So this afternoon, Jaclyn and Nate Kaiser, of The Image is Found, both jokingly twittered that they are making a new rule that they'll only travel to places that Jet Blue or Virgin America fly to. This spurred a little Twitter debate between Nate and I about airlines and it got me thinking about why I make the choices I do when I travel.


I'm not sure whether it's apropos or ironic that I watched the George Clooney movie, Up In The Air, on a flight to New York but I sure did identify with Clooney's character and his quest for frequent flyer mile domination, haha. As photographers, we get the opportunity to travel more than the average person. Over the past few years I've traveled a ton and since we moved to Manhattan earlier this year, the past 6 months I've traveled even more than usual. I've found that if you do it right you can both enjoy your travel more and make your travel and destination weddings more profitable. I thought I'd blog about the things I've figured out regarding air travel.


#1 Pick an Airline


There are a bunch of airlines out there and I'm not going to try to say that one is "best" because the "best" airline for you might be different than the best airline for me. The first consideration should be your location. Which airlines have hubs in or near your city. If you're in Dallas, American would be you're best bet.  Houston, Continental would be a good choice... etc.


The benefit of choosing an airline with your city as a hub is that you'll have the most direct flights available. This is super important as a frequent traveller. Layovers make your travel days way longer, increase the chance for delays and generally suck. The more planes you take, the more chance there is for a flight to be cancelled/delayed...etc. If you fly direct, there is no connecting flight to miss even if your flight is delayed. Also flights in and out of hubs are, for the most part, cheaper and there are way more available to choose from.


Another consideration when choosing an airline is where they fly. One of the reasons I chose Delta is that when I was choosing an airline is that they were in talks with Northwest to merge and become the largest airline in the world. Either them or their partner airlines fly to more destinations than any other airline in the world. An airline like Virgin America or Jet Blue may meet some of the criteria but they are quite limited in the cities they serve. So if you choose them there's a good chance you'll have to fly other airlines at some point. Pick an airline that will take you pretty much anywhere you want to go and allow you to earn miles on all of your flights, not just on flights to cities they fly to.


#2 Stick with that Airline


Frequent flyer programs benefit "frequent flyers" and you'll never be a "frequent flyer" if you're flying a different airline every trip.  All airlines have frequent flyer programs but the benefits vary greatly between airlines. If you fly a budget airline such as Jet Blue or Southwest, basically, the only benefits to frequent flyers is award travel (free flights). With full service airlines you'll still get the award travel but you'll also get a ton of other benefits.


#3 Rack up the miles


Once you reach elite status, usually 25,000 miles in a calendar year, you get all kinds of fringe benefits. Here's a list of a few:


Priority Check In. Frequent flyers always have their own check in line. There's no waiting in a line of a hundred people at the airport anymore to check your bags.


Free checked baggage. With Delta, my guests and I get up to 3 bags a piece at no charge and the weight limit is 70lbs not the usual 50lbs. This alone is worth hundreds if not thousands per year.


Priority Security Screening. At most airports there is a lane for first class or elite travelers. Again, no more waiting behind a hundred people. Security screening now only takes a few minutes.


Priority Boarding. As a photographer this is one of the biggest deals. When I travel with my camera gear, the last thing I want to do is gate check it. I want it with me the whole way. As a frequent flyer with elite status I get to board the plane before the general public, meaning there will never be a time when I get into the plane and the overhead compartments are full.


FIRST CLASS. This is huge when you fly a lot. I've never paid for a first class ticket but I now fly first class almost exclusively... easily 90% of the time. Delta, and most other airlines give free or very low cost upgrades to their frequent flyers. It makes a big difference having the extra legroom but the biggest difference is the "shoulder room".  The fact that there are only 2 seats in first class where three fit in coach makes all the difference in the world. There's never a time when I worry about who is going to be sitting next to me in first class, but every time I have to sit coach I dread the waiting game of watching the people file in. I just know when I see the 6'5" 350lb mountain man, he's going to sit right next to me. Also, meals and drinks (even alcohol) are free in first class which is pretty nice.


Priority baggage handling. I think this is one of the coolest things Delta does. Whenever I check a bag a special tag is placed on it and upon arrival my bag will be among the first delivered to baggage claim. No waiting around for 30 minutes as bags trickle on to the carousel.


Bonus Miles. Once you make it to elite status, you get between a 25% and 125% bonus on your travel. Once you get to a certain point miles start adding up like crazy.  At the beginning of the year this year it took me 5 round trip flights from LA to NYC to earn the 25000 miles for a free flight. Now it takes only 2.5 round trip flights because I get a 100% bonus on all travel... fly 5000 miles, get 10000 frequent flyer miles.



#4 Don't sweat it if you have to pay a little more to stick with your chosen airline.


If I were to fly American Airlines I'd have to pay $25 each way to check one bag. Sticking with Delta saves me *at least* that much over another airline. If the difference between tickets is even more than that, the fact that all of my miles are with one airline more than makes up for it. The average cost in miles for a free flight is 25,000 miles.  If I have 6000 miles with Delta, 8400 with American, 3700 with United...etc, it doesn't matter that I've got 18100 miles in total because they're with 3 different airlines. I'm still 16400 miles from an award ticket. Don't worry about paying a little more for a ticket with your airline, you'll get it back later.



#5 Pack light.


If its possible carry everything you need on. The time you'll save by not checking bags and not having to wait for them at baggage claim is worth way more than having your choice of 14 pairs of shoes and 23 outfits for that week long trip.


There are lots of other tips I've picked up but this should do for now. Maybe this will help you, I sure wish someone had told me all this a few years ago. :) 


If you have any tips I'm missing here leave me a message in the comments. I'd love to hear them!


Since posts without pictures are boring, here is an image from a wedding I shot in Anguilla (in the British West Indies in the Caribbean) last month. I'll be blogging the whole wedding this week!


anguilla_destination_wedding_photography.jpg


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Comments
[August 22, 2010] Lara said:
I'm a Delta girl through and through too. Great post!
[August 22, 2010] Rachel Perry said:
Oh my goodness... I can't wait to see the rest of that wedding!
[August 22, 2010] Taylor said:
Blah blah blah blah blah RAD PICTURE!!! ;) Seriously, good advice, especially for someone starting to rack up miles. Virgin is just starting service to DFW this fall but AA flies everywhere and their prices are among the cheapest out there. Anyway, back to the image...such a tease...it looks freakin' awesome though and you better blog the whole wedding soon!
[August 22, 2010] 10.11. Makeup said:
Stunning. Soooo beautiful. Bri, you look amazing- of course :) Can not wait to see the rest!!
[August 23, 2010] chipgillespie said:
According to your sister-in-law, streaking through the security checkpoint is another way to get through quickly...
[August 23, 2010] Travis Hoehne said:
Michael...that's a killer shot! Seriously...really good! On a side note, I thought you were taking me on that wedding? I guess Cyndie was a better roommate ;)
[August 24, 2010] Jeff said:
Totally with you - great post outlining why everyone should choose one airline, and stick with it. I've been a Delta guy for what seems like forever, and now with the NW merger they are even better than before. Plus I feel like the domestic first class service and seats are way better on Delta than on the other biggies. However, I think United wins on international business class service. Or Singapore Airlines.
[August 24, 2010] Bri Grill said:
Your "blah, blah, blah" got us talking about making an airline commitment soon... and of course... love seeing how awesome you made us look!
[September 22, 2010] Morgan Taylor said:
WOW! This is amazing! I am putting it in my folder of curated photos that inspire me!
[October 14, 2010] Dorothy Snyder said:
Stunning photo!
[May 19, 2014] Bernice A. Johnson said:
Your all images are looking very nice