As many business travelers know, crucial flight decisions will make the difference in your quality of life and travel effectiveness. No other decision is harder in travel. Do you take a non-stop flight with an airline on which you have no status, or do you stay on your preferred airline and connect through a city? As with many travel decisions, it depends. I’ve listed the most important factors in my decision on which way to go.
The first criterion I always look at is time availability. While direct flights are great to maximize time on the ground, it is critical to get out on some of the first flights in the morning. For instance, I recently had to go to Portland, Oregon (PDX), and there were two non-stop flight options available from the DCA area. Unfortunately, both flights left in the afternoon. It really made no sense to take those flights. An early morning connection was the way to go, and I could be at the client by 10 am.
Unlike many business travelers, I try to treat the firm’s money as my own. Often it costs 3x as much to take a direct flight than the flight with the connection. While you need to focus on maximizing your time, you also need to be considerate of the price differences.
If you are going to take a connection, you have to be smart about the cities involved. Flying through Atlanta and Phoenix makes more sense during the winter than flying through Denver or Chicago. I avoid the Northeast airports like the plague (Philadelphia, Newark, etc.). Also, you need to look at connection times. Recently, I had a 30 minute connection between two flights and had to hustle to make it to the gate on time.
The other benefit of flying on your preferred airline is that you can get a preferred seat, preferred boarding, and potentially an upgrade. On my last flight, I was about 2,000 miles short of my status, so it did make sense to connect to make sure I stayed at my high status level. Nobody who has been traveling all year wants to do a “mile run” at the end of the year, just to keep his/her status.
My typical rule of thumb is that if the non-stop flights have the right times and the prices are reasonable, it is probably best to go in that direction. Connecting flights give you double the chance to be delayed and can create problems with getting to your client on time.
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