Here’s the funny thing: I hate flying.
Yet I’ve taken 18 flights in the last 9 months. Including one Wednesday. And my next flight is today.⠀
To be clear — I’m not afraid of flying. I just don’t enjoy it. It’s noisy. It’s cramped. I can’t sleep. I can’t concentrate. I feel drained and exhausted afterwards. ⠀
Since I’ve been on the road (um, in the air) so much this year, I realized I needed coping strategies to make long flights tolerable. Here’s how I manage the irritations of flying, and how I keep costs to a minimum:
#1: I avoid layovers whenever possible. I’ll rearrange dates and plans, if needed, to fly nonstop.⠀
#2: I avoid early-morning flights. Catching a 10 a.m. flight means leaving home by 8 a.m. Anything earlier is just cruel and unusual. (International flights are different, but there’s more flexibility with domestic itineraries.)⠀
#3: I reach the airport at least 1 hour and 15 minutes before domestic flights, even though that’s overkill. I also allow 30 minutes for the ride to the airport, even though I can usually Uber there in 20. Building these time buffers helps me relax.⠀
#4: I love TSA PreCheck; I can’t imagine flying without it. If you value your time at all, sign up for this program immediately. (More below.)
#5: I’ve made a rule for myself: No working on flights. I hold flights as special time for my favorite hobby, reading books, and I read anything I want, not necessarily business/money books. Yesterday I started reading the latest Dan Brown novel.⠀
#6: I wear noise-cancelling earmuffs to drown the engine noise. This makes a HUGE difference.⠀
#7: Although I have access to many airline lounges, which feature open bars, I don’t drink alcohol when I’m flying. It just makes me dehydrated and cranky.⠀
#8: Speaking of cranky — I always carry snacks. Although that’s a good practice for life.
How to Keep Flying Costs Low (without Losing Your Mind)
Flying is expensive — right? Nope. Here’s how I trim costs (without flying Spirit).
#1: Let’s start with ground transportation. Uber and Lyft both have a ‘carpool’ option, in which you can snag a cheaper price by sharing your ride. Since people are always heading to/from the airport, this is an easy way to save money on ground transit.
#2: Check public transit options both at home and at your destination. In Dallas, for example, I discovered that the light rail arrived immediately in front of my hotel. Goodbye, $25 Uber; hello, $2.50 rail ticket.
#3: Build airline miles by paying for everything with a rewards credit card. Paid-in-full always, duh! 🙂
#4: Redeem miles for at least 2 percent. If a flight costs $400, for example, I’ll only pay for that same flight with 20,000 or fewer miles. I’ve found the best redemption values on international flights and upgrades.
Here’s a handy chart.
Why? Simple: If I earn one mile per dollar, and I redeem those miles at two percent … well, the math is obvious. It’s like I’m saving two percent on every purchase.
If I also get a signup bonus, I’m in the 3-4 percent zone. Sweet!
Tip: Grab at least one card that gives you complimentary access to airline lounges. This is icing on the cake — or more accurately, it’s guacamole on the chip. Which leads to my next point —
#5: Devour the airport lounge snacks: hummus, cheese, olives, veggies, soups, chocolate-chip cookies. Many lounges offer a free guacamole bar, which is basically my definition of heaven. I refer to airport lounges as the Executive Soup Kitchen, and thanks to these, I haven’t bought food at an airport in years.
Tip: Eat everything in sight. (Wait, is that just me?)
Extra Tip: Send the chocolate-chip cookies through the revolving-belt toaster. They come out warm and gooey.
#6: (If you’re a U.S. citizen) —
Applying for TSA PreCheck costs $85. Applying for Global Entry, which streamlines your re-entry to the U.S. from abroad, costs $100 and includes TSA PreCheck. So for an extra $15, you get access to both programs and can jump the line.
Duh. This is a no-brainer deal. (Also, some credit cards will reimburse your application fee.)
#7: (If you’re self-employed) —
Many of my trips have a business component, which means I can write-off most of the costs. This gives me an effective 25-35 percent ‘discount,’ so to speak.
I’ll fly to Seattle for face-to-face meetings, for example, or I’ll fly to Austin for a conference. Since I’m traveling there anyway, I’ll spend an extra few days exploring the area.
To make bookkeeping easy, I pay for the trip’s business expenses with a business card, and personal expenses with a personal card. Voila, it’s automated.
#8: (Also if you’re self-employed) —
One of the coolest things about the laptop lifestyle is the blurry line between “business meeting” and “hanging out with friends who share your passion.”
For example —
I met Emma Pattee from a cold email. She asked me to speak at an event she was organizing. I said no.
She emailed again a year later. I said no.
Sounds like a great start to a friendship, doesn’t it?
But once we met, we clicked instantly, and in July we flew out to Alabama to check out rental properties together. We stayed up late every night drinking red wine and eating key lime pie. It was awesome.
I love hanging out with her. But every hangout session is also super-productive. And that leads me to perhaps the best frugal hack of all: love what you do — and whom you do it with — so much that it doesn’t feel like work. Love it so much that this is what you’d be doing anyway. And then wait for that moment of joyous surprise when you realize that the IRS doesn’t have any restrictions against liking the people that you work with.
After all, isn’t a “mastermind group” just a formalized version of having friends?
So … that’s how I make flights tolerable.
I shared this on Instagram and Facebook the other day, and several people offered awesome recommendations, as well — get a seat located in front of the engines, take a shower when you land, and start flying by private jet (WTF?? Huh??)
If you have any more ideas, I’m all ears. Well, muffled ears. 🙂