Driving on Dirt Road

The Secret World of Business Travel You Didn’t Know Existed

Status has its perks. Throughout history, royalty had it better than the peasants. Celebrities and Presidents gets perks over the middle class. And now, business and wealthy travelers get perks above what many travelers even know exist.

A Business Trip Story

I mentioned in a post a few months back that I got a new job. While the job change was unexpected, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. My new job came with a raise, a better boss, an office closer to home, and the opportunity to make a real difference in my team at work. There is something to be said about feeling fulfilled with your work, and the extra cash every month doesn’t hurt either.

A few months into my new job, I had the opportunity to join a team meeting in Phoenix for a couple of days. I was excited to meet colleagues from our offices around the country, and it doesn’t hurt to go to the warm desert in December to escape from the rainy Portland climate.

How Business Travel is Booked

Small and mid-sized companies usually have employees book their own travel, either on their own with a company credit card or through a contracted travel booking portal with a travel agent on hand in case of any hiccups.

Bigger companies with tens of thousands of employees have more muscle and influence thanks to economies of scale. Big spenders get big perks, and with corporate travel many of those perks are shared across the company.

For example, when I booked my rental car I signed up for a point account with the rental company through my company’s travel portal. I got instant preferred status for all rentals I make with that company, whether the rentals are for work or personal travel.

Upgrade Number 1: The Car

I work in finance and stare at budgets for a large portion of my workday, so I know that every dollar spent counts. When I booked my rental car, I used my preferred status account through work, but took the second lowest class of car. I figured it was worth less than $1 per day to upgrade from compact to intermediate, but my boss wouldn’t be too happy if I booked a sports car for four times the cost.

When I got off the Phoenix rental car shuttle, I walked right past the line of people waiting to rent their cars and went down to the preferred desk in the garage, where three very friendly, pleasant, and helpful employees were waiting for me with no line. I call that a win already.

The nice gentleman who helped me with my reservation looked up my account and confirmed that I rented an intermediate car. As he asked that, I saw a Ford Mustang Convertible sitting in the garage just out the window. “Sure,” I said, “Unless you have any extra Mustangs lying around at no extra charge.”

A few minutes later, I drove out of the garage in a shiny red 2014 Ford Mustang convertible. I had the top down singing out “money ain’t a thang!” Okay, I wasn’t singing rap songs, but it was a pretty glorious moment.

Upgrade Number 2: The Flight Home

I booked my flights via American Airlines for the trip home, but the flights were actually operated by US Airways. Thanks to the way their computer systems work, I wasn’t able to pick my seat before my flights. For my flight from PDX to PHX, it worked out okay as the flight was only about two thirds full. I had a window with an empty middle seat next to me.

For the flight home, I had to wait through a busy line before getting up to the kiosk. To my distain, the only empty seats were middle seats and in the back two rows next to the toilet. Yuck! I picked a middle seat toward the front, but wasn’t thrilled with the idea of sitting between two large people with severe body odor (my imagination went to the worst case scenario), but I figured it’s only two hours and I can make the best of it.

After making my way through security in nearly record time thanks to TSA Pre-Check, a government program that actually works, I made my way to the Admiral Club lounge. Thanks to a serious travel hack, I have access to all American Airlines and US Airways lounges for a year.

If you’ve never been to an airline lounge, I have to say it is quite nice. You can get some free drinks before your flight thanks to the complimentary beer, house wine, and well alcohol list, relax in comfortable chairs, watch the news or catch the big game, enjoy free high-speed Wi-Fi, and won’t have to fight an emo college student or sit on the floor to get access to an outlet. In the lounge, the travel experience is just a bit nicer.

Here’s the secret about the lounges, though, that most people don’t know. When you check into the lounge, you are always greeted by very well trained customer service reps for the airlines. They know that people with lounge access are either very valuable frequent flyers, very profitable corporate travelers, or wealthy people who paid extra for the privilege. With power and profitability comes perks.

When I checked into the lounge, I made small chat with the friendly woman at the desk. Once she got me confirmed that I have lounge access, she asked if everything was okay for my flights for the day. I said, “well, I got stuck with a middle seat and would love to get moved to a seat that isn’t a middle, by the bathroom, and doesn’t come with an extra charge.” I knew full well that the only better seats open on my flight were first class and premium seats with a fee, but it never hurts to ask. The worst thing she would do is say no.

A few moments later, she said, “Yes, I see you are in a middle, let me see what I can do…. How about an exit row aisle seat. You have to be willing and able to open the exit row door in the event of an emergency. Is that okay?”

Of course it’s okay! Exit row seats over the wing are always a smoother ride and you get extra leg room from being in the exit row. Win number 2!

How to Get Status

I’m sitting in a comfy seat in the US Airways lounge right now writing this story. I’m drinking a complimentary beer, my phone and laptop are plugged in, and I have a nice view of the sun setting over the runway with the Phoenix mountains in the distance. And in a few minutes, I’ll upload this post using the free Wi-Fi.

There are a couple of ways to get airline and rental car status that can get you free upgrades to convertibles and better seats. Of course, I got really lucky to get two upgrades in one trip, but you are much more likely to get an upgrade with status than without.

The Old Fashioned Way – Travel a Lot

The original intent of loyalty programs was to get you to fly on only one airline. That way, the airline gets all of your business and the related profits. As a thank you, the airline gives you an occasional free flight and upgrade to keep you happy and coming back.

While we all know that travel hacking is a perfectly acceptable way to get free flights, it does not get you free status. So, if you want status, one way to do so is the old fashioned way. Fly a lot with the same airline and always rent from the same rental car company.

Corporate Status

The second way to get status is the way I did for the rental car. While most airlines don’t give instant status based on employment, it is always worth checking if you work for a large employer.

Start by looking at your company’s intranet on the benefits section, then look for corporate travel resources.

Travel Hack It

If you are willing to put the work in, you can get status through travel hacking. People go on mileage runs, check into hotels in their hometown without staying the night, and do tons of other things to get free status. I got the lounge access from a special credit card, but there are other ways too.

If you want to get started, check out this resource list from travel hacking guru Chris Guillebeau.

Living the Good Life is, Well, Good

There are no real downsides of getting status other than the potential cost and work to get there, so if you’re intrigued, scour the web and you can find tons of great resources.

If you have any questions for me on my experience, how to get started, or just want to say hi, drop a note in the post comments or send me a note through the contact form. I’d love to hear from you!

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