David J. Danto
Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion
“Lessons Learned In 2019”
One of the pearls of wisdom my late father often espoused is “the day you stop learning is the day you’re dead.” As opposed to most of his musings, this one I believe in. It is important to keep an open mind and try to learn new things all the time. Now – in my fourth decade of business travel – this holds as true as ever. It’s important to use the end of the year (and the end of the decade) to stop and think about everything I learned on the road this year and file these bits and pieces as either non-essential trivia or new rules for the traveler. So this blog looks back at my 2019 business trips and identifies learning opportunities for the business travel community.
Learning can come in many forms. Sometimes it’s simply behavioral – like when some action has the same response so many times that it simply trains you how to behave; sometimes it’s observational – like when you see or hear about things you want to emulate or avoid; and sometimes it just strikes you like a bolt of lightning – and you wonder how you ever lived in a world where you were unaware. Here are my travel revelations for this past year.
Airline loyalty is dead. I know we’ve said that for years now, but this year it finally became true for me. I cut-up the airline affinity credit cards, and stopped working at collecting miles. The airline offers that I get by email I now just completely ignore. I get tremendously better benefits from credit cards that offer me cash back and ‘travel spend erasers.’ I finally reached the point where I realized the benefits offered by the airlines are just not worth it anymore. I highly recommend this freedom to all travelers. Of course, I’m a million-miler, so my baseline is not as low as the travel beginner, but I now completely understand that any benefits dangled beyond those basics turn out to be ‘bait-and-switch’ so often that ignoring them is the smart move. “The only winning move is not to play.”
Complain every time you should. It’s no longer a world where we can let bad experiences slide. It’s always worth the time to send-in a note or post about your bad experiences on social media. Always. Sometimes it’s the only way things will get fixed. Sometimes you’ll find out that others have experienced the same issues and have a workaround you can try. Sometimes the travel company will offer compensation for your poor experience – and that compensation can vary greatly. I had one flight this year that was so miserable that the FAs announced everyone onboard was entitled to receive compensation. When I went through the process to receive it the amount offered was such an insult that it wasn’t worth my time. On the other hand, I had a different experience waiting to board a flight where I simply tweeted about the incompetence I witnessed and the airline’s social media team sent me a $100 voucher as a make-good. There’s never a rhyme or reason, but you get none of the compensation, apologies or procedural changes that you don’t ask for.
Learn the workarounds at properties. Unfortunately, most of the hotels I experienced this year are beginning to emulate the ‘unbundling’ and ‘nickel-and-diming’ rampant in the airline industry. There are ways to get exceptions however, and in this war we business travelers are being forced to fight every day I no longer have any qualms about using any of the weapons at my disposal. For one example, many properties will give you a refrigerator in your room if you need one and if it’s not already there. Some want to charge you for the privilege – but if you have medication that needs to be refrigerated they waive that fee. Guess what? I always seem to be traveling with medication that needs cool storage. As another example, some hotels that charge for valet service will waive that charge if you have a medical reason for not being able to walk – and I did have spine surgery a year ago. There are a lot discounts to be aware of as well. Many properties that offer elite members of their loyalty program a “continental breakfast” also have a specific upcharge for a “full breakfast / buffet.” If you’re hungry then never hesitate to upgrade, as being friendly to the server will frequently mitigate or reduce that supposedly fixed upcharge. Now, having said all that, please don’t misinterpret it as being OK to be a cheap person. Tip well – every time – the servers, valets, hotel engineers, etc. all work very hard for compensation that should be higher. Show them the respect and appreciation they deserve. And remember to leave room tips for housekeeping daily – not just when you check-out. The cleaning staff often changes day to day.
It’s always a special occasion when on personal travel. I learned this one many years ago but it was strongly reinforced this year. When traveling with your spouse / significant other and/or family, make sure everyone you interact with professionally knows you’re celebrating a special day during your trip. You’re either on your honeymoon or celebrating an anniversary or birthday or family achievement. Tell the reservation agent and hotel clerk, put it into the ‘notes’ field wherever you can, and announce it to the flight attendants and the travel agents. Personally I’m always celebrating something when I’m on non-business travel, be it that last birthday or upcoming anniversary. Sadly, the truth is that the travel and hospitality industry employees are so jaded nowadays that they often treat customers with disdain instead of the courtesy all of us deserve. When they observe a customer celebrating it often makes them feel they should extend those courtesies which every traveler used to get. Be it a fruit basket left in your hotel room, a bottle of wine slipped to you on the flight, a free dessert at a restaurant or anything similar – they’re looking for opportunities to be nice to a select few customers to ease their conscience because they’re no longer being nice to everyone. Be that person for them, it’s the least you can do.
Stop taking day-trips and use video. OK, this last one isn’t new either, but has escalated in its importance as airline service has hit a tipping point. As recently as a couple of years ago I’d be able to catch a 6am flight to somewhere, attend a meeting and then catch the early evening flight back. From the New York, New Jersey area this might be to Raleigh or DC or Toronto or anywhere that’s just a couple of hours (or less) away by plane. I don’t do it anymore. The odds of getting stuck or delayed or rerouted have jumped way past 50% in my experience. At the same time, the quality, simplicity and reliability of videoconferencing has exponentially improved and the costs for doing it well have plummeted. Don’t hesitate to travel to clients and business partners when you need to inspect a facility, break bread, attend a conference and/or spend some quality time for any other reason, but omit the problematic day-trips whenever you can. I work from my home office and attend anywhere from one to ten video meetings a day. I can’t remember the last time the calls have had failures or other significant problems – and that’s using my simple, residential internet. Instead of spending eight hours in transit for a two hour meeting (not even counting how early I’d have to wake up to get to the airport and get through security) I spend a bit of time preparing at my desk and only the time of the meeting at the meeting. The rest of my day is available for other clients and tasks – or for sleeping till a reasonable hour. (As I’ve always offered – if anyone needs advice on how to make this technology work for them feel free to reach out.)
Those are my lessons-learned from 2019. If you have any you’d like to add feel free to drop me an email and I’ll be happy to update this blog and add them to it.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.
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