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Hassle-Free Business Travel

By Marty Nemko

As far as I’m concerned, the best business travel tip is “Don’t go.” Airport security is a wild-card. Sometimes you sail through in 10 minutes; other times, you’re stewing for 45. Flight delays are now so common, they’re expected. Seats are sardined together more than ever, and many airlines are replacing meals with peanuts. The slow economy is forcing airlines and hotels to raise prices to stick it to those who have no choice but to travel. And while there’s only one way everything can go smoothly, there are an infinite number of ways things can go wrong. In my travels, I’ve forgotten to bring vital things, had a taxicab break down while driving to the airport, sat next to a baby that screamed half the cross-country flight, and, of course, the airline has lost my luggage--a half-dozen times.

But when travel’s inevitable, these tips may reduce the pain. Some of these are my own; the others come from the forthcoming book, Hassle-Free Business Travel, by William Mitchell.

Booking Airline Tickets. My usual first stop is It generally gives me the best deal. I might compare that against or None of those, however, search for Southwest Airlines flights, which often are the cheapest and most convenient, so if Southwest goes where I’m headed, I also check out

Some people still swear by top travel agents, especially for more complicated travel plans. I recently saw this classified ad in The Berkeley Monthly:

Wonderful Travel Agent. Albany Travel won’t know about this ad until they read it here. I’ve been a customer for 20 years and worry about them in this era of no commissions and reduced travel. They just put in many hours of work to get me a $400 refund from Virgin Air, so I’m spending 1/3 of it on this ad. They often get me better prices than Expedia, Orbitz, etc. because they know how to use consolidators and find special promotions not on the Internet. Please consider using these fine people: Ellen BenShalom and her son Tamir at Albany Travel: 510-528-1400. Thanks, John Bear.

Coincidentally, I know John Bear—he’s a local author who has written the truly excellent Bears' Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning.

When choosing an airline seat, I always request a bulkhead—more room. Failing that, I aim for the front of the plane: it’s quieter and you get on and off faster. If the online seat selector only allows me to choose a middle seat, I’ll call the airline and ask to be seated between two people with the same last name. Often a married couple books an aisle and a window hoping the middle seat will remain vacant. If I can get that seat, the married couple will want to sit together and I’ll avoid a middle seat.

When booking a hotel, I usually use or, my favorites of the hotel room websites. If the price seems high, I’ll crosscheck by calling the local hotel: “I’m price-shopping. What’s the best deal you can offer for this date?” When I’m going to a convention or other group event, I never request the group rate. It’s usually higher than if I say, “I’m price-shopping. What’s the best rate you can offer me?”

Packing. I try to avoid checking luggage—I save time and avoid the risk of the airline losing my bag. My space-saving trick: for the typical 2-3 day trip: pack just one pair of pants, one pair of shoes, and two or three matching tops. The pants I wear on the plane also matches my packed tops so if I spill spaghetti sauce on my pants, I have a matching spare pair.

Getting to the Airport. I drive rather than take a shuttle. To accommodate additional passengers and traffic, they pick you way too early—if they remember to pick you up at all. Driving is even more convenient on the return--I know I’ll be home within a half hour of when I walk out of the airport. The new BART to SFO service, scheduled to start on June 22, may change my environmentally incorrect ways.

When your flight is seriously delayed or cancelled. While everyone else lines up at the gate clamoring to be one of the fortunate few to get onto the next flight, I call the airline’s 800 number. I’ll get to make my reservation as fast as the first people queued up at the gate. Secret: When a flight is cancelled, the airline is obligated to put you on the next available flight even if it’s on another airline.

But when all is said and done, my vote for the best travel tip really is “Don’t!” I know that many people enjoy travel, but for me, it’s home sweet home, indeed.

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