Pro Traveler Tips

Happy New Year, 2017, and all that. I have been writing this post for a very long time and figured it was a great way to kick off the new year.
As a reminder, I am not on Facebook in 2017 as I’m taking a break to focus that time on other stuff. As such I recommend you sign up to get these weekly posts via email. You can do that here . I’m also planning to write more short posts on my OmarFinds twitter account, occasionally aggregating those into posts and sending those out via a separate newsletter .


For the past two decades I’ve amassed a lot of travel tips and techniques. For context, I travel a decent amount, but I’m not a business road warrior. 

About half my travel is with the family, and the other half is for business. I fly about 25,000 - 50,000 miles a year (but in seat). As such it makes sense to be wise about maximizing value, time, etc

If you are short on time, here is the TL;DR: (that’s too long didn’t read):

  1. Signup for Nexus or Global Entry ($50 - $100)
  2. Signup for Clear ($170)
  3. Get a Chase Sapphire Reserve or Amex Platinum Card ($450)
  4. Enroll in all the Hotel / Car programs that come with the card benefits
  5. Get noise cancelling headphones ($300) - these or these
  6. Get a 4 wheeled spinner bag ($300 - $850)

Lines and Queues

I f’ing hate lines. HATE HATE HATE.

Here is how to avoid lines:

  1. Parking - park in short term parking [$ variable]. SeaTac always has coupons (register) that bring parking down to $20/day or $99 for a week. 
  2. Baggage check - print your bag tags [$ pennies)] - her is a link for Alaska print at home.
  3. Checkin - use your phone
  4. Security - get Clear and TSA Pre [$170 / year for Clear with kids free and $50 per additional adult family member, register for TSA Pre $50 - $100]
  5. Boarding - fly first class (pay or upgrade) or get status on an airline to board early and get upgrades [$ variable based on flying]
  6. Sit at the front of the plane - you can save half an hour if you are sitting in the first 5 rows of coach. Most airlines require status to sit here now (or pay extra)
  7. Collecting bags - go get the rental car while your partner and kids wait for the bags. Fly Alaska as they guarantee 20 min to deliver bags to the belt.
  8. Car Rental - get status on a car rental service and head straight to car [$ variable]
  9. Immigration - get Global Entry [$100 every 4 years for GE or $50 for Nexus]
  10. Boarder crossing - get Nexus [$100 every 4 years for GE or $50 for Nexus]

What are you going to do with all that time on your hands now? Sit in the lounge and have a drink while listening to music in your noise cancelling headphones after effortlessly pushing your spinner bag through the airport.

Confused about the difference between TSA Pre, Global Entry, Nexus, Sentry? Check this handy chart .

What they don’t tell you, is that Nexus costs $50 and includes Global Entry which is $100 alone. The downside is you need to schedule an interview in a location where both US Border Protection and Canadian Border Protection can interview you. As a result expect to wait 6-8 months for an interview. Your membership lasts 5 years and you can travel to and from Canada without a passport.

All the programs include permanent TSA Pre.

Advice: Get Nexus if you ever go to Canada. Get Global Entry if you don't. Both include TSA Pre.

Credit Cards

There are dozens of credit cards and web sites dedicated to credit cards. I’m only going to discuss two credit cards that are in the premium credit card market: Amex Platinum and a new challenger, Chase Sapphire Reserve.

The minimum features for any good travel credit card are the following:

  • No foreign transaction fees
  • lounge aggess
  • good rewards system
  • good rental car benefits
  • good travel perks

American Express Platinum

This is the classic premium credit card (that is if you don't qualify for the Amex "Black Card" - aka the Centurion). It has a high annual fee, but comes with a ton of perks. I know lots of travelers that have had this card for decades and are very loyal to Amex. I think the card is OK. It's work to maximize the benefits but possible to get the card to pay for itself.

Annual Fee: $450
Travel Credit: $200
Net cost: $250

This card gets you Priority Pass Select lounge membership but does not include any guest privileges (each guest costs $29). It does however get you into the new Amex Centurion lounges which are incredible. SeaTac has a "mini" version of one called a Studio and I have read they are soon upgrading it to full size. The Amex lounge allows for you to bring guests / family.

The Travel Credit is a bit restrictive too. You must select an airline (you can do this only once per year) and then you get a refund when you spend money on that airline for a variety of fees such as baggage, food, entertainment. You can also just pay for 4 $50 gift certificates and this usually works (you need to break this up into small transactions otherwise it does not work). I get 4 $50 Alaska Gift Certificates each year and deposit into my account.

Travel Benefits

  • Starwood Preferred Gold Status - normally you have to spend 10+ nights a year, and this gets you early check in / late checkout and a room upgrade to the next room type.
  • Hilton HHonors Gold Status - similar to SPG Gold
  • Platinum Concierge - I actually use this a lot to acquire hard to get reservations for dinners / events. You just fire off a request to them, and they take care of it. We used this service to get a bunch of reservations in Japan which made it well worth it. Amex has standing tables at a lot of restaurants such as the French Laundry. If you contact them early enough, they can usually get the date you want.
  • TSA Pre / Global Entry Credit - $100 credit every 5 years
  • Elite Status and Car Rental Insurance Perks - Enrollment in Avis Preferred, Hertz Gold and National Emerald Executive. $75,000 in coverage but the insurance is not primary (meaning you must first make a claim with your carrier).
  • International Air Program - buy one full fare first/business class ticket and get a second free. The only problem is that the full fair business class ticket is often more expensive than two discounted tickets. 
  • 1:1 Points Transfer - Transfer miles to Delta
  • No foreign transaction fees - a must for a travel card
  • Trip Cancellation / Interruption - $10,000
  • Baggage Delay - $100 per day for up to 6 days
  • Lost Luggage - $2000 per checked bag and $3000 for carry-on baggage
  • Trip Delay - $250 per person
  • Roadside Assistance - towing and stuff up to 10 miles
  • Cruise Privileges - $100-$300 per person credit
  • Boingo Wifi - Free wifi through Boingo. I always forget to use this.

Other benefits

Let’s face it. These are the things we always forget about… and not the easiest to use!

  • By Invitation - special seating and early sales to concerts. This actually works if they have negotiated an early sale.
  • Purchase Protection - Covers your new purchases up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year.
  • Extended Warranty Protection - Extends the time period of the U.S. manufacturer's warranty by an additional year
  • Amex offers - Amex has some pretty good offers from time to time such as discounts on airport transportation, Amazon, Casper, Sur La Table, Pharmaca.

Amex Rewards

You can earn 5x rewards on travel now (new) and 1x on everything else. You can use your points with Amazon (at a .7 redemption rate) or Uber (1x redemption rate). It's easy to use your points as cash for some purchases but in general I don't find Amex points all that useful.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

This card is brand new, and judging by how may people I know that have snapped it up, very popular. Right now it comes with a 100,000 point bonus (worth $1000 for a straight 1 cent per point value or $1,500 if used through Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel). This bonus expires this Wednesday (January 11, 2017), so sign up now!

This is hands down the best card deal in town. Nerdwallet rated it higher than Amex.

Yes it has a high annual fee like the Amex. However, unlike Amex, you get $300 in travel credit per year that is automatically posted to your account right after you spend.

Annual Fee: $450
Travel Credit: $300
Net cost: $150

Now, with this card you also get Priority Pass Select Membership. But unlike Amex, this includes guesting privileges. Your whole family can enter the lounge (or also up to 2 guests).

I value the lounge membership the same as say having an Alaska Board Room membership (since you can use them) which costs $400 a year. This is comparable to United and American.

Travel Benefits

I mentioned the lounge benefits above with Priority Pass. However, there are many more benefits.

Many of these benefits are on par with travel insurance / protection, except you don’t need to buy it! Just pay for travel with the card.

  • TSA Pre / Global Entry Credit - $100 credit every 4 years
  • Car Rental Insurance Perks - $75,000 in coverage and the insurance is Primary meaning you don’t need to involve your own insurance carrier if there is an accident. This is huge and very few cards offer this.
  • 1:1 Points Transfer - Transfer miles to United, BA, Hyatt, Marriott
  • No foreign transaction fees - a must for a travel card
  • Trip Cancellation / Interruption - $10,000
  • Baggage Delay - $100 per day for up to 6 days
  • 1 Million Dollars of Travel Accident Insurance - if you die or loose a leg
  • Lost Luggage - $3000 per person
  • Trip Delay - $500 per person
  • Concierge service - like Amex you can have them do stuff for you like make restaurant reservations at hard to eat places, as well as order flowers etc. Not as good as Amex. Not even close.

Other benefits

Let’s face it. These are the things we always forget about… and not the easiest to use!

  • Purchase Protection - Covers your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $10,000 per claim and $50,000 per year.
  • Price Protection - If a card purchase you made in the U.S. is advertised for less in print or online within 90 days, you can be reimbursed the difference up to $500 per item, $2,500 per year
  • Extended Warranty Protection - Extends the time period of the U.S. manufacturer's warranty by an additional year, on eligible warranties of three years or less.
  • Return Protection - You can be reimbursed for eligible items that the store won’t take back within 90 days of purchase, up to $500 per item, $1,000 per year.

Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

Also amazing, you get 3x points for travel and dining.

For everything else you get 1x point.

What is considered travel? A lot of things. Even tolls:

  • Airlines
  • Hotels, Timeshares
  • Campgrounds!!!!
  • Car Rental agencies
  • Cruise lines
  • Travel agencies
  • Trains
  • Buses
  • Taxis, Uber, Car service
  • Ferries
  • Toll bridges
  • Parking lots

Let’s say you spend $10,000 a year on travel related expenses. This amounts to 30,000 points.

You can redeem your points for a lot of things such as gift cards and Amazon Shop With Points. However you need to mind the conversion. Basically you want to avoid anything that values a point at less than a penny.

So 30,000 points should get you at least $300 in value. With those 30,000 points you can spend $240 at Amazon.

But the best deal is to redeem points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. These are ticketed as real tickets so you earn miles. If you go this route you get 50% bonus so those 30,000 have a value of 45,000 meaning you have $450 travel to spent instead of $300.

I just used this the other day and it worked really well. I purchased 3 tickets on Chase for travel on Alaska airlines. I was short $40 and so they charged me the difference and I ended up with 3 revenue / miles earning tickets on Alaska.


The most important thing here is to get status and keep it. Ideally you achieve the minimum “Tier 1” status, but better if you can get to the next Tier.

My hometown airline is Alaska Airlines and they are really quite good. They have a low minimum to get “MVP” status (20,000 miles) and they have great partnerships where you can earn on lots of international carriers that fly out of SeaTac (British Airways, AirFrance, Iceland Air, Emirates, etc)

But if you live outside Seattle you are looking at Delta, American, United and well I feel sorry for you.

Bonus points if you can get to a million frequent flyer miles with an Airline as they will typically give you status for life.

If you want to read about why Alaska is awesome read this.

Rental Cars

If you are going to rent a car through one of the major providers it’s worth getting status. For me this means Avis Preferred and Hertz Gold. I get Avis Preferred through Microsoft and Hertz Gold through the Amex Platinum.

Why do you want this? So you can skip the line every time.

I’ve also been upgraded to Avis President’s Club. I have no idea why, but it seems to get me a 1 car upgrade.

If you have an Amex Platinum card you get Avis Preferred, Hertz Gold

Travel Apps

These are my core travel apps on my iPhone.


For many years has organized all our flights, rental cars, hotels and other activities. TripIt works by scanning your email and intelligently creating pages for each trip. TripIt was one of the first services to do this, and there are many. They were acquired by Concur a few years back and since then their innovation has largely dropped off.


TripIt Pro is an add-on service that adds things such as real time flight monitoring, seat availability, gate changes, price alerts to your TripIt service. It’s really handy for full flights where you want better seats but can’t keep checking to see any changes in real time.

Microsoft has negotiated this for free for all employees which is great, but prior to this I paid for TripIt Pro since they have saved me money by telling me when a fare I have purchased is now lower than what I paid, getting me the difference as a refund. Alaksa is very good about this.


AppInTheAir is a mobile app that can use TripIt as a backend and provide you an even more advanced level of alerts, airport information, and travel statistics.


Pana is an app powered by AI and human travel assistants that do all the heavy work to book things and research things for you. It’s also now an app just like TripPit but better.

You can read my extensive review on Pana.



Journy is an app I just discovered. For $15 per day of a trip they will put together an extenive iterneary of cultural activities (sight seeing, walking tours) as well as airport transfers, shows, tickets. I am using for the first time and so expect a separate review. But I’m very encouraged by this.


FlightBoard is an awesome app for looking at what inbound / outbound flights there are at a given Airport similar to the physical flight boards.

As a travel hack, I use this to find the inbound aircraft for a departing flight so I can see if the airline is lying to me about when our delayed flight is really going to leave. Airlines are overly optimistic about turn around time (unload / load an aircraft).

FlightTrak 5

FlightTrack 5 is a detailed flight tracker.

Back in the day, this app was the only interface to TripIt but since they were acquired by Expedia they have dropped all TripIt support since Expedia and Concur (the company that owns TripIt) are competitors.

But the UX of FlightTrack 5 is amazing for looking up flight details.


PriorityPass is an App for subscribers of the Priority Pass lounge membership offered by Amex and Chase as well as other premium credit cards.

This app is great for finding lounges or even storing a digital version of your Priority Pass card (only works for Amex, not Chase).

Seat Guru

SeatGuru is an app for looking up seat maps for flights so you can pick a decent seat on your flight. This used to be an incredible app but it’s garbage now (but nothing else out there to replace it).

Google Maps

Google Maps is the most indespensible travel app I use. It has everything you need to navigate in any international city. When I was in Japan I was blown away that they had train times and instructions down to which platform and where to stand to board your train.

I am a frequent “star this location if it’s interesting” and then building my daily plan using Maps. I love the integrated reviews and links to information for each business.

Offline support also allows you to download an entire city before leaving.


TripAdvisor is a horrible app but necessary for doing any kind of travel research. I hate it and love it at the same time.


LoungeBuddy is awesome for telling you which lounges you have access to based on lounge membership or credit card membership.


Uber is a must have app. Enough said. I love that you can schedule rides now which I do for airport runs.


Airbnb has also become a great resource for finding really nice and affordable homes and apartments to stay in. We use this about once a year.

Google Trips

Google Trips is a new gem from Google, but if you use Gmail it finds all your travel and builds beautiful card bundles of each city with things to do, locations, restaurants. To me it’s really a different interface to your email and Google Maps that is trip centric.

Google Translate

Google Translate is a mind blowing app that will, in real time, translate text and voice into any other language.

I used this in Japan to tell a waiter of my allergies, learn how to turn on the air conditioner which had 20 buttons in Japans and also translate a menu in Norway into english by pointing the camera at the menu.

If you have never tried this, get ready to have your mind blown.

Car Rental Apps

Get the car rental apps for the service you use. I use the Avis app which provides me notifications on where to pick up my car, but also lets me switch to a different car in the lot without talking to anyone.

Things to bring with you

Knives - I always travel with knives when staying in a home / apartment with a kitchen. I got these inexpensive but great Victorinox knives. I have a 8 inch Chef and 5 inch utility. Those are the only two knives you will need. Also you’ll want a knife protector to pack.

Coffee - we travel with our own coffee. We have a portable digital scale and a pour over kit (take your pick). Buy ground coffee when you arrive.


It’s important to be connected on the ground and in the air, as well as in foreign countries.

On the ground

If you are in the USA you are probably covered.

In another country

Basically AT&T gets an F here. Everyone else is better. Hrmph. But I’ve been with AT&T for most of my life and it’s too big of a pain to switch 4 phones over.

Google Fi

Google Fi is Google’s own service and has been my go to international data solution. You simply need one of Google’s phones and can sign up for their worldwide data program where you pay a flat rate of $10 per gigabyte.


They have the best international roaming system as you don’t pay extra.


World’s biggest ripoff. $120 for 800MB of data. Compared to Google AT&T charges 15 cents per gb and Google 1 cent. If that’s not crazy I don’t know what is. F you AT&T.


$10/day per device for the days you use it.

In the Air

Pre-pay for Gogo Internet. It’s always cheaper. Buy an All Day pass for $19. On my last flight to JFK it was $50 for a flight pass. I saved $30 by buying on the ground.


I am a big believer in Spinner bags for carry on and checked luggage.

Currently I am using the following bags:


I quiver when I see Rimowa bags. Hugely popular in countries like Japan, there is nothing like pushing one of these bags around. They glide.

They also command an incredible price for luggage. So don’t read if you are a budget luggage person (skip to Victorinox).

Rimowa is the inventor of the hard plastic spinner in case you didn’t know that. They are also the inventor of the digital luggage tag, which is pretty amazing.

Their entire line is broken down into:

  1. Salsa Air - Polycarbonate Zipper - least expensive
  2. Salsa - Polycarbonate Zipper - default features
  3. Salsa Deluxe - Polycarbonate Zipper - most features
  4. Limbo - Polycarbonate Clasp - same features as Sala Deluxe except no zipper
  5. Topas - Aluminum Clasp - Same as limbo but all metal

I love the Limbo series as they are not zipper based but have a gasket and clasp system that is tough and incredibly well engineered.

There are two sizes that I recommend. The small “will fit on any airplane in the overhead bin” and the larger “some airlines let this one on”.

For reference here are the standards:

The difference in volume is substantial:

This is true across the entire line.

The first bag I consider a 2-3 day supply of close and the latter a 5-7.

New Kids on the Block

There are so many new spinner bags on the market. These new kids on the block typically sport features such as built in battery, GPS / Bluetooth Tracking, Scale.

Here are some to acquaint yourself with:

  • Bluesmart - a Kickstarter project gone mainstream. Neat bags. I like the black edition .
  • Raden - nice looking functional bags with many “smarts”
  • Trunkster - also Kickstarter with a different style of opening
  • Bugaboo - yes, even Bugaboo makes luggage now.

Victorinox Luggage

Far more affordable and stuff I also love are the Victorinox Spectra 2.0. We have 3 of the 29 inch checked luggage in Red, Black and Orange. These bags are workhorses for us. We’ve put > 100,000 miles on them and they are still functioning well.

They also make great carry-on bags sized similarly to the Rimowas for less than half the price. I highly recommend these, especially if you think I am crazy for owning a Rimowa.

You can read my write up here .


You travel with kids? Here is our system:

Kids have their own carry on bags. Either wheeled or backpacks.

They carry:

  • 1 stuffy
  • 1 set of headphones
  • 1 iPad mini - currently an iPad Mini 2 with 32GB running Amazon, Netflix and a bunch of other apps
  • 1-5 snacks
  • 2-3 books
  • 1-3 cards and games - Uno, regular deck of cards
  • 1 flashlight - currently a FOURSEVENS Preon P1
  • 1 travel alarm clock - Braun BNC009BK Digital Quartz Alarm Clock
  • 1 water bottle - currently a MiiR

Other Tips

Chargers for your electronics - read this post

Check the inbound flight - I mentioned this, but if you get to the gate and there is no plane there, use FlightBoard to lookup the arrival flight using the gate number and decide for yourself if your departure is on time or not.

SeaTac short term parking - I always park in short term parking using a coupon . The convenience and cost a priced just right. If you price two round trip Uber rides, or even off site parking and then factor the time wasted waiting for a shuttle, this math may work out for you like it does for me.

Blogs to follow - One Mile at a Time is an amazing travel blog if you like nerding out on that stuff. The Points Guy is also good.