Remember George Clooney in the movie, Up in the Air?
His high-flying corporate character had the airport experience nailed, allowing him to bypass queues on a slipstream of frequent flyer points, status credits and loyalty programs. If you travel regularly for work purposes, George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham in the 2009 flick is still the gold standard and a business traveller’s aspirational ideal to emulate to fly in, get the job done and fly out in a stress-free manner.
We asked a selection of Flight Centre Business Travel Experts and industry frequent flyers for their top tips to make air travel as seamless as possible. Here’s the 7 habits of highly effective travellers for you to adopt to win at work travel.
1. They plan ahead
Producer on The 48 Hour Destination TV series, produced by Flight Centre, and travel writer Sam Aldenton recommends having two copies of your essential travel documents i.e. passport, visa, travel insurance and emergency number on hand. “Keep a photocopy of your important documents in your checked luggage and also in your carry-on baggage. And always buy the larger-sized memory card for your camera!”
If you travel overseas regularly for work, it may also be worth investing in a dual-SIM phone (a smartphone that allows you to use two phone SIMs in a single device – LG, Motorola, Huawei and Sony all have models available in Australia). “A dual-SIM phone can help you save on your data costs plus your contacts will have the same mobile number for you when abroad,” Sam says.
Another top tip? On the plane, sleep in the time zone of your final destination. “It can be hard at times with the constant temptation to binge-watch the latest TV series or make the most of the open bar, but getting your body clock into its new groove is key to achieving bulk productivity upon arrival,” says The 48 Hour Destination producer Jess Holmes. And she should know! Jess racked up an impressive 21 flights during the first season of the TV series alone.
2. They are prepared
Travel insurance is a no-brainer. The 48 Hour Destination host Greer Gardiner says: “It’s simple. If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” She also tips to plan for delays and allow for a buffer when you fly.
Other passengers fumbling around with their belongings in the security line? Not savvy business travellers, says Flight Centre Business Travel Docklands manager Erin Hawkins. “Make sure you have your laptop out, belt off and ready before hitting the front of the queue to avoid delaying the security process,” she says.
The 48 Hour Destination TV series creator Luke Wheatley, who has flown on 30 international flights with Flight Centre in the past three years, agrees: “Be prepared. Have the items that need to scanned separately out of your carry-on luggage before it’s your turn.”
“Have a pre-packed toiletries bag with products all under 100ml ready to grab when you travel,” adds Flight Centre Business Travel King Street manager Claire O’Mahony.
And while most travellers now take advantage of mobile check-in before they reach the airport, you can also check-in to your hotel online too. “Most major hotel chains allow you to check-in online for speedy arrival,” Claire says.
3. They follow a strict packing protocol
Whether you roll, fold or swear by packing cubes (Sam Aldenton, we’re looking at you), our travel experts know how to pack for success. Virgin Australia uniform designer Juli Grbac, who regularly flies between Australia and North America for her role, has packing down to a fine art. Instead of rolling, she lays her clothes flat in a suitcase with hangers.
“I just open my suitcase and lay everything as flat as I can,” Juli says. “I unpack everything in my bag and hang everything straightaway as soon as I get into the hotel. And I always travel with an expandable bag. Always four-wheel, hard case.”
Sam, on the other hand, is a big proponent of packing cubes for suitcase organisation: “Packing cubes are a godsend whether you’re travelling overseas or interstate for a few days.”
4. They only travel with carry-on luggage
All of our travel experts say travelling with carry-on only is the most efficient way to fly.
“Take carry-on luggage only for speedy airport departures,” tips business manager Claire.
Erin agrees: “Pack light – travelling with carry-on makes getting through the airport much quicker.”
“Pay for things that make life easier,” says Juli, who ensures her cabin baggage has a zip on the front of the hard case to store her laptop safely and for easy access.
5. They have onboard travel hacks
Noise-cancelling headphones are worth their weight in gold, reckons frequent flyer Jess. “Whether it is to immerse yourself in your favourite James Bond flick, focus on the reports you were meant to have read a week ago, or simply block out that humming engine and get some quality sleep, decent noise-cancelling headphones are worth their weight in gold.”
Travel writer Vicki Fletcher agrees. “Noise-cancelling headphones minimise headaches and if you have to work on board your flight, they make concentrating much easier.”
And to keep cosy on your flight, fashion designer Juli has these tips: “I always take a cashmere jumper for the plane, which is very indulgent but cashmere is really lightweight and it crumples really small. Cashmere actually holds the warmth in and you can roll it into a really tiny ball and pull it out. It keeps you really warm and it’s lightweight. And I always travel with a silk scarf because I’m always cold.”
6. They are loyal
There are numerous blogs and articles extolling the benefits of joining an airline loyalty program – and an airline alliance is the best way to rack up those miles faster. The three major airline alliances are oneworld, Star Alliance (currently the world’s largest alliance with the most airline partners) and SkyTeam. The two main goals are to earn enough points or miles to redeem for free, discounted or upgraded travel; and to earn status credits to progress through the tiers for extra benefits.
Erin recommends sticking to one airline alliance to reap the rewards. “Be loyal – the higher your status, the easier your travel from priority check-in to complimentary upgrades.”
Claire also advises to channel as many bookings through one airline or alliance to increase your status and the chance of an upgrade.
It’s also worth joining a hotel rewards program. The main loyalty programs are Hilton HHonors, Hyatt’s Gold Passport, Marriott Rewards, IHG Rewards Club and Le Club from Accor Hotels. Flight Centre product expert and frequent flyer Bec Johnson says some airlines and hotel chains allow you to convert your miles or points, such as Marriott Rewards or Le Club and Qantas, and Hilton HHonors or IHG Rewards with Qantas and Virgin Australia. Status perks can include complimentary breakfast, late check-out, executive lounge access and no blackout dates on your booking.
“Basically, the more loyal you are, the better you are treated with extra room nights, access to sales and the ability to convert your points with other partners, including airlines. The higher your tier, the better the deals,” she says.
7. They get upgraded
Frequent flyer programs offer members the opportunity to upgrade seats on a flight, but our experts have other tips too. Claire recommends travellers dress to impress for flight upgrades. “Travelling on your own also increases the likelihood of a flight upgrade.”
Business leader Jamie Sutherland’s theory about upgrades is to always ask. “Upgrades are usually dedicated to frequent flyers these days, but it’s always worth asking at check-in if your flight is overbooked in economy.”
Airfare expert Jason Nooning says a better way to get upgraded to business class is to ask airline staff: “How much would it cost to upgrade this flight?”. “If you’re serious about getting up the front of the plane, when you get to the check-in desk, ask how much it would cost to upgrade. Sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what they’re able to provide for you,” he says.
Looking for lounge access? Claire tips purchasing a Priority Pass, a program that grants entry to more than 1,200 airport lounges in 500 cities across 140 countries worldwide.
Jamie says it’s also a good idea to check out the airport website for current promotions.
“The promotion might be for lounge access, free Wi-Fi or a retail offer, but there’s always something happening and it can be easily missed as it can be difficult to promote offers within the airport.”
Images: Sam Aldenton & Virgin Australia