12.20.2012

Risky Business: How safe are you in a budget hotel room?

Safety is sometimes overlooked when we travel on a budget.  Lately, with the crappy economy, we can be more concerned with price than the value of our life or belongings.  But safety should be your most important consideration when traveling.  What does your budget hotel's safety scorecard look like?

TREKTIP #1: Only stay in a hotel or motel with electronic locks on all the rooms.

Give your hotel 10 points for having electronic locks. The beauty of the electronic keycard systems, is they automatically re-key the room every time it is rented, and the old keycards automatically expire at the programmed checkout time.  Even if the guest checks out early and takes the key with her, as soon as a new keycard is used to enter, the old keycard is automatically disabled.  In addition, a room lock can be "audited" giving a readout of every person who swiped a keycard.  The front desk should keep a record of keycards issued to staff, identifying each staff member, and keep its master keycards under control.

Any hotel with the old regular keys in doorknobs definitely does not have your safety in mind.  If you absolutely MUST stay at a hotel with what is sometimes affectionately referred to as "European" keys, ask about their "key control" system.  If a guest fails to return a key to the front desk, then the lock should be re-keyed, every time.  Seldom do hotels re-key as often as they should.  In fact, I have heard of people "selling" non-returned keys on the street, whereby the "fake guest" sneaks in and stays in an empty room without paying the hotelier.  What are the chances of that room having you in it when the fake guest enters?  If you are renting a room with the old doorknobs and keys, be sure to inspect your room for intruders each time you enter, check the bathroom, around furniture, etc., and then always deadbolt the door while you are in it.  If the doors have no deadbolts, fuggedaboudit.

Other safety considerations include video surveillance systems, secured perimeter, well-lighted parking and public areas, and a 24-hour front desk.  If there are no in-room safes, take your valuables with you, or leave it behind the front desk while you are gone.

Safe travels!

12.01.2012

Get Your Frequent Travel On: Secrets of a Frequent Flyer Revealed


You know those "elite" flyers who appear from nowhere and get to board before everyone else? And then a half hour later when you board the plane, you see them all smug in there cushy first class seat sipping champagne? Don't you envy them? They must be wealthy or famous ot something because first class seats cost a fortune!

Please don't hate me because I am one of those people. I am an ordinary person, just like you, who used to sit around the gate, waiting for that last call to board. "ZONE 6 can board now." You know the drill. No more space for your carry-on. Squishing your normal sized ass into a half-assed size seat.

How come I get to hang out in the exclusive Club Lounge, using their pristine bathrooms, eating their free food and drinking their cocktails before pre-boarding into a first class seat, all for the lowest fare price?
  • TrekSecret #1:  Get Hitched to a Single Airline
Seriously: Marry a single airline, and never cheat.  (Or, only cheat with a codeshare partner). Every trip you take, pleasure or business, use a single airline. Get your frequent flyer number, get your kids a frequent flyer number, and never travel with any other airline. Your goal is to rack up as many miles as possible. Choose your airline carefully. Review and compare all the benefits of their elite status, and frequent flyer miles trade-in value. Some airlines are more generous than others. 
  • TrekSecret #2:  Use Your Airline's Credit Card For Every Single Purchase You Make
Every single purchase you make goes on your airline's credit card. Don't get just any "miles" card. You need to get your airline's card - you know, the one you are now married to! Use it when you go grocery shopping, buy gas, pay your taxes, go holiday shopping. EVERY SINGLE PURCHASE. This is the only way to rack up miles for cashing in later on some fabulous trip.
  • TrekSecret #3:  Fly Often Enough to Achieve Elite Status
You have to be a frequent flyer in order to earn a certain elite status with your airline. This won't work for you if you take one pleasure trip per year. To reach the upper echelon of travelers, you have to be a frequent flyer, and again, rack up miles "actually flown" or rack up "legs." Your goal is to get elite status, even at the lowest level. To qualify for my airline, I need to either fly 25,000 actual miles, or take 30 legs.  For a plan like this, you need only fly 6-8 trips per year to qualify. Once you have elite status, you are entitled to automatic upgrades to first class for some airlines. I sit in first class often, and have never paid a first class fare. If I am not in first class, I am in a spacious exit row.
  • TrekSecret #4:  Once You Achieve Elite Status, Buy a Discounted Club Membership
The best relatively small purchase I ever made was buying a club membership pass. It cost a little over $300 for the year and it has paid for itself ten times over. Inside the club you have free access to the internet, superb bathroom facilities, free food and free non-alcoholic drinks. Plus, you receive premium "gate" service without having to go to the gate. You have access to the monitors inside the club and usually 2 or 3 attendants at your service - to check on your gate and any delays. In addition, if you have a delay or are in need of customer service, you can take care of all your concerns right there. They can print your boarding pass, change your seating or get you on another flight if yours is delayed. Plus they will check often for availability of your free upgrade!
  • TrekSecret #5: Utilize All the Benefits Available, to the Max!
Cash in your miles every year, even though it is a pain. Generally, you have to purchase a flight using your miles eight months in advance. But hey, it's free, and you can go anywhere in the contiguous U.S. Why not take a trip to the coast for rest and relaxation! Nothing feels better than taking a "free" trip. Go to Club every chance you get and relax in their luxurious accommodations and refresh yourself before your next flight. Take the free upgrade to first class every time, and leave your traveling partner in coach. After all, you earned it!

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