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Book Excerpt: Dater’s Ultimate Travel Tip Guide

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I hope you found colleague Scott MacDonald’s travel journal – 36 hours from Denver to Tahoe and back, with the longest NHL game in history in between – as entertaining as I did. Baptism by fire, kid.

I’m up next for a road trip. I’ll be venturing out West this weekend, at minimum covering the two games next Monday and Wednesday in San Jose against the Sharks, and hoping to squeeze in a game in Arizona as well. Thanks to those who chip in on the Avs Travel Tip Jar. All money to Avs travel, except for 5 cents of every dollar, which goes to the Thornton Food Bank.

Anyway, in light of lots of travel talk here lately, here’s an excerpt from my 2016 book “100 Things Avalanche Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die”, entitled “Travel Tips for You!”

 

Okay, I can’t write this book without passing on some of the knowledge I gained from 20 years of constant travel. I looked it up: In the 20 years I covered the Avalanche, I flew more than one million air miles, the majority of them with United, but lots more with Frontier and Southwest. I flew on every other airline you can name for my era, including Northwest, American, Delta, AMA, USAir, Air Canada, Alaska, WestJet, and several rinky-dink airlines you’ve never heard of and hopefully never will.

I had more than 1,400 single hotel room nights in that time. That’s close to four full years of my life, or 20 percent of the time I worked covering the team. (The funny thing is, I think I only took one airplane flight in my life until I was 23, one from Boston to Philadelphia when I was a little kid). Here is a veteran traveler’s advice for you, whether you’re a first-time traveler or a real road warrior:

1. Always, but always, be nice to the gate attendant in an airport. This is nonnegotiable. You have to be nice to the gate attendant, or anyone else who has a direct say in how you may be traveling on an airplane within the next 24 hours. Gate agents—and I know because I asked a friend who was one once—have discretionary powers to either give you that last seat on the airplane that will get you out of Muskogee or keep you camped out in the airport bar for the next, oh, 16 hours or so, paying $15 a pop for watered-down Bloody Marys and limp Caesar salad. Gate agents, either those at the check-in desk before you drop off your luggage or those right at the gate for your flight, can and will screw with your day if they don’t like you.

Now, when I say “be nice” to them, I don’t mean always be “too nice.” If you look and act like a pushover to gate attendants, they will think you’re weak and put you where you don’t want to be. It’s just a fact. You have to be, as I’ll call it, “politely firm.” If you have a big-time flight status with a particular airline, then that is an invaluable card to play when there’s only one seat left and you want to get out of town on a standby. If you’re a frequent flier, and you mention something like, “Whew, man, I always love how you guys take care of me in situations like this. I hope this won’t be an exception,” you will put the gate agent a bit on the defensive and make him/her want to accommodate you. If you just run up to the gate, though, and yell out, “Do you know who the hell I am?!!  have 51,421 flight miles on this airline this year!” and demand special treatment—when, really, we both know you’re not that big of a big shot—then you probably will be put in the back of the next flight out. Have fun hanging out in the Yankee Candle store in the concourse until then.

But let’s say you’re just an average flier. No big status to brag about. You have to up your game a little, then. You have to be very personable, try to get to know this agent as much as you can, try to establish as much in common as you can before he/she makes the decision whether to give you what you want or not. If you find that, “Hey, I’m from New England too!” or “Wow, I looove [insert agent’s favorite pro or college team here],” then you will have built a rapport with this person. Once they think you’re anywhere near their hometown and/or love their particular team, then they are going to think you’re one of them. You’ll be amazed at how many doors suddenly open up to you when this happens. I guarantee I probably talked my way onto 20 or 30 flights that otherwise seemed hopeless a few minutes before.

I might have been told, “No, there’s no way you can get on this flight” by an agent on the phone, but once I got to the airport and tried again with another agent, really doing my best polite/firm/hey-you’re-from-Kansas-too! story, I suddenly found myself with a ticket to board. Where karma really is in full effect is at airports. You do something nice for the airline agents, and they will want to do something nice for you.

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2. Don’t ever buy insurance on a rental car Your personal auto insurance, not to mention your credit card probably, will cover any damages on a rental. You’d be surprised at how many people get suckered into buying the $17.99-a-day insurance, though.

This is the rental agent’s big sales opportunity, and they will make a nice commission on every unneeded insurance package they sell. Don’t be a dummy. Decline all the insurance, and don’t believe their little song-and-dance about potential horror stories if you don’t.

3. When checking into a hotel, always ask for an upgrade You don’t have to be pushy about it. Like airline gate agents, the front-desk clerk at a hotel is someone you need to develop a strong rapport with.

But my experience has shown you can be a little tougher on hotel clerks and reasonably expect results. There are going to be a million little things that will go wrong during a hotel stay. You might request a low floor and get something at the very top. You might request a wake-up call at 6:00 am (before cell phone alarm clocks, this was a crucial part of a hotel’s service) and it doesn’t come. You might have heat that won’t shut off or AC that keeps the room at 15 degrees on a cold winter night.

Whenever these things happen, you’re going to want to have a good relationship with the front-desk clerks. If you do, 99.9 percent of the things you complain about will be instantly upgraded or taken off your bill. But even if you’re not BFFs, you need to complain. Something always goes wrong at a hotel, and they don’t want the hassle of dealing with this while there are 10 people waiting to either check out or check-in. When checking in, always politely ask if there’s a room upgrade. If you have frequent travel status, this often is done for you without asking.

But not always. Always ask.

The one-bedroom at the end of the hall might suddenly turn into a spacious suite. It happened that way for me at least two dozen times over the years.

4. Miscellaneous: Don’t buy a GPS system from the rental car agent. Even the most rudimentary cell phones now have GPS you can access for free…. Be careful with room service. It used to be that you could leave an honest tip for a delivery person after you’d ordered your cheeseburger and fries. But then hotels started adding on a delivery fee, usually $2.50, and also a 15 to 20 percent gratuity fee. So was your tip already covered by that 15 to 20 percent? Of course not. The bill to sign almost always includes an “additional gratuity” or just plain “tip” line item. If you give more money there, you have essentially tipped the hotel three times for your burger and fries up a few flights on an elevator. If you pay the extra tip, you are a sucker. If you don’t, you feel like a cheapskate. Hey, it’s not your money you’re spending, right? Either way, you can’t win. The smarter play is to get some good Chinese takeout from some place nearby and rid yourself of room service altogether…. Always—always—sign up for the frequent driver plan with a rental agency. I’ve stood in lines for more than an hour before waiting to rent a car, when a simple fill-out of a form would have put me in the no-wait lane…. Never get behind a couple with a baby in a stroller in the airport security line. Just don’t…. Do not ever check a bag on a flight. You can pack a lot of stuff into a regular bag. You will lose an hour of your life every time you check a bag as you stand around waiting for it after your flight.… Park in the economy lot and walk. I probably saved the Post a few thousand dollars over the years parking in the economy lot. Did I ever get any thanks for that? Ha ha…. Do not ever use the hotel parking service. You want to blow $45 a night having to wait for your car to be brought up from a sleepy valet guy, then have to tip him too? Have fun. I’d rather have a nice meal out with that money, and there’s probably a free lot somewhere a block or two away…. Ask the front desk clerk at a hotel if there are any spare phone cords. Chances are you’ll get a perfectly good iPhone charger, which will come in handy when you actually do lose your next one. 

THAT’S the end of the chapter that’s in the book. I could add a few more since it was published in 2016, such as: Don’t ever stay in an Airbnb in Florida that was a meth house, like I did once. … Try to avoid hotels where the door opens to the great outdoors, and potential burglars pound on it early in the morning and make you call 911, as happened on my last trip to LA/Anaheim. … If you MUST check luggage, do so with the Sky Cap outside the terminal. Best couple of bucks you’ll ever spend. … I would not recommend parking in off-site locations near the airport, then taking those shuttle buses to the terminal to save a few bucks. For one thing, they wait and wait to pack every last millimeter of space with human beings before taking off, so not only will you wait a while, you’re also going to be sitting next to some chatty couple on their way to a vacation at Myrtle Beach who can’t wait to tell the whole bus about it. After your trip is done and you’re on the bus back to the location and the driver has to stop at everybody’s car, you’ll be the last guy off the bus. At least, I always am. Guaranteed. Pay the extra few bucks to park at the airport. … Tip the chambermaids who clean your room. It’s the right thing to do.

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Adrian Dater - Kiss and Larry Bird fan. Writer with @Gambling and @Bookies. Previously Denver Post, SI, Bleacher Report to name just a few.

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