$10 suitcase trick frequent flyers swear by
AS EVERY travel-loving Australian knows, if we want to see the world we're going to have to put in a lot of plane time.
Fortunately, there are ways to make air travel feel like the start of your holiday rather than a trauma that has to be endured - like the simple investment of a $10 luggage scale.
After talking to experts and remembering the lessons we've learned along the way, here are some top tips for your next flight.
Every dollar you save on your flight can be spent on great food, drinks, massages and shopping at the other end so it's worth taking a little time to find the best deal.
Helloworld's John Constable says splitting your journey at a mid point can sometimes lead to big savings, so consider combining a round trip from Australia to Asia with a return flight from Asia to Europe.
Thanks to taxes and airline capacity, large international airports can cost hundreds of dollars more to fly in and out of than second-tier airports, so David Galt from Webjet makes sure he always checks nearby alternatives, especially in busy times.
Not quite ready to book? Some websites including Kayak and Skyscanner will let you set email price alerts so you can pounce if your flight goes on sale.
DO THE MATHS
Thanks to drip pricing and the unbundling of flights, the price you first see may not be the price you end up paying. When comparing airlines, consider whether you have to pay for luggage, entertainment, food and drink, blankets or seat selection.
Demi Kavaratzis from Expedia says unbundling flights allows airlines to cater for the price-conscious and those who like the full service experience. But she warns a lot of Aussies get stung at the airport when they don't check baggage allowances. A luggage scale can help you avoid rude excess baggage shocks and can be picked up for less than $10.
Before you put in your credit card details double-check your dates. According to Skyscanner, 55 per cent of Australians have chosen the wrong date or time when booking flights online. Skyscanner travel expert Michael Grierson recommends creating a clear itinerary and checking your flights and hotels against it before you hit confirm.
PICK THE RIGHT PLANE
There are those who consider the date, time and price of a flight before booking and those who gofurther and check the kind of plane they'll be on.
As this second group knows, the aircraft you fly can make a big difference to your experience in the air and how you feel when you land.
Boeing 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A350s are new-generation aircraft that are pressurised to lower altitudes, have 10 per cent more moisture in the air and have the latest air filtration systems to remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Not only are they designed to fight jet lag, they'll usually have the latest entertainment systems, Wi-Fi capabilities and comfortable seats.
GET THE BEST SEAT
There are three top times to get the best seat on a plane. The first is the moment you book, the second is when online check-in opens, and the third is when you arrive at the airport.
If you put your flight details into SeatGuru you'll find a map of your plane with best and worst seats marked in green and red.
While some airlines charge a fee to book any seat, most only charge for exit rows or extra legroom. And while bulkheads may have more legroom, they're more likely to have babies, as they're the only place bassinets can go, and you'll have to stow your bags in the overhead locker. It can also be noisier and smellier to sit within a few rows of galleys and toilets.
As soon as check-in opens, take a look and see if you can improve on your first choice. Sometimes seats that were held for frequent flyers are released or people may have moved.
At the airport, ask nicely to see if there's a better spot to move to.
If you're travelling with someone, try leaving a spare seat between you. Most people will avoid the middle seat and if you do have someone between you, just offer to swap so they get the window or aisle.
REAP THE REWARDS
According to a recent study by Kayak, only about one in 10 Aussies (12 per cent) think earning frequent flyer points is an important factor when selecting a flight. That means nine in 10 are missing out. Big time.
Airline loyalty programs can lead to free upgrades, lounge access, extra baggage, priority boarding and, if you save enough points, you can fly international business class for no more than a few hundred dollars in taxes. Most are free to join so there's no reason not to.
Most airline apps will keep you up to date with any gate changes or delays so be sure to download your airline's one before you head to the airport. The TripCase app is another good option and has alerted me to gate changes before they've appeared on airport screens. Make sure you have the latest version of the airline's entertainment app so you can stream to your own device if needed.
The new Timeshifter app creates individual jet lag fighting plans based on your sleep patterns, personal preferences and flight plan.
Anthony Goldman from The Goldman Group says if you're on a work trip, apps that photograph and record receipts will make life easier when it's time to claim expenses.
SKIP THE QUEUE
Usually a treat reserved for business or first-class passengers, in some airports economy passengers can pay to use a Fast Track and avoid customs and security queues. Check the airports you're flying through - some, including Heathrow, recommend that you book online as space is limited.
Or, if you fancy the full VIP treatment, go for an airport concierge service. Available at more than 500 airports, including Sydney, concierge services like the Blacklane Pass bypass security lines and help you with your luggage from your car to the gate for $US100 (about $140) a person.
Showers, comfy couches, decent food, open bars and Wi-Fi are just some of the perks found in a good airport lounge. While some are reserved for business-class passengers and top-tier frequent flyers only, others are open to anyone willing to pay.
Download the LoungeBuddy app to see what lounges are open to paying customers in your airport's terminal and what's included to decide if it's worth paying to get in. Or simply ask at the airport, but remember lounges can vary wildly so make sure you know what you're getting first.
BYO WATER BOTTLE
Help the planet and your wallet by bringing a water bottle. If you're flying international you'll have to empty it for security screening, but refill on the other side and save on airport prices for something that's free from the tap.
I like to travel with an insulated eco bottle that holds hot and cold water. Before boarding I fill it with hot water at a cafe or in the lounge to make my own inflight tea in my Keep Cup.
Travel writer Paul Ewart likes to mix it up by putting slices of lemon and ginger into an empty bottle. It creates a flavoured water bottle that keeps on giving.
Trafalgar managing director Matthew Cameron-Smith makes sure his carry-on includes all of his chargers, adaptors and at least one day's worth of clothes in case of misplaced luggage.
Medication is another carry-on must-have, along with anything that could make your flight more comfortable. For this traveller, that includes noise-cancelling headphones, an iPad fully loaded with books and movies in case the plane's entertainment system fails or is non-existent, toothbrush and mini toothpaste, moisturiser, lip balm, water bottle and antibacterial wipes.
NOT TODAY, GERMS
As disturbing as it is to know, I'm grateful for the Travelmath website's study that showed tray tables are the hottest spots for bacteria on planes, with 2155 colony forming units (CFUs) per square inch compared to 265 CFUs/sq inch on toilet flush buttons.
Antibacterial wipes are put to work as soon as I take my seat, wiping down the tray table, entertainment handset and screen, and other hard surfaces.
Travel Doctor-TMVC Melbourne medical director Sonny Lau says it's also a good idea to have a surgical mask handy in case you're sitting next to someone who is sneezing or coughing all over you. Ideally the sick person would wear it to stop the spread of germs but Dr Lau says if they refuse to wear one you can at least reduce your own risk of infection.
Meanwhile, travel writer Natasha Dragun has a simple and stylish way to avoid worrying about the last time her plane blanket was washed. She brings her own cashmere wrap to keep herself soft, warm and germ free.
UNLOCK YOUR ARMREST
This is for the aisle and window seat passengers who may have thought the armrest doesn't move.
While it doesn't work on every plane, on most you'll find a small button or lever near the hinge. Press or slide it and the hinge unlocks so you can raise the armrest.
As an aisle seat person, I love using this trick whenever the seat in front of me is reclined or my tray table is down so I don't need to Houdini myself out of my seat.
If you're a window seat person, you'll have a little more seat space.
If you're on a long-haul flight, loose- fitting clothing doesn't just feel good, it's better for your health and can help to prevent deep vein thrombosis.
Bringing a pair of pyjamas or other soft, loose clothes to get changed into is an easy way to get comfy on your flight, with the added bonus of not looking like you've slept in your clothes when you arrive.
If you're flying from a hot to a cold location, or vice versa, take a leaf from the book of Flight Centre's Sue Henderson and pack a different set of clothes to change into before landing.
And if you wore the slippers in a hotel, pop them in your carry-on. They'll be thrown out otherwise and you can recycle them by wearing them to the bathroom on the plane rather than having to put your shoes back on.
And no, just going in socks or bare feet is not an option when there is a good chance of unpleasant liquids on the floor.
GET SOME SHUT-EYE
Masks aren't just for the characters on all of those Marvel movies they have on planes these days.
They can be the difference between getting some solid sleep under your belt and being woken by a neighbour's reading light or entertainment screen.
By blocking unwanted light, eye masks help the body produce melatonin so that you can fall asleep more naturally.
While some people find the gentle pressure on their eyelids comforting and so prefer traditional sleep masks, others opt for the masks that come with cavities so that their eyelids and lashes don't come into contact with fabric and their eyes can move freely in REM sleep.
Download a white noise app or load up a playlist with your favourite chilled songs, then plug your noise-cancelling headphones in and drift away.
WEAR YOUR NECK PILLOW BACKWARDS
Yes you may feel silly at first but anything that can stop that horrible feeling of being jerked awake by your head falling onto your chest is worth it. So turn your neck pillow around so it supports your chin, and give your poor old neck a break.
RUB IT OUT
Long flights can have us aching for a good massage but while we may have to wait until we land for the real thing, travel writer Celeste Mitchell has a handy trick in the sky.
She simply puts a tennis ball between her back and the seat and uses it to release tension in her upper and lower back.
You can also roll your feet over it for a mini foot massage right there in your seat.
BREAK IT UP
If the thought of travelling for 24 hours or more makes you go cold, then give yourself a break.
Some airports, including Singapore's Changi and Abu Dhabi, have hotels on the airside of the terminal, so there's no need to clear customs before you hop into a hot shower and sleep in a real bed. If you book a long transit you'll have enough time to get a good rest between flights without having to worry about your checked luggage.
Want more? Some airlines not only offer free stopovers, they throw in hotel deals in their home city. Just $40 - or $1 if you book before October 2 - will get you a night in a participating hotel on Singapore Airlines' Basic Stopover Holiday; Etihad offers 2-for-1 hotel night deals so economy passengers can get their second night free, while business class receives a free night's accommodation in Abu Dhabi, and Qatar Airways offers a free night in a hotel for passengers who'd like to take a break in Doha.
A bonus city on your holiday? Surely that will put a spring in your step at the airport.
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