I travel often, it is a requirement of my job. If I don't travel and see places, experience things- how credible am I to my clients? Not very. Now I can't travel every place , see every hotel or dine at every restaurant, nobody can - but I have to keep experiencing different places and things to keep my travel blood flowing. I know that many people probably assume that I get to travel for free or for great discounts and I'm here to tell you that it is a myth. Travel Professionals usually pay and often times pay just as much as you do for their trips. Yes, there are some freebies here or there, but they are few and far between. Often times if we want to go someplace for a week, if we want free hotel rooms that may mean changing hotels 3-4 times in that week- which is not ideal because you end up spending more time checking in and out of hotels.
I have been fortunate to travel First Class on many of my recent trips in the past couple of years, but that is in large part due to knowing how to play the mileage and upgrade game with the airlines. Each airline has their own quirk and program, so I am here to give you some insights that I've learned along the way.
Virgin America- my favorite airline domestically - I fly them whenever I can- they offer very affordable upgrades within 6 hours of flight departure time- you can secure the upgrade online or in person or over the phone. Online is fastest and easiest. I have been known to get up at 2am to secure my upgrade or better yet not go to bed until 2am after I've secured my upgrade. Cost varies depending upon length of the flights- but a cross country flight is approximately $140 one way. For less, you can upgrade to Main Cabin Select which are seats that offer more legroom in the Coach section. With both upgrades you can order anything on board for free and with Main Cabin Select you get one free checked bag with First class you get two free checked bags. So the cost of the extra comfort is really quite a bit less when you consider these other things you'd be paying for on board.
Alaska Airlines- who I just recently flew to Hawaii offers upgrades within 24 hours of departure when you check-in online. The cost of the upgrade varies depending upon how far you are flying, but for Hawaii it was $100 each way - a very good value! Again, you get the free checked bags, the free food/drink/movies, etc. so that actual seat doesn't cost you that much more for the comfort.
United airlines has a huge following of flyers because of their mileage program and they have made some changes in the recent years- I'm not a huge fan of their program but they do fly to just about anywhere and can help to save money when you need to. What I don't like is when you use mileage to upgrade, they also charge you a co-payment fee which is pretty equivalent to the cost of the upgrade charges that carriers like Virgin or Alaska charge you to upgrade flat out (using no mileage). But I use them when I have to. I tend to use mileage for a free coach ticket and then pay for economy plus seats- but this also gets expensive to do. We recently booked flights to New Orleans and used mileage for free coach and then spent about $300 for economy plus seats and all you really get is more legroom. We will still end up paying for checked bags, on board food/drink, etc.
So overall, we don't travel for free- each trip costs us something- we may pay a real person price on a cruise, but then use mileage/points to fly for free. We may get a few free hotel nights, but then pay for additional nights to extend the stay to avoid having to move hotel to hotel. We may get invited to a Travel Agent 2 day cruise to nowhere that is completely free, I've had the pleasure of attending several of these and I've traveled two times to enjoy these experiences- but then I've paid for my flights to get there. In the end it all balances out, but it's never all free. I have to work the system just like everyone else and it is my job to help you work the system and get the best value for your vacation dollar as well.
I have a variety of credit cards that earn points with United & Virgin America. I have the Alaska Airline credit card that gifts you a companion certificate every year. I use these to the best advantage that I can. I also belong to hotel reward programs and earn points mostly with Starwood, Marriott and Hilton. I have redeemed points with Starwood to secure hotel reservations in places that would cost a large sum of money at times when I would never get a Travel Agent rate (think New Orleans over Mardi Gras)- using points for our trip next year to New Orleans saved close to $900 for 2 nights hotel!
Travel is a fun business, I would not have just celebrated 23 years in this business if I didn't love it and I have to say that the past 9 years have been the best. Being the owner of my agency & traveling a lot more than I did the first two-thirds of my career! It's been awesome and I can't wait to see what the future of this career has in store for me! I love helping clients make their travel dreams come true!