Chris McGinnis Offers Expert Advice for Business Travelers

ChrisMcGinnisplaceholder
Chris McGinnis, Editor of TravelSkills Photo by Melissa Wuschnig

TravelSkills

Chris McGinnis has worked as a travel columnist for BBC.com and travel correspondent on CNN Headline News, as well as the business travel columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Entrepreneur magazine. His popular Frequent Travel Advisor column is a mainstay on SFgate.com, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle. In addition to his work as a consultant and speaker, McGinnis writes about frequent travel on his TravelSkills blog and co-hosts the weekly #TravelSkills chat on Twitter. McGinnis regularly contributes and comments about travel trends on TV networks like CNN, HLN and Fox News and writes occasional special travel sections for the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Bloomberg-BusinessWeek magazines. His TravelSkills blog is featured on BoardingArea.com.

InsideFlyer
Do you feel that the “golden days” have come and gone for the frequent traveler?

Chris McGinnis
I cringe when I hear people talking about the so-called “golden age of travel.” When I began my career as a business traveler in the 1980s planes were filled with smoke, on-time performance stunk and there was no such thing as “lie-flat” business class. Passengers fought over the handful of magazines provided as inflight entertainment. Most airports were dull, dark and institutional. Hotels had yet to provide basics like in-room coffeemakers or desktop plugs. Nonetheless, I loved traveling then as much as I love it now. And now I get to enjoy things that I couldn’t even dream of back then like inflight WiFi, spectacular, architecturally significant airports (and airport lounges), big, bright business class hotels and checking in for flights and having my boarding pass stored on my mobile phone. Of course, there’s a downside: these days flights are more crowded, airport security is a bear (but improving) and it’s expensive. Nonetheless, I believe we are now living in the golden age of travel.

InsideFlyer
What are some of your favorite travel apps for business travelers?

McGinnis
Although the media focus primarily on the air travel side of the business travel experience, the reality is that most business trips are by car. For that reason, I love the Waze app, which uses crowdsourced info from other “wazers” on the road to alert you to speed traps, traffic, etc. I use it all the time. When I attended the Freddie Awards in Seattle this spring, I used another favorite app, Hotel Tonight, to snag a significant last-minute deal at a posh hotel near Sea-Tac that I’d never heard of, but really liked. (Cedarbrook Lodge, which used to be a training retreat for Washington Mutual and is now a very nice hotel.) And I also have to mention Tripit Pro, which helps keep my crazy travel schedule organized, alerts me to changes or delays, and keeps my family informed of my whereabouts. Oh! And one more: Uber has completely changed the way I get to/from the airport. Push button on mobile phone, car arrives. Take nice ride. Get out. Thanks! No money changes hands and receipt arrives via email. It’s like magic!

InsideFlyer
What’s one piece of advice that you would give to someone who is new to business travel?

McGinnis
Always be nice. It will come back to you.

InsideFlyer
Do you have a favorite frequent flyer program? And if so, which program is your favorite and why?

McGinnis
All frequent flyer programs are pretty much alike, so it’s tough to name a favorite. However, since my business travel career began in Atlanta, I’ve kept a close eye on the Delta program over the years and watched and reported as it turned from an industry follower to a leader. I’ve earned more miles on Delta than others, but that’s changing now that I live in San Francisco and fly Virgin America and United the most.

InsideFlyer
What is your opinion on the recent changes to Delta SkyMiles to align the program to revenue rather than miles flown?

McGinnis
I know I’ll catch a lot of flack for saying this, but I think what Delta (and Virgin America, Southwest, JetBlue) did makes a lot of sense and will improve the loyalty experience for true frequent business travelers in coming years. The airlines made a mistake when they started distributing applications for “frequent flyer” programs to everyone—even those who fly once or twice a year. That diluted the loyalty experience for the airlines’ best customers … the ones who pay the most (not those who flew the farthest). It opened the door to a wily generation of “gamers” who figured out how to snag more than they were entitled to by manipulating an admittedly imperfect system. The move to revenue-based programs realigns the system back to its initial premise: to reward truly frequent business travelers, those who fly 10+ times per year on non-discounted fares. If that’s not you, then sorry. If that is you, then get ready for things to get better. But it will take a while.

InsideFlyer
Tell us about your weekly #Travelskills chat on Twitter. What types of resources do you offer travelers?

McGinnis
I partnered up with popular travel blogger John E. DiScala (aka Johnny Jet) last year to create the #TravelSkills chat and it’s taken off like a rocket! Our weekly chats draw hundreds of travel enthusiasts and media in a free-for-all online conversation about a wide variety of topics. Since it’s called “TravelSkills” we always try to be sure that the chats are newsy, informative and teach participants new things. Recent popular chats covered: New York City, In-flight etiquette and hygiene and finding travel deals. Since the chats draw such big crowds and create millions of impressions, we’re lucky that a steady stream of some of the biggest travel industry brands have lined up to sponsor them. Please join the fun! Follow the #TravelSkills hash tag Fridays at noon eastern, 9am Pacific or see www.travelskills.com/chat.

InsideFlyer
With the changes and devaluations of frequent flyer programs, how can members still derive value from their memberships?

McGinnis
As I just mentioned, members who are true frequent travelers (10+ flights per year on non-discounted fares) will get the most value from the programs in the future. If that’s not you, and you have a big stack of miles sitting in your account(s), I advise you to redeem them as soon as you can because they will continue to lose value over time.

InsideFlyer
Do you have any insider advice for booking award travel?

McGinnis
I’m a frequent flyer program enthusiast, but I’m not an expert. When it comes to advice about frequent flyer programs, I would suggest turning to my fellow bloggers like Gary “View from the Wing” Leff, Ben “Lucky” Schlapping or Bryan “The Points Guy” Kelly. I’m impressed with their ability to track the minutiae of these programs and find little “aha!” gems I’d never see.

InsideFlyer
For our final question, we are asking everyone we interview—please tell us about one particularly memorable trip you took.

McGinnis
All trips are memorable to me for one reason or another. But my most recent memorable trip was to Tokyo. ANA invited me and a group of travel writers on its brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight from San Jose to Narita last winter. The trip over (in business class on a brand new plane) was outstanding. But on the day after we arrived, the 787 was grounded worldwide due to battery issues. And there was a rare blizzard in Tokyo. Nonetheless, the trip was a success, made for some great blog posts on TravelSkills and we made it safely back to SFO on a Boeing 777.

Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *