Podcast #82 – Changing My Travel; New Mileage Programs in a New Year

The way I travel has changed significantly with my New Year’s career change. Moving from consulting to the corporate world, I no longer bounce across the country. Instead, I spend a week in one of my company’s three offices. This has required a bit of an attitude adjustment with regards to travel. The new job also drove me to reexamine my airline and hotel loyalties. Looks like my air mileage and hotel nights will be landing someplace new. In this episode, we also continue the thread on the best ways to track travel expenses, and a listener writes about how easy it is to do business with Southwest. Here’s a direct link to the podcast file or you can listen to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.



Here are the transcript from TravelCommons podcast #82:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you today from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, Illinois. Sorry for the long delay between episodes, but I started a new job at the beginning of the year – after 17 years of consulting, I got a real job as a CIO – and I’m just beginning to dry off after drinking through a firehose for the past 6 weeks. I’m also in my 6th month of straight travel – I’ve gotten on a plane every week since Labor Day, but next week I’ll take a break, skip ORD for a week after 6 months. Now I will say that one week of that was self-inflicted – I mentioned in the last episode that I cashed in some frequent flier and frequent sleeper points to take the family to Hawaii for a week. Turned out to be a great decision – it was 75 degrees in Kauai, 7 degrees in Chicago. Since the beginning of the year, though, I’ve been back in full travel mode — Philadelphia, DC, and multiple visits to Phoenix , Dallas, and South Florida.
  • In January, I almost got trapped in Phoenix due to the huge rain storms that swept in from California. I was sitting in a Scottsdale Starbucks when an automated voice from United rang me up to tell me that my 3:30pm flight to ORD was cancelled. I called up the Global Services desk and got rebooked onto the earlier flight – the 1:20pm – and managed to keep my 1st class upgrade. A bit of an annoyance – I had to shuffle my afternoon calendar – but it was manageable.
  • I get to the airport and ask gate agent — why the cancellation? The 1:20 was now the last flight out. They’re forecasting 40 mph sustained winds and 70 mph gusts to hit town at 2pm. The agents tell us we need to board quickly so that we can get out before the weather hits. But then, nothing. We sit and sit. No boarding, no announcements. Oh, wouldn’t this be great. A January flight from PHX to ORD is cancelled for weather – in PHX! Finally, we board.
  • But then, at the last minute, another delay. The caterer didn’t load enough lunches for everyone in 1st class. The sky is getting darker. A half-dozen of us volunteer to skip the rubber chicken – just get this flight off the ground. Finally the door closes and, as near as I can tell, we were the last flight off the ground before they closed the airport. Downgrading to the Thai chicken wrap from the back of the plane was a small price to pay for making it home that night.
  • Bridge Music — Bahar-Un by Un-Kai

Following Up

  • We’ve had a bit of a thread over the past few episodes on methods to track travel expenses and manage the receipts. Around Heijnis started it with an e-mail wondering if there’s anything better than a set of envelopes or colored folders. Up to now, no one has come up with anything better.”
  • However, I just started using on online travel & expense tool called Concur Solutions which has moved me away from folders. Now, I don’t think it’s a single person solution – I think your whole company has to be on it – but if you’re on it, it seems to be pretty good. First, you use it to book your travel – airline, hotel, and car – which allows the system to create an expense report from your itinerary – automatically putting in your airline ticket, and place holders for your hotel and rental car. They also have can pull in the e-receipts that most hotel chains now set up, which is a huge timesaver if you work for one of those obsessive-compulsive companies that wants you to separately itemize room charges and tax across each night of your stay. Concur does that automatically when it sucks in the hotel receipt. It also pulls in electronic Amex receipts which you can drag and drop into the expense report.
  • They also have an iPhone app that allows you to immediately record an expenditure and upload it — complete with a picture of the receipt from the iPhone camera if you want – so that you can drag and drop it into your expense report. I don’t know what it costs our company, but it’s a pretty sweet system.
  • I was thinking about this when I saw a review for another one of those travel scanners on Gadling. There were all sorts of comments about how great it is to be able to immediately scan your receipts so you don’t lose them… But I dunno, given that most of us are carrying around multi-mega pixel cameras in our pockets – embedded in our cell phones – I just don’t get the rationale for schlepping around another hundred dollar piece of hardware. If the multi-colored folder system doesn’t do it for you – and it didn’t seem to for the many Gadling commenters who extolled the praises of scanning receipts – then take a picture of it –shoot it on a white sheet of paper if the aesthetics of, say, a wood bar bother you — and sync it back to your PC or do it across the network with any number of iPhone or Blackberry apps. I’m personally amazed that people are still buying those travel scanners.
  • Mika Pyyhkala sent me a note singing the praises of Southwest. First, he loves how easy it is to gift someone with a Southwest award
    • I just had the best experience. I booked the flight I thought my friend wanted from PHX to IAD, and sent him the PNR locator. He could then log in himself under Travel Tools on the WN web site, and either view or change the itinerary to times that were more convenient. Imagine what the process would be on say UA, US, CO, or DL.
    • While the media harps on bag fees, change/cancel fees are ****exponentially*** more money and more important to me. I probably check a bag 3 times a year, but often need to change my tickets. The media does not give Southwest credit for their consumer friendly change/cancellation rules, or point out how unfriendly the legacy carriers’ rules are in regards to that.
    • I travel at least twice a month from BOS to Washington. I’ve taken 20 flights since Southwest launched the service and had only one incident where a gate agent was rude to me. I sent in a complaint and they gave me a voucher for the entire value of the ticket. And they didn’t just send a form letter — it sounded like they actually investigated the issue I raised.
    • I am knocking on wood that writing this does not now bring me bad luck.
  • Mika, I have to agree with you on Southwest’s treatment. Having suffered through dealing with the crankiest set of AA gate agents and flight attendants that I’ve had in a while, it makes me appreciate the spirit and pleasantness of just about every Southwest employee I’ve encountered. My mother is a big fan of theirs too. Living in Denver, she was a loyal Frontier flyer until I gave her a Southwest award of mine that was about to expire. She came off that trip singing their praises and immediately switched her loyalties to Southwest. For Southwest, not a bad return on an free trip.
  • If you have a question, a story, a comment – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com, you can send me a Twitter message at @mpeacock, or you can post them on the web site at travelcommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — Opium Head by Solace

Changing the Way I Travel

  • Moving from consulting to a corporate job is a significant change in so many ways — I’m not even going to try and list them all here – but the way I travel is one of the biggest changes. My new company has offices in Phoenix, AZ, Dallas, and Naples, FL – but because of personal reasons – my son is finishing up high school, trying to sell a house in this market – we agreed that I wouldn’t move from Chicago right away. As the CEO said to me, “Mark, you travel all the time as it is, why change things?”
  • So while I keep traveling, the way I travel is very different. As a partner in a consulting firm, I managed multiple project teams and sold new business. This meant usually travelled to multiple places a week. At the front of each episode, I give a quick rundown of the places I’ve been since the last episode, sometimes highlighting an especially whacky itinerary – like the time I flew from Chicago to London for a day meeting – flew to Heathrow overnight, took a lunch meeting, and then hopped the afternoon flight back to Chicago – and then continued on to Denver where I drove through a blizzard to facilitate a two-day workshop. And there have been more than a handful of weeks where I spent the front half of it on the East Coast and the back half on the West Coast.
  • But now, I’m traveling to one place – one of our offices – for 3-4 days at a time. You’d think that this would be less stressful – and I guess it is in some ways – not as much packing & unpacking of my bag, not as many TSA lines to grit my teeth through, not as many flight delays… But the act of travel – going to and from airports, flying, navigating to new places – fills the time.
  • Without that, returning to the same hotel every night, there is empty time to fill. Work fills some of it. And you can only watch so much TV. Indeed, the travel is more like a commute, but without your family at the back end. The one saving grace of travel – experiencing new places, seeing new things – goes away.
  • But talking to others about this, I appear to be one of the few people who likes to change things up on business travel. At a dinner this week, one guy talked about a recent stint of commuting between Dallas and Hong Kong 3 weeks out of 4. “Every trip, I flew the same flight, sat in the same seat, stayed at the same hotel and tried to get the same room.” Wow! We’ve talked about travelers who get in ruts before, but this guy had dug his deep and furnished it!
  • But he had his reason – “After a while, the flight attendants, the hotel clerks got to know me. They’d greet me by name – ‘Hi Mr Jenkins’ – invite me to board early, upgrade my room, give me a free drink. It was nice.” In other words, he’d assembled a bit of a replacement family – some familiar faces to greet him at the end of his commute. Kinda the “Cheers” syndrome – you wanna be where everyone knows your name.
  • It’s a common desire. One colleague had stayed for over a year straight at the Trumbull, CT Marriott, working on a call center project at a nearby corporation. She got the full “Cheers” treatment – greetings, upgrades, leaving laundry over the weekend, Christmas cards from the front desk staff. She was still getting cards two years later – “Come back; we miss you”. Heartfelt or kinda stalker creepy? You judge.
  • I dunno – maybe I’m a bit of a misanthrope, but I’m happy with the family I’ve got. I use Skype videochat when the phone isn’t cutting it. And if I’m not getting to see new places, I’ll dig a little deeper into these places I’ll see again and again. In Phoenix, it’s been local sports – saw my first Fiesta Bowl and caught a local hockey game – which was interesting because there were more fans for the Buffalo Sabers than the home town Coyotes. Baseball spring training opens next week, so maybe I’ll get to catch a Cubs or White Sox game.
  • In Florida, I make it a point to drive to a beach at least one evening. I take my shoes off and walk through the sand a bit. Haven’t gotten in the water yet, but I will soon.
  • o So while the litany of destinations at the beginning of the show will get a bit more repetitive, I’ll guess I’ll have to work a bit harder to keep my travel from getting dull. If a hotel clerk greets me by name before looking up my reservation, I know it’s time to move on down the road.
  • Bridge Music — Spaces by General Fuzz

New Year, New Programs

  • At the start of each New Year, I take a look at my airline mileage and hotel “frequent sleeper” programs and, because all the elite “counters” for miles and nights have reset to zero, decide where I’m going to invest my time. Because for frequent travelers, it is an investment — the elite status is just as important – if not more so – than the actual points or miles.
  • Most of the time, I let things ride – enjoy the status I have while building for the next year. Probably the last big change I made was swinging from American to United after I hit 2 million miles on AA. Up to that point, I had always split my miles between American and United, maintaining mid-tier status on each – Platinum on AA and Premiere Exec on UA. But hitting 2 million miles on AA meant lifetime Platinum status. Since there was nothing to lose on AA, I doubled down on UA – made 1K my first couple of years and then made Global Services in 2009.
  • But now with my new job comes new destinations. I’m no longer regularly traveling to LGA, DCA, and SFO. Instead, I’m heading to DFW, Ft Myers, and PHX. ORD to DFW is AA’s trunk line – they practically have flights every hour between their two big hubs. No surprise there. But looking at Ft Myers, the only non-stops from Chicago are AA from ORD and SWA from MDW. I was surprised that there aren’t any UA non-stops. Hmmmm… Even AA’s ORD-PHX schedule is better than UA’s. I didn’t notice it when I was flying the big city routes, but it looks like UA got more aggressive than AA about taking out flight capacity. So since the New Year, I’ve swung my mileage over to AA and am working on Executive Platinum. Of course, UA made the decision a bit easier when they didn’t renew my GS status, even after I flew over 180,000 actual miles – or as the pros call it – BIS – butt-in-seat miles.
  • The new job is even affecting my hotel choices. The hotels most convenient to my offices – the closest and the ones where we have the best rates – are in the Hilton chain – Hilton Suites and Doubletrees. By the end of January I had already hit Hilton Honors Silver and am on a fast track to Gold. I’ve been Marriott Platinum for 7 or 8 years, but it looks like that too will be changing.

Closing

  • Closing music — iTunes link to iconPictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #82
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • The bridge music is from Magnatune
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or MP3 file, to comments@travelcommons.com or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on our website at travelcommons.com. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
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Leave a comment

6 Comments.

  1. I was thinking about this podcast with the news of that one airline charging for carry-on luggage. I was glad to hear the major carriers are not going to do that, but could this be a sign that sooner than later this is going to happen?

  2. Where are you Mark? Missing the podcast…

  3. John –

    I’m am working like a dog at this new CIO gig. I’ve been trying to get a new show put together, but work keeps getting in the way. I should get something out before much longer.

    Thanks for listening (when I actually produce something…)

  4. Thanks for the update Mark. I guess podcasting isn’t as lucrative as CIOing, and should be prioritized appropriately.

  5. Mark, just to let you know that there are those of us still checking the ipods for new episodes….. can imagine you’re busy, but can’t you find a friendly bathroom somewhere for a quickie?? *smile*

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