by taking one of the local ferries offered from Vancouver.
Vancouver features several great areas including Gastown district which features numerous outdoor cafes, restaurants and shops of every kind. In the evening, the street is a flurry of activity with crowds of people walking along the streets. Every kind of cuisine is available in the area.
A variety of gardens are found in Vancouver from the Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research to The Park and Tilford Gardens in North Vancouver and the VanDusen Botanical Gardens these gardens are spread out in different areas of the city. You aren’t far from one of these great gardens no matter where you are in the city.
Stanley Park is a 1,000 acre park in the middle of Vancouver. It has many trails, and picnic areas and some great little beach areas. It overlooks the harbor and has many viewpoints where you can look out over this great city. Another stop not to miss is the Vancouver Aquarium.
Too expensive to fly right to Vancouver? Try checking out a flight to Seattle instead. Seattle air fares are typically very competitive and usually are less expensive than flights to Vancouver and it is a great gateway to our Canadian neighbor.
As an account manager for one of the largest travel management companies I am faced everyday with the question of, “Is the internet cheaper than the agency?”. It is on going that many companies who do not mandate travel have the preception that their cost is cheaper on the internet by searching for the lowest fare. Unfortunately, this is on average, a myth. How can you prove that you are saving and spending less by using the internet? The internet does not provide monthly, quarterly or annual reporting to prove this. Also, not only are you losing out on the employees valuable time they could be spending on their work rather than searching for fares, but you also are losing out on the possibility of negotiated rates, the ability to track your travel spend via agency reporting, quality control, and making sure each dollar is accounted for.
Christopherson Travel can report your companies average ticket price compared to Christopherson clients as a whole and the National average (provided by Topaz).
We offer value to our clients by providing not only travel savings but also by investing in our proprietary technology that enables our clients to have control over their program and track their company travel with just a few clicks.
When was the last time you experienced a business trip that gave you exhilaration, laughs, tears, joy and a broader view of yourself and your ability to make a difference in our world? I would have said never, until a recent trip to Nicaragua with Continental Airlines and AirPlus with a combination of business meetings, training and a significant dose of humanitarian service. Under the direction of the host sponsors we were participating in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or the donation of funds, time, and resources by companies to charitable or non-profit initiatives with the intention of “giving back” for the greater common good. The result was highly effective business meetings, lifelong bonds between participates, and a renewed outlook and awareness of on life.
Prior to the trip we were given the book The Radical Edge, Stoke Your Business, AMP Your Life and Change the World by noted motivational speaker Steve Farber. It was and excellent book with the perfect message to prepare us for the experiences ahead. The key point of the book is to “do what you love in the service of people who love what you do” and we had the opportunity to apply this to our work and personal lives through our experiences in Nicaragua.
In addition to our business commitments we provided humanitarian aid at a senior center, to children in a special a needs orphanage, and with people living in desperate conditions near the city dump. Our group brought hundreds of pounds of excess baggage filled with much needed items as well as cash donations. The recipients were so appreciative of every act of service or donation received. They were such gentle people who with very little of their own seemed to be living a life of contentment. They were warm and friendly, always smiling.
We all wondered what our reactions would be to the sights and circumstances we would be experiencing. Could we handle it? Would we break down? Well, I have reviewed over 400 of our combined photos from the trip and we are continually happy, laughing and smiling while giving to the people of Nicaragua. We later shared tender thoughts, feelings, and ah-ha moments, but you couldn’t take away our joy during the moments of giving. It was an amazing experience beyond any of our expectations and made this a business trip we’ll never forget.
What kind of CSR could you include in your next business meeting to make it an event of a lifetime?!
There has been a sizable cutback in business travel during the recent economic downturn. We’ve seen many of our clients reduce their business travel budgets in the 20+ percent range. I’ve spoken to many of my associates, who own travel management companies around the country. They’re all seeing about the same percentage of client travel reductions.
Business travel tends to be a leading economic indicator. It is one of the first expenses a company reduces during an economic downturn and conversely, it tends to be one of the first things to go up during an economic expansion.
We have been fortunate because we have been increasing our market share, during the past six months, which has offset some of the travel reductions from our existing clients.
There is a certain amount of mission critical travel which can’t be avoided. We have seen our clients respond to the need to cut their travel costs in many ways.
The first trend is simply cost avoidance. Companies can “avoid” travel in many ways:
- Meeting alternatives. We are seeing more clients hold meetings using web conferencing tools like WebEx and GoToMeeting®.
- Training the trainer. Some Clients are sending fewer people to a training conference and then come back and train their teams.
- Shorten the trip. Clients are packing more meetings into a shorter period of time to trim an extra day’s expense on the hotel and car rental.
- Cancel incentive trips. This is partially in response to our government’s portrayal of AIG’s and other financial services industry incentive trips.
The second trend we have seen is clients are moving down the value chain. Clients who used to allow business and first class travel overseas have restricted their policy to only allow coach travel. Clients who used to stay at the higher priced hotel chains are moving down to the more moderately priced hotels. We’re seeing clients rent smaller cars and rent them with the less expensive off-airport car rental companies.
The third trend we’re seeing is clients are using this opportunity to renegotiate their contracts with their travel vendors. Most airlines have cut their capacity to right-size their “available seats” with the reduced travel demand. Hotels and car rental companies can’t do that as easily. With empty hotel rooms and lots of car rental inventory our clients have been able to get better deals.
Business cycles come and go. The successful companies are the ones who can respond quickly without affecting the value they provide to their customers. They will be stronger when the economy turns around… and it will!