Would You Pay More for a Better On-Board Experience?

I read an interesting article the other day comparing air travel preferences between Millenials (those born between 1980-early 2000s) and Generation X (those born between 1960-1980) travelers.  The big takeaway from this study of nearly 3000 participants was that Millenials were willing to pay more for flights in return for a better on-board experience.

The type of on-board experiences contemplated by Millenials ranged from “open-bar” alcohol access, themed seasonal flights with matching snacks, drinks and movies, and in-flight connectivity to ideas so extreme as child-free planes.  Generation Xers, by comparison, saw these as nice-to-haves, but cared more about reasonable airfares and on-time arrivals.

From what I can gather, the airlines are listening to what the Millenials have to say.  Nearly all major U.S. airlines offer wifi on many its planes.

Virgin America and Airtran offer it aboard all of their flights.

Virgin even takes the concept of on-board experiences to a new level by offering guests with an array of extra options such as: seat-to-seat delivery; virtual chatting with other guests on board; and even an “open tab” concept for food and drink all through its seatback entertainment system.

With flight times growing longer and longer, and passengers spending more and more time in transit, it’s no wonder that the on-board experience is so critical.  From my own experience, there is nothing more insufferable than a 10-hour flight to Dubai with a broken entertainment system.

As a Millenial myself, I like inflight wifi, and can certainly get behind the open-bar concept so long as flight attendants reserve the right to cut off any guest who has reached a point of excess before said guest creates any distractions on-board.  But as we make all of these tech and entertainment upgrades to our flights, let’s not forget about other in-flight services that enhance guests’ comfort that have slowly been phased out of the U.S. domestic market  in recent years: the availability of pillows and blankets, free headsets for flights longer than 3 hours, free checked luggage, and gratis meals in economy class (like in Europe).

And for everything else, you can charge my Visa.

Making Travel Affordable

If I were to ask a random group of people about what prevents them from traveling, do you know what the overwhelming response would be?

Not lack of time or interest.
Not because they have small kids or pets at home.
It’s because of money.

Yet they often tell me how much they wish they too could take off for a week or more to [enter your favorite destination here].  What they don’t understand is that they can.

Traveling – whether for a weekend, a week, or a year – does not have to be a luxury affair.  With proper planning and budgeting, you can make that dream vacation or career break a reality.

So where should you begin?
Here are eight great tips to get started.

Make Travel a Priority The reason I travel so often is because I want to more than I want to do other things.  That means I’m more willing to put money aside for this purpose.  Until you’re willing to make travel a priority, it won’t be.

That’s a fact.

tropical

Montego Bay, Jamaica

Set Realistic Budget Expectations Once you’ve decided you are willing to make that long weekend in the big city a priority, it’s time to get real about what it might cost you.  This will help you keep your budget in line as you start to plan your trip.  Lodging and food are the two biggest travel costs (aside from airfare) that you’ll incur.  They are also the two biggest variables that you can control.

Something else to consider is the cost of your destination.  Some cities in the U.S. are more expensive than others; SE Asia is typically less expensive than W. Europe.  I work with budget travelers, luxury travelers, and everyone in between. Having a realistic budget for your category of travel ensures that you are able to travel comfortably and stretch your dollar as YOU see fit!

Make Your Credit Cards Work for You Don’t misunderstand me.  I am NOT advocating that you open a credit card and charge your vacation to it without the means to pay it off without incurring thousands in interest charges.  I AM advocating that if your current credit card isn’t earning you any miles or exchangeable points – dump it.

If you don’t have one already, I recommend opening a credit card with any of the major airlines that you fly frequently (United, AA, Delta). Upon opening a new account, you can typically earn 30,000-50,000 miles after you spend ~$1000 in purchases that you would have made anyway.  That’s a free roundtrip in the U.S. or to Europe!  An added benefit of most of these cards also include no foreign transaction fees and some premium benefits (free checked bag) on the affiliated airline.  Those are other savings that can quickly add up!

Trim Unnecessary Expenses So you want to take that trip of a lifetime to Machu Picchu. You’ve set your budget and you just opened airline-affiliated credit card. Now what? Unless you have an unlimited amount of disposable income (which I don’t), it’s time to start cutting back on costs temporarily.

It might mean reducing the number of nights you eat/go out with friends, negotiating lower rates for your cable and/or cell phone bills, switching to public transportation where possible, putting off your shopping spree, and curbing your Starbucks addiction. It may seem overwhelming, but it’s only temporary and isn’t that trip worth it?

Be Flexible Americans, especially, have so little vacation time so it’s important to make it count.  That being said, one of the best ways to keep travel affordable is to be flexible to the extent you can.  If you know you don’t want to spend more then $800 on airfare, then keeping your dates open allows you to monitor deals and airfare specials to book when it’s convenient for you.

Alternatively, if you travel during the off-season you will often find lower rates and fewer crowds.  The weather may not be the warmest or the driest, but it can be the most affordable.

Book Alternate Accommodations If a hotel room at $120/night is not part of your budget, then book something else.  Hostels are a great alternative to the traditional hotel stay, as are apartment rentals, guesthouses, and bed & breakfasts.  Make sure to vet things properly through reputable sources such as Curious Tourist or other online rating sites, like Tripadvisor.  Some travel experts recommend couch surfing – because it’s free – and because it provides an opportunity to really integrate as a local. This is not ideal for everyone, but it is a viable option for those who are looking to travel on the cheap and meet new people along the way.

Enjoying an English breakfast at a local cafe instead of the pricy hotel restaurant

Enjoying an English breakfast at a local cafe instead of the pricy hotel restaurant

Eat Like a Local Locals don’t dine at 5* hotels and Michelin-rated restaurants.  Locals eat in cozy, neighborhood locales and so should you.  Not only will it likely be the best meal of your life, but you’ll feel more like part of your surroundings and less like a tourist. I’m also a BIG fan of street food.  Not only is it really good, but I’ve found I’m less prone to get sick watching my meal cooked in front of me in New Delhi, India than eating in some of the nicest hotels where I’ll never know if they washed the vegetables or not.

(In full disclosure I like to splurge on at least one “fancy meal” during any trip.)

Join Frequent Flyer/Point Programs This is the 2nd most effective way to reduce travel costs. If you travel any airline at least twice a year, join their frequent flyer program. If you travel for work, sign up for every airline or hotel loyalty program (unless otherwise prohibited) so that you can accrue miles/points with each trip.

I fly at least 50,000 miles each year for my day job.  I haven’t paid for an international flight in years.

Travel, unlike other hobbies or interests, doesn’t require any pre-requisites, specialized skills, or your life savings.  With these tips, you can look forward to a fun, relaxing, and affordable vacation.

Relevant Links:

Should I Fly East or West?

Recently, I met a good friend for dinner who wanted some travel guidance before booking her first flight to the land down under (a reference to the 80s hit by ‘Man at Work’ about an Australian traveler).

She is not new to international travel, but this would be her first major long-haul flight (long-haul classically defined as flights lasting more than 7 hours).  She came with very good questions:

  • Is it better to fly east or west for such a long flight?
  • Do I need a visa to visit Australia?
  • I’m considering adding in a short trip to Sydney.  How do I add that in without dramatically increasing costs?

Later, I wondered how many of our clients also wondered about similar questions when planning long-haul flights.  So before you book your next flight, consider the following:

1. Jet lag is harder when going east, but it can be faster with less flight connections

See, your body clock naturally runs longer than 24 hours.  When you travel west you gain hours which makes it easier for the body to adjust because you now have the extra time it wants.  Traveling east, the day is dramatically shortened making it that much harder to adjust because the natural cycle is now limited.

BUT, something else to consider when booking long-haul flights is how many connections you will have to reach your final destination.  The risk of missed or lost bags (and missed flights) increases with the number of connections you have.

Lastly, consider that flying east – albeit harder on the body – is often faster than flying west because of the extra oopmh planes get from the jet stream.

I checked the price from Dulles to Perth, Australia and the difference to fly west (via LAX with 2 connections and flight time of 38 hours) versus east (via Doha with 1 connection and flight time of 31 hours) was $100.

I’d fly through Doha.

2. Do I need a visa?

The U.S. State Department keeps an updated list of country-specific entry & exit requirements.  This is a great place to start your research.  If you still have questions about specific requirements or need assistance in processing your visa paperwork, please feel free to contact me.

3. Why are multi-leg tickets sometimes way more expensive?

Does anything regarding airfare pricing make sense?
Honestly, it depends.

Let’s pretend you have the following itinerary:
IAD>PERTH>SYDNEY>IAD

To price the flight as one itinerary with all stops is called “multi-leg.”  This routing will generally be much more expensive because it includes numerous one-way legs forming a “closed loop.”

Instead, I’d recommend “open jaw” tickets where the traveler books a trip into Perth and departs from Sydney.  Open jaw tickets provide greater flexibility for the traveler and are less expensive than purchasing individual one-way tickets. In this example, there are a number of regional, low-fare airlines that the traveler can choose to get them from Perth to Sydney.

I often book open jaw tickets when traveling to Europe using trains or other low-fare airlines to get me around while on the continent.

(I don’t profess to fully understand all the ins and outs related to airfare pricing, so this may vary depending on destinations, time of year, etc.)

Leave a comment and let me know:

Would you fly east or west?
Do those factors mean more than price?