George Clooney made it look relatively painless in Up in the Air, but in 2014, tightening restrictions make reaching “10-million-miler status” close to impossible. But even if you’re not a “million miler” there are still tricks that enable you to get the most out of those hours you logged for business travel and maximize every dollar spent. We spoke to four seasoned road warriors and got their tips for travel hacks you might not have known before—listen and take notes.
1. Get a corporate credit card with great benefits. Brian Kelly, founder of popular travel hacking site The Points Guy, is a firm believer that all miles and points earned through corporate travel should be owned by the individual. A Wall Street alum, Kelly says many companies will allow you to accrue points on your own corporate card while not spending a penny of your own money. And if you’re paying your way and recovering costs from your company later, consider getting a separate personal business credit card—like AmEx’s Starwood Preferred Guest or Chase’s Ink Bold card—on which to put your work expenses, Kelly adds.
2. Check your wallet for the cards you already have. Certain credit cards can get you perks and access. For instance, holders of American Expresses Platinum card get gold status with Starwood and Hilton hotels, which automatically gets you upgrades. Certain American Express cards can also give you free access to premium airline lounges
3. BYOB. While airports restrict the size of what liquids you can carry on, what’s in the container doesn’t matter, says Jennifer Dienst, a writer in the meetings industry. “You can carry on any kind of liquid as long as it’s under 3.4 oz. That means liquor mini bottles, too. Why pay $7 for a drink when you can make your own for free?”
4. Look into dining rewards programs. Not only can you earn the points on your credit card, Kelly says, but many restaurant groups or booking engines like Open Table Dining Reward Points will allow you to double up and also earn points or credits toward free meals you can use on your downtime.
5. Take credit for your colleagues’ room stays. In charge of booking the travel for your company? Compensate yourself for all the hard work by putting your colleague’s rooms on your points account and bank all those extra nights, Kelly recommends.
6. …or become friends with the company employee who does the travel booking. Want to fly a particular airline? Stay in a certain hotel chain? Get chummy with the suits doing the bookings, and oftentimes, you’ll be able to do just that. Get on their bad side? You’ll wind up wherever they feel like sending you.
7. Check in late for a better chance at a hotel upgrade. No elite status with the hotel chain in which you’re staying? Matt Kepnes, author of “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter,” says early upgrades go to elite members, but by mid- to late- afternoon most elites have already checked-in. “Be nice to the check-in agent, ask what is available and give a ‘sob’ story if you have one to sweeten the deal,” Kepnes advises. “Never ask directly, make them want to give you the upgrade.
8. Use miles for last minute tickets. True, the price for travel on short notice is often much higher than when planning far in advance, but it’s the perfect time to put those miles to use, according to Chris Guillebeau, author of “The $100 Start-Up.” “The award tickets don't require more miles for last-minute travel, and availability often opens up a great deal in the final five to seven days before travel,” Guillebeau, founder of CardsForTravel.com, adds.
9. Accept a challenge. When looking to gain elite status on airlines, the quickest shortcut is to get it on one airline and then do a status match on the others, Kepnes says. “For example, American Airlines will award you the mid-tier Platinum if you do their ‘challenge’ and earn 10,000 flight points within a three-month period, which is essentially to fly 10,000 miles on non-deep discount fares,” Kepnes explains.
10. …or get one status to rule them all. These days, most seat upgrades on flights are assigned automatically to elites, Guillebeau warns, so throw that notion that dressing nice will get you bumped to First Class out the window. Instead, Guillebeau recommends earning elite status within one alliance. “You can often get the status ‘matched’ by competing carriers,” he says. “Some airlines only allow this once a lifetime, but if you haven't noticed, airlines often tend to come and go. Might as well take advantage of your chance at upgrades and fast-track security while you can!”