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Travel Tips: How to Get Great Service

Traveler Illustrations.

Photo: Illustrated by Brown Bird Design

Appearances Do Matter

Airlines want people who look like they paid for a first- or business-class ticket in the front of the cabin, so dress appropriately if you want that elusive at-the-gate upgrade. “A friend of mine was once bumped up to business class by a gate agent,” recalls George Hobica, founder of airfarewatchdog.com. “When he asked why, she simply said, ‘Because you’re wearing a suit.’ ”

Be Enthusiastic

If you’re trying to secure a hard-to-get dinner reservation, ask for it in person. “That extra effort, showing us how important it is to you, doesn’t go unrecognized,” says Kevin Mahan, managing partner at New York City’s Gramercy Tavern.

Carry Toll-Free Numbers

Avoid dealing with overseas offices of airlines and car-rental agencies when you’re traveling abroad. Instead, use Skype (skype.com) on your computer or smart phone to talk—for mere pennies!—with U.S.-based customer-service teams. (Just make sure they’re open 24 hours a day.)

Disarm Them with a Smile

“It’s the first thing I do no matter how stressful the situation,” says Lisa Sun, associate principal at McKinsey & Company. “People are so used to dealing with angry travelers. If you don’t make yourself into a human being, you become a transaction.”

Exercise the Golden Rule

Some hotels offer cash rewards to employees who receive good marks on guest comment cards. Those people are likely to remember your praise when you return. On the other hand, if you’re rude to housekeeping, it “will be noted in your profile,” cautions Michael Rawson, the general manager of New York City’s Mercer Hotel.

Find the Freebies

Priceline recently introduced a new service called Hotel Freebies (priceline.com) that shows you which hotels are offering upgrades, complimentary breakfast and parking, spa credits, and other such amenities.

Give Them a Reason

...when asking hotels for an upgrade, says Bjorn Hanson, dean of the Tisch Center for Hospitality at New York University: “If you say, ‘I’m traveling alone with a child,’ hotels are much more likely to respond than if you just say, ‘Do you have anything better?’”


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