Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

5 Smart Travel Hacks Only Frequent Fliers Know? Seriously?!?

I  seem to have the misfortune to keep finding articles which seem to be more and more inane — but this one pertaining to the 5 smart travel hacks only frequent fliers know may just qualify to win the award for one of the most ridiculous articles I have ever read pertaining to travel.

After I read this article written by Nick Wharton, I had to first check and see if Wise Bread was a satirical Internet web site similar to The Onion — not that the article was funny by any stretch of the imagination.

Without further ado, let us read about these “expert tips” through which “you can hack your way into a more enjoyable flying experience” and see if I am not the only one who wonders from which planet this horrible advice — almost to the point of misleading — on being more comfortable while traveling came.

1. Skip the Lines

“‘Oops! Am I in the wrong line?’ Most of the time, these simple words will allow you to get checked in at the priority desk without any issue. If you are at the airport and you see a painfully long check-in line and an empty priority line, consider ‘accidentally’ walking up to the latter. You might be surprised at how often your mistake can save you time.”

Actually, I might be surprised that this purposeful deception would even work at all — and with airport security checkpoint lines being significantly longer than normal lately, I would expect in correlation that the corollary of tempers of fellow passengers would be significantly shorter than normal.

If you do not get reprimanded by some agent of the Transportation Security Administration, an employee of an airline or a law enforcement officer, you might wind up as the subject of the wrath of a fellow traveler.

Good luck with that. Next…

2. Get Upgraded

“The check-in agents at the airport have more power than you know. If there is space in the first class cabin, they can upgrade you free of charge. Be extremely nice to the staff at the check-in counter and ask if there’s food on the plane. Maybe you can’t go a long time without food? Tell them this and vaguely hint that you’d like to get upgraded.”

Yeah. Right.

First of all, the agent at the counter where you check in for your flight — after finding out how nicely his or her face fits nicely in his or her palm while shaking his or her head — will tell you that the gate agent is the one with the final say as to who gets upgraded aboard the airplane prior to a flight; and the lead member of the flight crew typically has the final decision once passengers are aboard the airplane.

Second, why should an airline which is literally raking in billions of dollars in ancillary fees suddenly decide to give you a free meal for no reason — even if you do not get upgraded? Do I know who you are, Mr. Wharton?!?

Third, space in any premium class cabin is at just that — at a premium. Empty seats in premium class cabins on domestic flights are rare; while airlines are usually loathe to give away a seat in the premium class cabin on international flights which can cost thousands of dollars. Upgrading to a seat in the premium class cabin on an international flight is usually quite difficult for members of frequent flier loyalty programs; so if you are not a member, scoring that upgrade is virtually impossible. You might have a better chance of being struck by lightning.

“You could also try the ‘I’ve never flown first class and I’ve always wondered what it’s like’ line in a last-ditch effort to join the more comfortable business passengers.”

Once the tears finally stop flowing from the beet red face of the agent from laughing so hard and you are firmly seated in your middle seat in the back row of the economy class cabin of the airplane near the stinky lavatory amidst the cacophony of engine noise, only then might you realize that attempting that tactic was perhaps not such a good idea.

In fact, why not try that idea with a gate agent as a passenger of Delta Air Lines, where the upgrade policy changed significantly as of today — “fake upgrade day” is what René de Lambert of Renés Points called it in this article; but he is a mere novice compared to Nick Wharton, so what does he know — and to the chagrin of savvy frequent fliers?

Enjoy your upgrade.

3. Piggyback to the First Class Lounge

“Every passenger in the first class lounge is allowed to have a guest. You could be that guest! Just hang out outside of the first class lounge and make a new friend just before they go through the doors. Ask them if you can be their guest and you can enjoy a wide variety of drinks and food… for free. If only you could piggyback your way into the first class cabin on the plane!”

Let me get this straight…you want for me to believe that a perfect stranger will succumb to a plea which is at best one step above begging? Are you really that full of yourself?!?

I would have a difficult enough time as a member of FlyerTalk asking another member of FlyerTalk to have me as his or her guest in an airport lounge — although FlyerTalk members have been known to help each other access an airport lounge.

If you really want free food, why not buy yourself a suit and sneak into a wedding celebration at a catering establishment and sit at the kiddie table, pretending to be a long-distance relative or friend of the bride or groom?


4. Use the My TSA App

“Wait times can vary greatly depending on which airport you’re flying out of and what time of day you’re scheduled to depart. Check out the My TSA app on Apple and Android to search current wait times at many airports around the world. There’s no point in showing up at the airport three hours early if the security check lines will only take you 10 minutes. Conversely, you better be there extra early if the lines are going to take forever. This app can save you a lot of time and worry.”

This one piece of advice is what saves the original article from being worse than toxic waste. There is hope for its author yet…

5. Fly Private

“I know what you’re thinking. Private flights are only for celebrities and rewards point hoarders, but these days that just isn’t true. There’s a new app called JetSmarter and it’s being called the Uber of air travel. Some of the flights found on the app will still be way too expensive for the average traveler, but some are much cheaper than you might expect — like a flight from Houston to Arlington on a private jet with only seven other people for $365 per person. Talk about living large on a small budget!”

Instead of splurging five dollars at the McDonald’s restaurant at the airport for a value meal, you would rather beg your way into an airport lounge — and yet you can afford $365.00 for a flight as a passenger in a private jet?!?

Better yet, what if you are aboard the airplane and find out that you are one of only four or five passengers instead of eight? Who do you think will pay the extra money — the airline, out of the goodness of its heart; or you and your fellow passengers, with the shortfall to pay divided evenly amongst you?

The allure of a private jet on a budget is suddenly not such a bargain after all, is it? It is enough to cause you to choke on your Quarter Pounder with cheese.

I am just shaking my head in disbelief; but then again — as you said, Nick Wharton — you know what I am thinking…


“This is all to say that most people are not satisfied with the challenges associated with air travel. But now you’re not most people! You can utilize these tips to make your flying experience as enjoyable as possible”, wrote Nick Wharton. “You’ll never fully avoid the hassle and annoyance of the TSA, security checks, and airport line-ups, but at least you can minimize their negative effects now. Enjoy!”

It is no surprise that Nick Wharton does not impart his personal experiences — nor favorable statistics — of just how often his suggestions worked for him, as they are amongst the poorest bits of advice I have read pertaining to travel.

I will tell you that gate agents are amongst the most harried employees of an airline — and I have the personal experience to prove it despite how much fun it was to be a gate agent for the morning at the busiest airport in the world. I will even say that the mere act of being nice to a gate agent can reap some unexpectedly pleasant surprises; but I am nice to gate agents as much as possible because they are real people who are under an intense amount of stress and responsibility — not because I am selfishly seeking an upgrade or access to an airport lounge.

Nick Wharton, I have some advice for you: be realistic and maintain your perspective on life while adjusting your expectations; and your travels will automatically improve significantly…

…and the next time you write an article: please give some advice which someone might actually find useful — and do not be one of the many writers who use the unnecessarily overused term hack when giving suggestions pertaining to traveling better…

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Once I was able to get an upgrade from SEA-ORD on UA after asking the GA if *S members with other FFPs were eligible for upgrade. I was polite and the GA told me to take a seat and he will call me up to the podium if any F seats are available. 5 minutes boarding he called me to the podium and handed me a BP to a F seat. I was very appreciative of the upgrade and thanked him many times.

    Doubt I will get this lucky ever again.. 😛

    1. How long ago did this happen, J?

      As for ever getting that lucky again — well…you never know…

  2. Geez, stop calling everything “hacks” will you?!!!!!!!!!?!!!!!! How is this hacking the system? These are just tips.

  3. It seems that yahoo or Bing or….whoever has one of these blog post every week. It’s like travel tricks from 1978 or something. I’m really good at talking my way into better seats or perks from agents but the last one I got was on TWA in about 1993. I did recently get a novice desk agent to put me on an upgrade list for a connecting flight where I had no reason to be on that list. It seemed the upgrade cleared until the gate agent in Chicago noticed I had no status with that airline and denied the upgrade. And that was on a short domestic route.
    Great post. I loved your comments on this.

    1. Thank you, DaninMCI.

      I never really understood why anyone really cared to be upgraded on those short domestic routes; but then again, I do not drink alcoholic beverages and do not need a wide seat — which are usually the only major perks of an upgrade on short domestic flights — so that may be why upgrades on those flights were personally never all that important to me.

    1. Poor advice might get to me, Beck; but it is the unethical part which is inexcusable and unacceptable.

      I am no angel myself; but I cannot think of one article of advice which I have written over the past ten years which clearly supported unethical activity…

  4. This the first time I have had the pleasure of reading an article debunking the myths put out there on “how to” get upgraded, free food and drink etc. As a United 1K I can assure anyone that the gate attendants don’t care a hoot about how you are dressed , how much you sweet talk them or any of the other stupid ideas put out there in the latest you can get this for free story.
    Upgrades on United are done according to money/status. I am in boarding group 1 because I fly over 100,000 miles on that airline a year. I get upgraded maybe a third of the time on domestic flights and the upgrades are not at the discretion of the gate attendants. Let me try to get ahead of the late arriving Global Service guy. I know all the United gate attendants in my home airport and we frequently share stories about people who still think this is 1972.
    I get free food on United no matter what class I am in and do not pay if I am checking luggage nor do I pay for economy plus seating – again because of my status.
    As far as international flights even though both my husband and I are 1ks if we buy coach we know our chances of moving up are slim. So we buy business and on our recent return from Madrid were upgraded to first. That is what money/status gets you not playing “dress up.”
    The point being we fly a lot (commuter marriages can survive) and we spend a lot of money (in my case all on our dime) on one airline. And while there are numerous posts out there damning the airline industry I am grateful for TSA precheck, Global Entry and the employees of United Airlines – both those that I interact with and those I don’t see. I make it a point to thank each crew member that I interact with on a flight no matter how long or short. I make sure that I occasionally bring something sweet for the crew to share. I expect what I am entitled to as a frequent flier and anything extra is a bonus.
    And for all the times I go through security (and get stopped because of those darn boots) I have never been treated rudely or felt intimidated by a pat down or being asked to take off my boots or having my bag checked. It seems to me that people who want to buy the cheapest ticket possible twice a year are the ones who complain the most. Just my rant because I am tired of reafing ‘i once flew” stories.

    1. The story you posted is the reason why frequent flier loyalty programs exist, Carol — because you are a frequent flier anyway regardless of the program; and the airlines like to do what they can to keep you as a customer.

      Airlines are not looking for charlatans who continuously attempt to connive their way into enjoying benefits not meant for them. That is why I use the term “frequent flier” when describing a loyalty program of an airline.

      Unfortunately, however, the reason why you repeatedly see so many articles containing those legendary myths is for the same reason as an article pertaining to sex: because it sells.

      Hmm…perhaps I should write an article on how to get upgraded while getting sex along the way…

  5. Once outside the YVR domestic MLL I saw a husband enter the lounge and he told his wife and son that he’ll meet them at the gate. Not sure why he didn’t bring them in as companions. the wife was passed. As she was leaving, I introduced myself and invited her in as “my guest”. The husband was surprised. I guess he wanted some “me” time.

    article – waste of time, obviously the writer is the guy at the front of the line outside a bar pulling the “I’m friend’s with one of the bartenders” line or trying to slip a bouncer $10.

    1. I thought that was a nice gesture on your part, Derek — and a good story…

      …but I suppose you did not realize you might have potentially and inadvertently become involved in a family squabble of sorts.

      It could have turned out to be a classic definition of the old saying: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

  6. You are an idiot and this article was a waste of time. I hope you die broke and friendless. Go die. You are an absolute Waste of time and oxygen. Why do you post these stupid articles when they add ZERO value?
    Go die.

    1. Would it brighten your day to know that I have already died three times, Tammy?

      Of course, that was while I was an actor in three different movies in my acting career on the side.

      I hope that you receive treatment for whatever condition from which you are currently suffering…

      …but in the meantime, there is more oxygen which I need to waste. Time to take a deep breath…

      1. Brian has some debatable posts but I find one’s like this entertaining. Why did you click and read it Tammy? You can tell by the title it was going to be blasting a ridiculous article by someone who doesn’t travel. It’s your choice to read it. We all know that on BoardingArea you will have insightful posts, tips, deals, reviews and roasts. It’s all good!

        1. Thank you, Derek.

          I prefer to post topics and thoughts which are debatable. A discussion — which consists of the free flowing thoughts of readers, from whom I read every single comment — is what helps to engage people and arrive at solutions to issues.

          The Gate would be boring if everyone always agreed with what I wrote…

  7. I have been upgraded to 1st class twice and I didn’t ask.
    It was in the late 90’s.
    1. Domestic The airline messed up, I was nice about it and they upgraded.
    2. International. I flew the same route several times a year, during school breaks, to help orphan children. The flight attendants got to know me and my work. One time I was in my usual economy seat and a flight attendant came back and said get your things and come with me. I was afraid about what the problem was. They took me to first where there was one empty seat. She said “We know you spend your vacations helping our countries children. In our little way we want to say, thank you.” I was exhausted and slept the whole way. I’m greatful.

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