Air Travel Secrets
Search globally, not locally
Aggregators and search engines scour hundreds of airline sites and then offer results in one handy location. Yet many sites have foreign companion versions (e.g., Kayak.com vs. Spain's Kayak.es), which turn up more extensive results than the U.S. Web sites—especially on intra-country flights.
- Barcelona to Madrid: Kayak.com returned a fare of $129 on Air Europa; booking on Kayak.es was $94.
- Melbourne to Sydney: Expedia.com showed a fare of $356 on Qantas; on Expedia.com.au it was $316.
- Mumbai to New Delhi: Travelocity.com offered a fare of $248 on Kingfisher Airlines, while on Travelocity.com.in it was $141 to fly on Deccan and IndiGo.
Note: Flights priced two months in advance for April, 2008.
Get business-class discounts
The best way to get a discount on a business-class ticket is to sign up for newsletters from the airlines you fly most frequently. Continental's newsletter listed business-class tickets from the U.S. to Europe over Christmas, 2007 for as low as $900. But if you want to see the full range of options, the site FlightBliss.com sends out e-mail alerts with the week's top deals on first- and business-class fares from more than 30 major domestic and international carriers. Matthew Bennett, FlightBliss.com's founder, says that when business travel is at a low—summer, Thanksgiving, and Christmas—airlines generally discount business-class seats by up to 80 percent.
Find out just how horizontal that "flat" seat really is
Many airlines have introduced "lie-flat" or "flat-bed" seats in their business and first class cabins, but don't assume that "flat" translates to horizontal. For in-depth analysis of airline seats on a range of carriers, turn to FlatSeats.com, an industry watchdog site that ranks seats on factors such as configuration, width, cushion comfort, privacy, massage options, and more. FlatSeats' data comes from Skytrax, a U.K.-based airline consultancy whose employees spend an average of 65 hours in the air per week. (Their top flat-seat picks?British Airways, South African Airways, and Virgin Atlantic.)
Pack these security-friendly hotel amenities
Forget decanting your favorite beauty products into mini containers; some of our favorite hotels around the world now stock top lines in sizes (3 ounces and under) that meet TSA requirements. Mandarin Oriental in New York carries Fresh; Four Seasons and Mexico's Habita chain provide L'Occitane; Les Mars Hotel in Healdsburg, California, and all domestic Ritz-Carlton properties have Bulgari; in London, the Connaught, Claridge's, and The Berkeley stock Asprey, and Dukes keeps Ren on hand. And look out for Malin + Goetz at the Tribeca and SoHo Grand hotels in New York.
Seek out the best seats on board
The distance between rows of seats (referred to as "pitch" in the airline industry) varies from plane to plane—and even row to row. In general, the pitch on domestic carriers ranges from 30 to 38 inches, averaging about 32. How much of a difference does a few inches make?With 31 inches, a six-foot-tall person's knees would touch the seat in front of him; with 34 inches, he could put a hardcover book in his seat pocket without his knees hitting it; and with 36 inches, he could get up from a window seat and walk out to the aisle without disturbing the person next to him. And when it comes to exit rows, know that they're not equally spacious. When they are aligned one right after the other, the front exit-row seats will not recline. For more information on seat pitches and exit-row configurations for most carriers, go to SeatGuru.com.
Find up-to-the-minute security line wait times
Security-line times are notoriously unpredictable, but two American airports are making it easier to plan exactly how far in advance to arrive before your flight departs. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International (atlanta-airport.com) and Denver International (flydenver.com) airports provide real-time updates on their Web sites, refreshed every 15 to 30 minutes. Hartsfield-Jackson will even send the updates directly to your PDA or cell phone, through its Trak-a-Line program. It's worth noting that the TSA also publishes security wait times on its Web site (tsa.gov) for 450 commercial domestic airports, but the data is less reliable, as it's compiled over a four-week period prior to your departure date—and does not reflect actual conditions.
Extend the hold on your reservations
Most airlines don't want you to hold your flight reservation for longer than 24 hours (the industry standard), as it ties up valuable tickets. However, there's more flexibility than you might think, especially if you're working with an agent over the phone rather than booking online, buying a ticket in a high fare class, traveling during off-peak periods, or traveling internationally. We recently put this strategy to the test: An agent at Continental allowed us to hold a rewards ticket from New York to Paris for three days, at which point she canceled the hold and immediately rebooked it for us, preserving the seat and fare for another three days while we sorted out our plans.
Watch out for the water
Flight attendants begin most flights serving bottled water, but if they turn to the plane's onboard tanks, there may be cause for concern. According to the most recent available EPA study, one out of every six planes had coliform bacteria in its water tanks. Since 2004, the agency has ordered 46 domestic airlines to regularly flush, disinfect, and test their water systems. Richard Naylor, the EPA's Aircraft Drinking Water Rule manager, suggests that concerned passengers avoid drinking coffee or tea on board (water may not reach a cleansing boil).
T+L tip: Also avoid using bathroom tap water (use wipes or mouthwash). For a long flight, Corey Caldwell, a spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants, in Washington, D.C., advises opting for canned drinks or stocking up on water after clearing security.