SmarterTravel executive editor Anne Banas raves about Global Entry, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that pre-qualifies certain travelers for expedited customs.
"I just went through the [application process] a couple weeks ago on a trip to France," Banas says. "I was the only person in line for Global Entry and I went right though. And if you get a combination of flying business class plus Global Entry status, you can just whiz out of there with your luggage right away."
Be loyal to businesses and they'll treat you well
"The key thing for business travel is frequent flier programs," Banas says. "You want to be brand loyal so you can get that elite status and have access to more perks and upgrades."
If you don't want to marry yourself to one airline or hotel chain for infinity, Banas recommends at least getting a rewards credit card that lets you rack up points and miles no matter which company you choose to do business with.
Know the difference between non-stop and direct flights
"Especially if you're on business and going to and from meetings, it's such a waste of time to take a day to get there and a day to get back [because of layovers]," Banas says.
But don't mistake "direct" flights for "non-stop" flights when booking.
"A direct flight might still stop, but you would just stay on the plane instead of having to switch planes," Banas explains. "There's a lot of confusion about this. I would say always choose a 'non-stop' flight instead of direct."
If rental agencies won't upgrade for free, try negotiating
"Premium cars can cost an arm and a leg, but counter reps will negotiate much lower prices if they are available when you pick up your car," says Brian Kelly of ThePointsGuy.com.
"Ask at check-in if you can upgrade to a higher category, and if they quote you a price, be sure to negotiate since they won't start at their best price ... Being super nice also helps."
"These days with miles the best way to earn them is by shopping with credit cards," Kelly says. "I would say just take out travel rewards cards for everyday spending and when you travel."
Just be sure you nab a card that waives foreign transaction fees, which can be a real killer.
Don't pass up cheap fares just for the points
Some fliers will do whatever it takes to book flights to earn more points, even if it means passing up cheaper fares on another carrier.
That's not always the smartest move, especially when you consider each mile is worth about two cents. "Cash is king and yes, it's good to have a good mileage strategy, but I wouldn't pay a ton extra just to earn miles," Kelly says.
Use a tennis ball to keep in-flight soreness at bay
"Bring a tennis ball with you when you're traveling," suggests Brian Povinelli, Global Brand Leader for Westin and Le Meridien.
"It's great to roll under your feet and even under your thighs to keep you from getting stiff/sore. It's small, inexpensive and easy to replace."
Use apps to track your miles
"What doesn’t make sense is why so few people are keeping track of their points and miles when there are such good resources out there to do so easily," Kelly says.
"They are worth money. Sometimes they are worth a lot of money – depending on how you redeem them."
Make your life easier and sign up for a miles tracking site like AwardWallet. It's a one-stop shop for tracking miles from all of your accounts, including your passwords for each.
Develop a solid packing strategy
Mark Drusch, Chief Supplier Relations Officer for CheapOair has packing down to an art form.
"Always pack extra essentials (underwear, socks) and extra shirts, clothes (pants/skirts) that can be all be mixed and matched with one another," he says.
"On short trips, try to pack clothes that require only one or two pairs of shoes and for men, a single color of socks. As sleep is important when traveling, make room for anything that will make sleeping easier (favorite pillow, blanket or sleepwear). Keep extra mouthwash and toothpaste and cell phone charger in carry-on bags, in case you need to access them while in the airport or onboard. Don't forget to check the weather at your destination to determine whether you should pack a compact umbrella."
Ask for hotel upgrades when the front desk isn't busy
Front desk clerks are known to be willing to upgrade customers when business is slow, but you're best bet is to ask them when there aren't a load of other people around.
"I just did this," says George Hobica, founder of discount airfare site Airfarewatchdog.com. "I had been booked in a room near the elevator. I told them I was a light sleeper and asked for a room at the end of the hallway. The nice person behind the desk upgraded me to a better room at no charge."
Hobica typically follows this script: "I know the hotel is not full today. Do you think you could upgrade me to a suite?"
Dress nicely to give yourself an edge
"When flights are oversold [in economy class], sometimes gate agents will pick people to upgrade based on whether they're dressed well, or if they were nice to someone when they checked in," Hobica says.
Get ahead of the game by kindly telling the gate agent in advance that you hope they'll consider you if any upgrades are available. "They'd much rather sell you an upgrade for $100 or $200 rather than give it away to a frequent flier," he said.
Charge everything the night before you travel
"Charge everything you're going to need, and put it next to your car keys and purse or wallet so you make sure to pack it in your carry-on before driving to the airport," advises Jason W. Womack of Entrepreneur.
"Recently I talked to someone in the gate area, waiting to board the plane, who said, “I’m going to stay here as long as I can to charge my computer, the battery is almost gone!” Personally, I like to board the plane with everything at a maximum charge; it gives me more options."
Get upgrades on flights by booking an economy ticket with a Y or B booking code
According to TravelNerd.com's Amy Lee, this special booking code is gold for fliers looking for an upgrade.
"This means that the ticket will be full fare but you will receive a complimentary upgrade if there are open spots in the next class of service," Lee says.
Just request the upgrade when you book your ticket and then check your status 24 hours before your flight. Frequent flyers should hear about upgrades within 100 hours of their departure (based on status level).
Order a special meal to get fed first
If missing out on airplane meat wouldn't disappoint you too much, you can try Banas' trick for getting served before everyone else on flights.
"I always order vegetarian meals because if you order a special meal, you tend to be served first," she says. "I can't think of a time when I wasn't served first. Then you can just go to sleep and won't have to wait [for the full dinner service]."
Consolidate your travel into one or two airlines only
"Try to keep them in the same airline family like OneWorld (American), SkyTeam (Delta) or Star Alliance (UnitedContinental)," suggests Suzanne Garber, Chief Networking Officer at International SOS
"Make sure you check international airlines to ensure your primary airline will gain the miles from flights on international carriers. Many of the perks afforded on your primary carrier will transfer over to these international carriers. In many cases, international carriers will actually treat you better than domestic US airlines in terms of free baggage, upgrade or access to their executive lounges. Almost all international carriers offer free meals and alcoholic beverages on their flights."
Figure out your perfect jet lag cure
Everyone reacts to changing time zones differently, so it's important to figure out what your body needs and doesn't need to avoid jet lag.
For Banas, that means taking later flights so you can sleep overnight and staying well hydrated en route. That means avoiding alcohol, even if you think it'll help you sleep. It will only dehydrate you and make the jet lag worse.
"Try to stay awake when you land and push through it to go to bed at the normal time for your destination," she says. "Sometimes it's really hard and I need medicine or Melatonin to go to sleep. Nothing is worse than going to Europe and still having insomnia after Day 4."