How to Get Back
On the Road Again
THURSDAY, MAY 20, 2021 -- Getting back on the road soon? Here's what to think about. And, because the pandemic changed everything, it's not our usual checklist of surviving on the road ...

Business travelers think of ourselves as masters of the road. As bad as airlines can be, as annoying as the hotels can be, at least we know that we know the ropes. More to the point, we know that we're the metaphoric 800-pound gorillas of the road and know that we are the travelers who fuel earnings.

Not now. Today we are fleas. While overall domestic travel has bounced back to 60-65% of 2019 levels, few of those people flying are business travelers. Don't believe me? Consider this week's government filing by Southwest Airlines. Leisure fares in June are back to 90% of 2019 levels, the carrier says, but revenue from business-oriented fares remains down 80%. Moreover, as I've explained in several recent columns, airlines have reoriented their domestic route networks toward leisure destinations. Lots of added service to Florida and Arizona and a slew of new, seasonal summer routes to places like Myrtle Beach and Bozeman, Montana. Adjust your attitude accordingly. (And stop grumbling about making connections on your former nonstop business routes.)

Again, as self-professed masters of the road, we assume we'll find what we need as we travel. And for all the changes the decades have brought to our lives on the road, we still rely on the basics: airport clubs; rental cars; hotels with bars and restaurants and room service. Well, stop expecting those things. Right now, many airport clubs remain closed or are operating with limited hours. Car rentals? The prices are insane, so book early and have a Plan B. "Full-service" hotels? Many have closed their restaurants and bars; many still offer only grab-and-go breakfasts; and room service was already on life support before the pandemic.

Bottom line: Assume nothing about your travel. You'll have to rethink every step along the way and disabuse yourself of pre-pandemic assumptions. (And stop grumbling about airlines cheapening or eliminating in-flight food and beverage service.)

If you haven't been on the road since the pandemic began, it's time to throw some TLC at your toiletries and computer bags. Let's start with the kit bag: Dump everything. Well, almost everything. Chances are items like toothpaste, stick deodorant and make-up items have expired--and possibly caked themselves to dust. At a minimum, remove the contents, clean out the bag, examine all the items and replace what is needed with fresh supplies. Meanwhile, your computer bag is probably overdue for a refresh. Check the quality of the cells on any battery-powered devices. And be sure you have many Type-C connectors around since they are the coin of the electronic realm now. (And stop carrying those acoustic couplers. It's over.)

The world has moved on--admittedly slowly--during the pandemic. Check your frequency programs and verify that your miles, points and credits are intact and haven't been siphoned by hackers. Check the status of your elite status and what airlines and hotels are offering in the way of extensions. And do check the validity dates on your travel credits. Airlines are beginning to expire them--and not alerting you that the credits you took when they cancelled flights during the pandemic's early days are expiring. Be sure to confirm the expiration dates of government programs such as PreCheck, Global Entry and, of course, your passport.

If you haven't traveled much in the last year or so, all your travel-related apps are out-of-date. Update them before you get back on the road because a) Why deal with the tsouris when you need to use the app?; and b) Why risk unreliable WiFi or Internet connections when you're on the road?

Airlines and hotel chains made ostentatious public announcements when they changed or eliminated booking rules and change fees. Now that some of them are coming back, the travel industry is silent. So check the fine print carefully for every airfare you're considering and make sure you know the current cancellation policies of the hotel you're booking. (And stop whining about the return of "destination" fees. If a hotel is charging one, don't book it.)

We still need masks to fly. Some hotel chains--check the current Tactical Traveler--still require them. So do some states and municipalities. We've all become addicted to hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Now that the panic buying of last year has eased and supply has caught up with demand, there should be plenty of the latter items available in travel sizes. And if you need new masks, remember JoeSentMe members get an exclusive discount on them.

In case you missed it, Carol Pucci recently did a fabulous piece warning about relying on out-of-date information when planning a trip. ... Fred Abatemarco explained how he turned travel cards into cash cards and profited by it. ... And Bob McGarvey talked wisely about losing your unused points and miles to the darknet.