Flying Coach is Fine — Once You Build Your Bubble

Cost-conscious travelers who dress well and plan ahead can avoid the headaches that plague the masses, says our columnist.

Bryce Sanders
Bryce Sanders

My wife and I have been traveling together over 40 years. Although we have been bumped up to business class or used our miles to get into first class, almost all of our travel has been done in coach seats or by booking entry level accommodations at our favorite hotels. We see no need to change because we travel in a bubble. You can too.

Bubbles are not new. Airlines and hotel chains have been accommodating business travelers with perks for years. When my wife and I travel, it is usually as leisure travelers paying with our own money. If we can build a bubble, you can too.

Getting to the Airport

Do this however you choose. We drive ourselves to the airport and park in the parking garage closest to the terminal we need. This is not the ultra-expensive short-term lot, but it’s not economy either. This is a luxury I allow myself (and my wife) because after flying for hours, collecting our bags, then going through Customs and Immigration, I do not want to wait for a bus to take us to a distant lot. I want to get in the car and drive off.

Bubble: Because of an accident my wife had years ago, we have a handicapped parking pass. This allows us to park in the spaces closest to the terminal. Depending on the city or state, there is often a discount on the regular parking rate.

General Traveling

When we fly or sail, we always arrive dressed extremely well. I wear a suit and tie. We travel with matching Louis Vuitton luggage. If there is some distance between the parking garage and the ticket counter, we go to the cart rental machine, pay the $5 or $6, rent a cart, pile up the luggage and walk to the counter. We arrive two to three hours early for international flights, just like they tell you.

Bubble:  Dressing well and carrying Louis Vuitton luggage really makes a difference. It sounds elitist, but people treat you differently.

Check In, Seating, Baggage and Stuff Like That

Three decades ago, we decided to centralize our flying on American Airlines. They belong to the OneWorld Alliance which helps reach places where American does not fly. This has earned us status with the airline. You can get other status perks by signing up for the right credit card affiliated with your airline. We are both AAdvantage lifetime Platinum members. That’s one notch above Gold. Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum and Concierge Key are the higher levels.  (We aren’t that high!)

We check our luggage. Your airline status should give you a decent allowance. (If not, paying isn’t a bad option.) We choose exit row seats on the left or right side. The exit row door on dual aisle planes gives you about six feet or more of legroom. Airline status gives you this at no charge. If you don’t have status, spend a bit more to get those better seats.

We signed up for TSA Precheck/Global Entry. TSA Precheck speeds up getting through security.  Global Entry speeds up your return back into the U.S.

Bubble: Centralize your flying with one airline. Work your way up through the status levels. Today, spending on your affiliated credit card may be more important than actually flying. The right credit card can get you perks.

Waiting and Boarding

When flying internationally, Platinum Status gets us into the Admirals Club or American’s Flagship Lounge. Regardless, I’ve been a member of the Admirals Club for a long time. Having the right affiliated credit card also gets you into the lounge.

The airline club lounge is a civilized place to wait. With American Airlines, well drinks, beer and wine are complimentary. The snacks are decent. They have a nice breakfast of cold items too. Let’s not forget the cappuccino machine.

Most important is the “what if” scenario. What if the flight is delayed and you will miss your connection? What if it is cancelled? The clubs have a dedicated desk to handle rebooking.

Boarding is done by groups. There are often eight groups. We are usually in Group 3. There is plenty of overhead bin space.

Once onboard I work my way through gaps in the oncoming flow of passengers and head to the front of the plane. I ask to speak with the purser, who is the lead flight attendant. Then I hand over a box of handmade chocolate truffles from our hometown for the flight crew to enjoy after the meal service is completed. I also include a business card with “Thank you for looking after us” and our seat numbers. This is a sign of respect for the crew, who can have a difficult job at times. Sometimes some unexpected extras come our way as a result. It doesn’t matter. Our coach seats are fine. We have legroom.

On longer international flights, we pack a picnic. Since the seats we selected have a jump seat for the flight attendant in front of us, we make friends with the flight attendant.

Life has changed post pandemic, but in the BC (before Covid) Period first and business class passengers could use an express line through immigration when arriving at Heathrow. I would ask the flight attendant if they had two extra passes. They usually did.

Bubble: Get the credit card that comes with access to the airline club. If you did not do this, you can buy one-day passes.

Arrival and Getting to the Hotel

Let us assume there is no express line. You follow the crowd through the terminal. No shortcut here. The line at Immigration can be very long, but sometimes the good clothing and Louis Vuitton luggage do their magic. In Barcelona we were pulled out of a long line, taken around a corner and told to wait while a new booth was opened up. Others were selected too.

We get a luggage cart, wheel it through Customs and enter the general area of the terminal. No, the hotel is not sending a car for us! We generally use the most cost efficient and direct way into the center of the city. At Heathrow, it is the Piccadilly Underground line. In other cities, it is the airport bus to the city center. We buy tickets and wait. Once in the city, we take a taxi to our hotel.

If you are joining a cruise, use the airport-to-ship transfer bus service they provide. That is money well spent.

Bubble: Nothing special. Dressing well, carrying nice luggage and being patient sometimes pays off.

At the Hotel

Remember to have small bills handy. We keep a travel wallet at home for this purpose. The taxi pulls up to the hotel. Someone comes to take your bags. That’s the person you will tip.

Arriving well dressed at a luxury hotel (or business hotel) in Europe with good luggage makes a statement. Friends told us that when you walk through the door, several decisions are made about you in mere seconds. If you are dressed well and have good luggage, all those decisions are good.

Centralize your hotel business with one chain. We chose Marriott. I am a lifetime Titanium member of the Bonvoy Rewards program. (That’s pretty good!)  If you have higher tier status, you sometimes get room upgrades. There is also usually a concierge or executive lounge. If your status doesn’t get you access, ask if you can pay for access.

The lounge is useful for many reasons. They put out a good breakfast at no charge. There are drinks and munchies at cocktail time and desserts later in the evening. It is a nice place to relax.

While checking in I present the front desk staff (ideally the front desk manager) with another (half pound) box of chocolate truffles. I thank them in advance for looking after us.

Next, I usually head out to a street market or florist, buy cut flowers and bring them to the Concierge desk. I ask them to put the flowers in a vase (they have plenty) and send them up to our room. I tip when I drop off the flowers and when they are delivered.

Before we check out of the hotel, we leave a tip for the person who cleans our room.  It is usually about one dollar per person per day, paid in the local currency. In the U.K., if we stayed three nights, we would leave six GBP.

Bubble: Dressing well matters. So does good luggage. Belonging to the hotel’s loyalty program should get you access to the Concierge Lounge during your visit. Treat people as equals, assuming your paths will cross again.

What Is the Bubble?

In these examples we are flying in coach and booking an inexpensive room at a nice hotel. Because of loyalty programs, credit cards, dressing well and having nice luggage, we get through check in and airport security smoothly, have legroom in flight and a pleasant hotel experience. Throw in a couple of lounges and…what could be better?

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, “Captivating the Wealthy Investor,” is available on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

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