Most business travelers have one thing in common: airplanes.
Some travel internationally, most just domestically. Ironically, not every business traveler takes the air. Some are literal road warriors in every sense of the word. They’re on the road their entire trip.
And many are a combination. They fly into one city then drive to another city. Let’s say flying into Dallas then drive to Austin then to San Antonio then fly home to Chicago. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
As a result, there’s an unspoken process many business travelers go through in choosing an airline.
But do you know who doesn’t know this process?
The new guy or the new girl. That new business traveler who’s never been taught our secret handshakes. They choose an airline without much thought if it’s the best choice for them in the long run.
When I first started traveling for work, I was trained inside-and-out on the product. Sound familiar?
And the only information I was given on the travel part was: “keep it as cheap as possible.”
That was helpful. (Insert sarcasm here)
Everything revolved around price from the flight to the hotel to the food. And it was always what was best for the company, definitely not for me but I didn’t know that at the time. I was naive and thrilled to be “on the road” and “on my own.”
What I’ve learned later, is that the company wanted what can be summed up in two words:
I’m on a mission to help companies realize that cost-focused business travel yields not only cheap results but short-term results because of one major rarely talked about subject: business travel burnout.
And hence learning the most effective ways to travel that yield consistent results. Did you catch that? Consistent results.
Since most business travelers fly for a living, we need to make sure we’re choosing an airline that enhances becoming an Elite Road Warrior.
So, if you’re about to begin business travel, have aspirations for business travel, or are already into the groove, there will be something in this article to help you in this area.
Before we dive into the five ways to choose your preferred airline, let me give you a word of caution right out of the gate:
Be hesitant to choose a budget-only focused airline such as Spirit Airlines or others in that similar category. Why? Because the “nickel-and-dime you” approach will be un-necessary travel friction. They charge you for a carry-on, for luggage, choosing certain seats, snacks, even to go to the bathroom. Okay, not the last one at least yet, but you get the point. They have ways of making up that low fare at your cost, not the company’s and it’s exhausting.
(Now that I got that rant out of my system…)
Five Ways to Choose Your Preferred Airlines
Consideration One: Hometown major airlines
You have an airport within striking distance to your house as a road warrior and if it’s a larger or even medium-sized city, it’s going to have a primary airline or what I call your hometown airline.
They’re going to offer you the most flights which means more times and more options.
For example, I live in one of the best cities to be a business traveler. I have two airports around 30 minutes from my house (O’Hare and Midway).
Chicago is home to three major airlines:
- United (hence the United Center – home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks)
- American Airlines (major hub)
- Southwest Airlines (in fact over 90% of Midway Airport is Southwest and one their largest hubs)
I realize this ideal situation is rare and I’m thankful for it. But you may be in a city where Delta or American Airlines is “the” airline of choice and by default, becomes your best option.
This is a major consideration and often an easy decision due to the presence of this one primary airline and the best selection of flight options.
Key Action: Know your primary hometown airline options around you and find out if you have more than one choice
Just remember, this is a strong consideration but definitely should not be the ONLY consideration.
Consideration Two: Willingness to fly connection flights
This 2nd consideration is on the heels of consideration one of hometown major airlines.
For some, the choice is driving hours and hours to a large airport when others prefer taking their regional airport and connecting to the larger airport. Often times, trying both once or twice will make your decision very obvious, very quickly.
Other times, it depends on the cities you need to frequent and how many flight options your preferred airline provides.
I know road warriors who will drive 2+ hours to a major airport so they can take a direct flight and other road warriors who drive 30 minutes to their regional airport and connect to a major hub. They both have their reasons.
The longer I’ve traveled, the more I limit connection flights. That dude, Murphy (you know, from Murphy’s law) always seems to take my connection flight with me and of course, something goes wrong. Murphy seems to get a real kick out of thrusting me into the busyness vortex of hurry, worry, and scurry. #NotAFan
If a connection is my option, then I plan for the worst by giving myself contingency plans to limit my travel friction and stress (Aka: more margin for error) because the delay is almost always on the 1st leg of the flight which affects my connection flight. For me, it’s unwanted and unneeded stress.
One connection I don’t mind if I don’t have a choice is a direct flight which means you have a stop but you don’t have to leave the plane. You’re just dropping passengers off and picking more up. This is the lesser evils for a connection flight.
Key Action: You need to determine if a connecting flight is optional or mandatory and know if you’re a connection-type of road warrior
Consideration Three: Reward programs
Every airline has a reward program available. And if they don’t you shouldn’t be getting on their plane!
And there are key questions to ask about the reward program:
- How long does it take to actually reap the benefits of your travels?
- How far do your miles take you? (This is usually the catch in the program)
- How difficult is it to actually use them?
- Do they expire?
For example, when I first started, I signed up for every reward program which I suggest as well. But I also flew every airline because of CHEAP RESULTS expected from my company. I would fly sometimes 3 or 4 different airlines on just one week of travel. Craziness.
This also means I never earned enough on any airlines to benefit from my travels. I was in Points Purgatory which is not a fun place for a business traveler. I had a ton of miles but spread out amongst all the airlines.
Then I stuck with one specific airline for a while, but it just took me forever to use any of the miles.
I finally chose Southwest Airlines for the following reasons:
- No cancelation charges and easy to change flights
- A-List Preferred gets early boarding /free WiFi /drink coupons
- Incredible customer service – I was talking to a real human being in 30 seconds who was actually enjoyable to talk to (is that even possible when dealing with airlines?)
- But most importantly: Companion Pass = my wife can fly anywhere I fly for free
You may not choose your preferred airlines solely based on the Rewards Program but I’m here to tell you it definitely matters and should be considered.
I could easily have better status overall with United or American with living in Chicago with certain other perks I’ve had in the past such as 1st class seating, lounge access, etc. But at this point in my life, my family coming on multiple trips a year with me or a few vacations where my wife flies for free just matters more to me right now.
I chose to give up the personal perks for the greater benefit for my family during this season of business travel.
You need to determine how much the Rewards Program matters to you and where it falls in choosing your preferred airlines.
Key Action: Do your research on your airline options rewards programs
Consideration Four: Do you like their experience?
This is a bigger deal than you realize upfront. I may have a convenient airline and it may have a good reward program. But… if the service is bad, flight attendants are rude or developed their personality in a car crash, it makes a huge difference in your overall experience especially if you fly often.
If you’ve only flown a couple of airlines, you may not have much to compare your experiences to, so if you’re early on and shopping around for an airline, pay attention to the experience.
For example, I flew American Airline more at the beginning, but between us girls, I didn’t like the service. The flight attendants had the same social skills as my local DMV.
Service comes in two major forms:
- Flight Service – what food/snack/drink options are available to you? How’s the WiFi? 1. Are they friendly and smile or dread their job and you’re an obvious inconvenience?
2. Is it any good?
3. Are they generous? (Like an extra pack of snacks is going to throw their budget completely out of whack)
- Customer Service – when (not if) something goes wrong, is the process painful or easy?
A few years ago I had to take an airline I had never flown. I was traveling with a co-worker and about an hour before the flight, we both got an automated call that the flight was canceled. No reason and no next steps. I didn’t know who to call or what to do next.
We finally talked to someone and the next flight was 24 hours later which means we would miss all of our meetings. It was an absolute mess and to be honest, made me thankful for Southwest customer service along with how personal, casual, generous, and humorous the flight attendants are on any given flight.
The longer I fly and the older I get, the more important my experience on a flight is to me and I really notice it when my family comes with me on more and more trips.
Key Action: Notice with a high level of critique how your overall experience with your potential preferred airline is.
Consideration Five: Have a strong secondary option
Sometimes, your preferred airlines may just have a high price that is going to flag the system or not get approved or you get some heat that’s just not worth it.
Or the date/time just doesn’t work for you especially if it’s a last-minute change.
Another reason is your airline is more domestic than international.
Back to my example, when I switched to Southwest Airlines as my primary, there are locations domestically they just don’t focus on and I need a second option. They also don’t fly north to Oh Canada, east to Europe, or west to Asia, Australia, etc.
So, Delta is my strong secondary option. When I flew to Madrid or Sydney, Delta was my obvious and preferred choice unless the price or dates/times just couldn’t work.
Having a strong secondary option also means you’re signed up with their Rewards Program along with having your TSA Pre-Check number (if you have one and you should) already in their system.
I shopped around with United and American Airlines as my secondary options and use them every once and a while, but I’ve had a good experience with Delta each time and it’s become my secondary option.
Key Action: All of the above considerations should be used on choosing your preferred secondary airline
If you’re about to start traveling for work or you’re in the honeymoon phase of business travel and still trying to figure everything out, then really work through these five considerations.
And if you lead a business travel team, check in with each road warrior and see where they are in this process of choosing a preferred airline. Limit the CHEAP RESULTS strategy and take care of your road warriors!
I feel for some of you road warriors where your choices are limited or you feel stuck. Living in Sheboygan, WI wasn’t the optimal choice when you became a business traveler.
Take choosing your preferred airlines seriously. You do have choices. So, wherever you are on the road, do something, anything, just not nothing to master the business travel life. Leverage your airline to help you become and remain an Elite Road Warrior today to eliminate burnout and exceed results.
You Got This!