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November 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 28, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Travel Tips for Long-Haul Flights

how to spend less on -- and survive -- grueling dive trips overseas

from the November, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In last month's article "Are You Diving Less These Days," many readers said one reason why they answered "yes" is because of the cost, length and hassle of flying overseas, especially when stuck in coach. We got some good advice from travel pros about how to make it a not-so-bad or actually-good experience.

Before the Flight

When he has a dive destination in mind, Undercurrent contributor Doc Vikingo says he does his best to accumulate enough frequent-flier miles to get a business-class seat. "I accrue them largely through churning co-branded airline credit cards with fat sign-up bonuses, but also make even my smallest purchases using a card that earns miles on a carrier(s) I am interested in for international travel." Also keep an eye out for periodic specials on purchasing miles. For example, US Airways offers a 100 percent bonus on purchased miles once or twice a year. You can keep abreast of this activity by regularly checking travel sites like Million Mile Secrets ( http://millionmilesecrets.com ) and The Points Guy ( http://thepointsguy.com ).

Before you buy a long-haul ticket, research
what type of aircraft options are on the
route. "That info will come in handy not
only when choosing seats, but in choosing
competing airlines on the same route."

Is there actually a best day of the week to buy your ticket? FareCompare says yes. After doing a study of its airfare database, it pinpointed the best time to buy airline tickets and shop for fares is Tuesday -- at 3 p.m. Eastern, to boot. Don't wait too much longer if you're looking for a deal -- most of the discounted airfare are pulled on Thursdays, so you're probably paying too much if buying on the weekends. However, CheapAir.com did another study on exact timing for buying the right-priced ticket and found that the best time to buy a ticket for non-holiday domestic travel is 49 days before departure; for international flights, 81 days is the sweet spot.

Choose your aircraft wisely. Before you purchase a long-haul ticket, Ed Hewitt, contributing editor at the online guide Independent Traveler, says to research what type of aircraft options are on the route. "Look at how they have configured the aircraft, both the seating setup, and other important factors like seatback screens versus overhead screens. This information will come in handy not only when choosing your seats immediately after your purchase, but in choosing between competing airlines on the same route." For example, a plane with a 3 - 3 configuration is typically more grueling than a 3 - 5 - 3 configuration, mainly because the one aisle will have you competing for space not only with other passengers, but also especially with flight staff as they do drink and meal services. These days, passengers are expected to stay seated during these times -- and on a long flight, this can be tough. Use the website SeatGuru ( www.seatguru.com ) to see what seats on the flights you're considering recline, have windows, and lack foot traffic and foot area obstructions. That makes a difference over the course of 15 hours as opposed to five. Make sure your aircraft and your specific seats do not show any yellow or red flags.

Get to your hub city as early as you can. "Since delays stack up as the day progresses, it's smart to book the first flight you can into a hub [if you have a connecting flight]," says David Martin, a Delta passengerservice specialist. And select your seats ASAP, he adds. "If you have a disability and need a premium seat in the bulkhead, tell the agent when you make your reservation rather than at the airport." Other passengers might be able to nab those seats 24 hours before the flight, when they're made available to everyone through the airline's website.

Double-check foreign document requirements. Some countries, like Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, require that your visa be valid for at least six months following the date of your arrival. Other countries, like South Africa, won't allow entrance unless your passport contains at least two blank, unstamped pages. You need to be aware of such requirements before you make your flight reservations or else you could get stuck stateside. For a complete list of entrance regulations, visit travel.state.gov .

Nothing's worse than an airport delay, but they happen more than you want them to, so to be safe, pre-program your cell phone, Hewitt says. Before your flight, plug in the local contact numbers for your airline (use the frequent flier program phone number if you have elite status of any kind), reservation sites, car rental companies that permit drop-offs near you. "And your travel agent if you have ever used one," Hewitt says. "Even if the agent didn't book you into your current jam, he or she might be able to get you out of it."

During the Flight

If you're flying coach, try to get at least one layover en route, says Doc Vikingo. "On really long flights to places like Indonesia, I try to spend a night in Tokyo, Singapore or Jakarta. You can find reasonably priced hotels/motels close to those airports with free shuttles by searching TripAdvisor ( www.tripadvisor.com). Also, do what you can to maximize coach seat comfort, such as reading this article "How Am I Going To Survive 21 Hours In Coach?" ( http://thepointsguy.com/2013/09/how-am-i-going-to-survive-21-hours-in-coach )

If you have an iPad or Kindle, Hewitt recommends tricking it out before you go aboard. "If you are going to rely on a tablet to get you through two 17-hour flights coming and going, you are going to need new, fresh and absolutely compelling stuff on it to get you through," he says. "We are talking at least a couple of movies -- and these should be bucket-list movies that will absolutely absorb you, not just whatever you have sitting around in your movie queue. Then add at least a couple of books in digital format, of different genres, so if you tire of a long novel, you can read about indigenous local plants at your destination."

Ken Kurtis, owner of Reef Seekers dive shop in Beverly Hills ( http://reefseekers.com ), says one of the constant issues he faces when he travels is whether or not he'll get Wi-Fi at the airport. "Sometimes the airport provides it; sometimes you can sneak onto an airline club signal by loitering outside the entrance to their club. (This works great in Honolulu and Guam outside the United Club.) Now Airfare Watchdog has done the research for you for both domestic and some major international airports." View the list at www.airfarewatchdog.com/blog/15775436/introducing-our-airport-wifi-access-chart .

To bag jet lag, follow this flight attendant's tips. Jo Darwel-Taylor, a flight service manager for Virgin Airways, says that when flying east, you should adjust your internal clock by wearing sunglasses or an eye mask to block daylight until about 10 a.m. on the morning you arrive. Get on your destination's local time ASAP, or even before you leave home, if possible. And if you absolutely must nap, sleep no more than three hours.

After You Land

Kurtis mentions an interesting gizmo to track luggage. "If you want to know exactly where your bag is when you're traveling, there's a new gadget out called Trakdot, recently approved by the FAA ( www.trakdot.com ). It's essentially a little GPS tracking device you pair up with a cell phone, activate and toss in your bag, and it will transmit the location of your bag to your phone anytime you're both on the ground. The unit costs $50, works (allegedly) with any cell phone anywhere in the world, plus a $9 activation fee and a $13 annual service fee. When you consider the inconvenience of having the airlines lose a bag of dive gear or photo gear, it sounds like it's worth it. And, if you arrive at your resort only to find out too late that someone walked out of baggage claim by mistake with your bag in tow, think how easy this will make it to reunite you."

Magellan's Retriever Tags require no technology to use, so they're simple enough to work. The vinyl tag has instructions in eight languages (English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, French and German) that tell baggage agents to check the itinerary inside your bag and send your luggage to your next destination, as opposed to shipping it back to your home address while you're en route to Bali. Buy it at www.magellans.com for $10.50.

If you're a heavy internet user on overseas dive trips, you could save money by renting a mobile hotspot that connects directly to a local cellular network, and avoid expensive data-usage charges. The devices are tiny and light enough to sit in your pocket. After you initiate a connection, the hotspot automatically re-broadcasts the cellular signals from local mobile networks as wi-fi connections. Hotspots have an approximate four-hour battery life and come with local charging cables. XCom Global MiFi seems to have the broadest coverage -- its hotspots work in Fiji, Indonesia, Australia and the Caribbean. The flat rate for unlimited data is $15 a day for the first two countries you visit, with a $30 charge for each additional country. So far, the only pick-up spots are a counter at Los Angeles International Airport and a travel agency near Grand Central Station in New York City, so most customers will need to pay $30 for round-trip FedEx shipping to receive and return the device ( www.xcomglobal.com ).

Finally, download business-travel writer Joe Brancatelli's app JoeSentMe.com, which has a list of essential travelers links -- flight delays, airport hotels, currency converters, mileage converters, Wi-Fi access, security waits. Better yet, become a member of Brancatelli's website for $70 a year and you'll get all kinds of tips on frequent flyer deals, special unpublished business-class fares and more ( www.joesentme.com ).

-- Ben Davison and Vanessa Richardson

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