This week I flew to Salt Lake City and rented a car, and then took a 2,000 mile tour through some of the most beautiful land that America has to offer. Along the way, I also managed to come up with a few travel hacks that I want to share.
For starters, my entire flight was free, because I had earned enough awards points for a free flight, simply by sticking to the same airline every time I fly. This isn't necessarily ground-breaking advice, but the important thing to remember is that by saving $10 and going with the cheapest flight, you're throwing away those awards points.
If you travel within the U.S., there is no rewards program better than Southwest Rapid Rewards. That's who I use for my domestic flights. And here's a good hack on Southwest. They don't have assigned seating, so you board in the order that you checked in, and pick whatever seat you want. So I purposely check in late!
If you get on too early, you'll think you've got a good seat, until 5 minutes later when someone with kids gets behind you and you're getting kicked in the back and listening to crying for 2 hours. But instead of hurrying to be first, if you board later you can choose your seat in front of an elderly couple. Or, when in doubt, take the very last seat on the plane! Sitting all the way in back mean no one can kick your seat.
Also, save the peanuts and snacks (airlines in America are so cheap!) and offer them to your neighbor. Also, Southwest sends me "free drink" coupons, which I offer to my neighbors. It's an easy way to start up a conversation with a stranger.
Many airports offer free wireless service, so it's always a good idea to check for that while you're waiting for your flight to board. And speaking of internet access...
You may remember that I recently made the decision to go phoneless. Without mobile internet in my pocket, access to WiFi becomes more and more necessary. Fortunately, I had almost no trouble finding access, even in the middle of nowhere.
Whenever I stopped for gas, I pulled out my iPod and scanned for WiFi signal, and was surprised to find it almost 50% of the time, freely available! When it wasn't available, there were still a few options. Most McDonald's locations offer free WiFi, as do many Starbucks locations.
And as I've mentioned before, I bought the 3G version of the Kindle specifically because it could provide me with internet access in a pinch. I actually didn't need it this week, but the possibility was always there that in a tough situation, I could find information and/or communicate using my Kindle.
But one thing you may not have thought of, which I actually did do quite often this week, is to park just outside of the main office at a motel and use their complimentary WiFi! All hotels and motels these days offer internet access. Some require you to use an access code, but most just make you agree to the TOS first. So click "agree" and start using the web!
Which leads me to an epic travel hack that has all of my friends talking today...
Yesterday, I found one of my favorite hotel chains while I was driving around in Salt Lake City. I went inside to the front desk and asked for a room. The desk clerk told me it would be $99 for a night. I asked her to wait a moment.
I pulled up the Priceline app on my iPod and booked the room over the hotel's WiFi. Then I turned back to the desk clerk and said, "sorry, I forgot to mention, I have a reservation."
For a brief moment, I felt like James Bond. Well... if James Bond suddenly started staying in three-star hotels.
Speaking of Priceline, I have developed a useful strategy for using it. I don't book hotels in advance. Now, I wait until the last moment, when a hotel has all the guests that it's likely to have, and then I choose the star level I want and book at a very low price on Priceline. I find that hotels are often willing to accept a lower bid at the last minute than they would a week in advance.
(This wouldn't have worked in my situation in Salt Lake City, because when you "name your own price" you don't get to select the hotel, but that didn't matter when their listed price was already $40 less than the quote from the desk clerk, at a hotel I knew I wanted.)
I don't rent cars often, but one recent hack that I've found is that my Capital One "Venture" card covers insurance for any car rental paid for on the card. I know that there are other cards that offer similar perks, so check the web site for your card(s) and see where you could be saving money. I know that no longer having to pay for insurance will save me about $100 on my average car rental.
Also, don't forget to pack a headphone plug! Most modern cars have an auxiliary input jack for MP3 players, which means you can play your foreign music and podcasts while you drive. It's probably not worth bringing a car charger — even being in the car for as long as I was each day, the battery in my iPod Nano held up until I got to the next hotel each night.
And one last thought, speaking of iPods: I use Smart Playlists, with the Live Updating feature turned on. This way, even when I'm away from my iTunes library for a long time, I can continue to adjust the songs by using star ratings. This was very helpful as I was going through a huge library of Italian music that I don't know, some of which I really liked, and some which I definitely did not.
Well, that's all for today. I hope you've found some of my travel hacks useful!