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Frequent Travelers Share Their Favorite Airplane Hacks

Updated: Apr. 06, 2024

These smart tips from frequent fliers will make your next flight much easier—and might even convince you that getting there is half the fun!

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Make your next flight exponentially better

Most people aren’t crazy about flying, but no mode of transportation can get you where you want to be in less time. For some frequent travelers, though, flying is a favorite part of the trip. They’re obsessed with packing small, so that everything fits in the overhead. They shop for their in-flight meal days in advance. They plot out airport activities, to make the most of their travel time. Have you heard the adage: “It’s more about the journey than the destination?” These air-travel hacks can help anyone make the most out of their flight.

airline passenger seat and side window

Check your seat’s comfort ahead of time

Some seats don’t recline, some are reserved for travelers over 13, some are in awkward positions—you get the idea. Dale Johnson, cofounder of Nomad Paradise, uses Seat Guru, which offers seating maps of more than 1,200 aircrafts, to check the comfort of the seat before making his selection. Learn about the best airplane seat for every need.

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For world travelers, the Mobile Passport App

“Getting through customs sucks: The lines are always long and move so slowly,” says Scott Morrison, who runs the website Scott’s Treks, which focuses on solo travel. While Global Entry is great, it costs extra. So Morrison does the next-best thing: He downloads the Mobile Passport app, which allows you to fill out your customs form in advance. “All you have to do is show the customs agent a QR code on your phone and you’re done,” he says. “Mobile Passport users have their own dedicated lines off to the side, and they are always empty.” It’s why biometric passports are rising in popularity. The last time Morrison returned from London, there was one person waiting in front of him in the Mobile Passport line at LAX, and it took him two minutes to wait in line and clear customs. Here are some more pre-screens that will speed you through security.

Frequent fliers may also enjoy Frontier’s unlimited flight pass—unlimited flights at an affordable rate.

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Buy a multi-stop ticket—but don’t use all the stops

In order to secure less expensive airfare on a one-way ticket, buy a ticket that connects through your high-cost destination, like New York, into a low-cost destination like Columbus, Ohio, says Lee McMillan, founder and CEO of PeakSeason. “Then, just get off the plane in New York, and don’t take the leg to Columbus,” McMillan says. “Oftentimes, even though it is two flights, the airline algorithms will price the direct flight into the high-cost destination more expensively than a connecting flight through that exact same destination into a lower cost airport, saving you hundreds of dollars.” In that case, you’ll need to take everything with you on the plane.

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Use packing cubes

Even the best luggage sets could use some extra help when it comes to packing efficiently. Packing cubes help organize your suitcase and compress clothing so you can fit more into it, says frequent flier Heather Wilson, managing director and head of the west coast office for SKDKnickerbocker. “Also, once I get to my hotel, I keep anything that won’t get wrinkled in the cubes so I never accidentally forget something when I check out,” she says. Here are some more packing tips to memorize before your next trip.

Bonus: Travel smart and check out this duffel bag with garment rack—you’ll never find yourself short on closet space again.

Essential travel kit
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Keep pre-packed toiletries in your suitcase

Since Wilson travels so frequently, she keeps her toiletries in travel sizes pre-packed in her suitcase. “Basically, I have a ‘go bag,’ so my packing is half done. All I need to do is throw in my makeup and clothing, and I’m ready,” she says. Take this one step further and keep an extra set of makeup in your go bag as well, along with extra chargers.

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Bring a scarf

A cozy, chic scarf can be a lifesaver, says Kathleen Reidenbach, Kimpton Hotel’s Chief Commercial Officer, who travels half the month. She loves Chan Luu scarves, which come in fun prints and also in solid shades. “They’re made of cashmere and silk, and take the chill out of the flight experience—but also spice up any outfit,” Reidenbach says. “I always have one in my carry-on and in my office at all times.” While this can certainly make your life easier, these 10 carry-on items can literally save your life in an emergency.

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Be the last to board

For flights that pre-assign seats, Stacy Caprio of Deals Scoop says she likes to be the last person on the plane. This means she gets to sit for the least amount of time, as some flights take at least 30 minutes to board. It also allows you to sit in an empty row of seats or choose a seat with no one next to you if any exist, since you’re the last one on the plane and you have your choice of any open seats other than your assigned seat, Caprio says. Discover an additional 16 air travel tips to follow for smooth flying.

ricola cough drops
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Carry cough drops

If someone around you is hacking, you can offer them a few so you’re not coughed on, says Pattie Haubner, a New Yorker who currently lives in Vermont and retired at age 55 so she could travel. Sometimes, it’s impossible to switch seats on a plane, and this is the easiest, most sanitary way to avoid getting sick. Here are some more tips on how to stay healthy while flying, according to flight attendants.

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Roll your clothing

Or pack your clothing in the Marie Kondo style. This frees up more room in your suitcase—and sometimes saves clothing from wrinkles, too. “This also enables you to carry back a few bottles of wine in that rolled clothing,” says Adrienne Hew, a certified nutritionist and Japanese travel guide who’s based on the Big Island of Hawaii. By the way, this is how to fold clothing like Marie Kondo.

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Use deal apps rather than credit cards

Instead of hacking inexpensive flights via buying and collecting a bunch of credit cards, Hew uses apps like Scott’s Cheap Flights to find deals that often save her 75 percent or more off coach fares. That way, she doesn’t have to worry about her credit when signing up for new cards, though she usually gets one or two flights free with her current credit cards anyway, she says. Plus, here are some ways to use your credit card rewards to upgrade your vacation.

flight attendant
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Bring gifts for the flight staff

Recently, Hew has been bringing little gifts for the flight staff: a box of candy, dried fruit, or something else they can share. “They are extremely appreciative, and they make sure to take care of my needs when I ring,” she says. “Plus, they often give me a little gift in return, if it’s on a Japanese airline.” Don’t have a gift with you? Simply being nice will go a long way. Just so you know, these are 10 things polite people don’t do on airplanes.

credit cards
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Check your credit card perks

Charles McCool, a travel blogger and travel skills expert in northern Virginia, says his credit card provides Global Entry and Priority Pass lounge benefits. “Those two things make airport travel so much more tolerable,” he says. If you’re a frequent flier, you may want to look into cards that offer perks like this. They may offer more in the long run than a free flight once a year. Here are some other travel point perks you probably didn’t know even existed.

airport check in travel hacks
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Wait until the last moment to check in

Alissa Musto, a professional musician who travels about 10 or 11 months out of the year, says she usually waits until she’s already at the airport to check in rather than checking in early. “When you check in, the airlines are hoping you’re going to pay extra to sit by the window or where there might be a few empty seats next to you, so they’re going to assign the less desirable seats first,” Musto says. “If you wait to check in, you have a better chance of getting assigned a more desirable seat, which they’re hoping someone would pay for.” Next, find out what you should never do on an airplane.