7 Tips for International Business Travel From a Multi-Million Miler
In the past 14 years, I have walked onto airplanes over 1,000 times, landed in over 35 countries and amassed 2.1 million air miles between five airlines. Between commuting between my home in Toronto and office in Las Vegas, checking in on business interests in Asia and prospecting new clients in South America or Europe, I’ve experience a lot up here.
In fact, as I write this, I'm on a 13-hour flight from Detroit to Tokyo. So I figured it'd be the perfect time to put together a few tips in four steps that will make the journey more enjoyable for any business traveler.
1. Before you fly
Passports and visa: Take the time to learn the rules of entry in the country you are traveling too. Back in 2004, I made my first trip to Jakarta, Indonesia. I was in Tokyo, and a business partner told me that we were having troubles with our subsidiary in Jakarta. Without a second thought, I changed my plans and hoped on a flight the next day, bound for my first arrival at Soekarno-Hatto International Airport.
On arrival, I was ushered into the immigration hall, where I handed my passport to the agent. After 30 seconds of turning the pages, the frustrated customs officer said, “Visa?” Nervously, I yanked my wallet out of my pocket and handed him my CIBC Aerogold Visa Card. The now-angered officer told me in broken English that I needed an entry visa and should have obtained it before I left Ottawa. Exhausted and scared, I begged his help and told him I would leave the next day and didn’t know anyone in the country. Luckily, I said the right thing. He issued a short-term visa on arrival and let me in. I thanked him, entered and left 36 hours later without even calling our Jakarta office.
If you’re traveling abroad, make sure you check for entry rules before you leave, and remember -- most foreign countries will not let you enter with a passport that expires in the next six months. Some countries require that you apply for your entry visa on arrival. They may require that you arrive with pictures, birth certificate, cash for applications invitation letters, etc. If you do not have what they want, they will not think twice about refusing you access.
There are very stringent rules about entry depending on what passport you have, why you are going and how long you’ll be. Know what the rules are before you travel.
Preparing for the time change: I have come to realize that there is little that can be done to completely avoid jet lag, but a few simple techniques that I’ve used to combat the time change affects could help. Take note of the time change and what time you will arrive. Once you know, try reverse engineering your sleep patterns slightly.
For example, if I am flying for 10 hours, land at 8 a.m. and realize that I have to be ready for a full day, I will make sure that I am sleeping for the last seven hours of the flight. That means that regardless of what time I leave, I will ensure that I am awake for the first three hours of the flight and the seven hours prior to boarding the plane, even if it means an early start to the day before.
2. While in the sky
Avoid the booze: Alcohol is free on most international flights, regardless of your class of service. On my very first long haul, I left armed with advice from a friend on dealing with jet lag. He suggested that I drink the equivalent of a bottle of wine within the first couple hours of the flight and sleep for the last six to seven hours, arriving refreshed and ready to take on the day. But the result of that advice was coping with a terrible headache, as I was trying to get use to the foreign land.
Keep the alcohol consumption to a minimum. I know this seems obvious, but the flight attendants are more then happy to share the sauce, in the air. If you think you will have some trouble sleeping, then try to restrict your sleep before the flight, speak to a qualified practitioner about a safe natural sleep supplement and a get a good neck support.
Keep the blood flowing: In spite of the fact that I like to sleep on the planes, I still make it a point to get up and walk around at least once an hour while I am awake. The stories of blood clots and issues with circulation amongst frequent flyers are true. Get up and walk the length of the plane, stretch, do some squats, flex and get that blood flowing.
3. After you arrive
Double check before you de-plane: In 2008, I landed in Los Angeles from a trip to Australia. It had been a very successful journey, and I was looking forward to getting home. It wasn’t until I was back in the air, en route to Toronto, that I realized that my laptop was in still in the magazine holder of seat 16A bound for who-knows-where. What a sickening feeling! Luckily, the airline found the computer and was waiting for my call. Get in the habit of doing one last check before you de-plane.
Lots of sleep and water before doing business: If you were traveling for business and need to be on your game, you would be well advised to schedule some recovery time for yourself when you land. I try to arrive in the evening when I travel, so I can head straight to the hotel, get some more sleep and prepare for the next full day. I feel like I have tried every remedy known to man, but the only thing that seems to work is lots of sleep and lots of water. The confined climate in the plane will dehydrate you, so drink lots of water before, during and after your flight.
4. For future flights
Loyalty pays: I didn’t realize until my fifth year of regular travel that I should be more strategic with my travel. In the early days, I let price alone dictate which airline I would use. I regularly used four different airlines. I had amassed 1.4 million air miles between four carriers before I realized my mistake. The airlines give significant benefits to their most loyal travelers.
Domestically, my current airline partner gives me free upgrades to business class on 95 percent of the flights I’m on. Internationally, they give me an ample supply of certificates to upgrade. But during my first five years, I had not amassed enough points with any one carrier to hit a significant status level and left all those benefits on the table.
In my sixth year, I decided to consolidate my travel to one air carrier and have since accumulated over 700,000 miles. Now, living in Canada means my current carrier is not the most convenient, however, consolidating has meant that I am qualified at the airlines top status for the next three years already. I have taken my family on three free vacations in the past year, and I travel in business class for free on 85 percent of my flights.
There is no perfect airline to be your primary carrier, however, they all have incredible perks for loyalty. If you travel on a weekly basis, give your business to one main carrier and don’t worry, if they frustrate you, just call the concierge at another carrier and request to transfer your status. All of the North American carriers are more than happy to transfer your mileage, status and perks.