Monday, June 20, 2011

Decoding Air Travel

Cross-posted on
This book on navigating through the seemingly insane system for pricing and issuing airline tickets and getting the most out of your air travel experience is must reading for frequent travelers and illuminating for anyone who ever has to fly anywhere.

Nicholas Kralev, longtime diplomatic correspondent for the Washington Times and the Financial Times, has by his own reckoning logged some 2 million miles in the air. As he says in the foreword to this enlightening manual on beating the byzantine air travel industry, he hasn't sat in economy class in 10 years thanks to his strategies in collecting and using reward miles.

As a former journalist, Kralev writes well and guides the reader painlessly through the arcane process of matching a myriad of possible fares with flight inventories to build your own ticket that could well come out cheaper than any issued by automated services like Expedia and Travelocity. He peppers his manual with anecdotes flying around the world to cover four U.S. secretaries of State. Because of the expertise in air travel that he developed in connection with his work - he also wrote an air travel column for the Washington times - Kralev now works as an independent travel consultant with his eponymous firm.

Kralev first tells you what all the fare codes mean and how they work for the various airlines. He then introduces you to Web sites that provide raw airline data - the same data that Expedia et al. work with. In this way, you can manufacture your own ticket more advantageously than the computers who do the work in the booking sites. The author modestly refers to this as the Kralev Method, but it is available to any reader willing to follow his step-by-step description.

As any user of the booking sites knows, this information is in constant flux and one of the overriding messages in Kralev's book is to seize the moment - when you have a fare constellation you like, book it! It may not be there even minutes from now. But the author also tells you what days of the week you have a better chance of getting a good deal and what times of the year. He has reduced booking air travel to a science and he is sharing these hard-won laws of nature with the reader.

Beyond decoding the actual fares, Kralev describes the strengths and weaknesses of the various airlines and the global alliances they have formed. He discusses which airport lounges are desirable and the things he does to make his flight comfortable and enjoyable. He tells you how to predict flight cancellations and get ahead of the pack in making alternative arrangements, and how to get compensation from the airline when something goes wrong.

One of Kralev's main messages, along with telling the reader how to get the best fare, is the importance of getting elite status. This is where the casual traveler parts ways with the frequent flier. For those who do fly often, on business or pleasure or both, Kralev argues that it's important to focus your bookings on getting elite status in one of the alliances. Accumulating miles of course leads to free flights and upgrades, but the other advantages of elite status - preferred reservations, early check-in and boarding, free baggage, free change of itinerary, access to lounges, preference on upgrades, and so on and so on - are so significant that a frequent flier would be crazy not go for it and the rest of us can just stand by and watch with envy.

In general, both in booking and in awards programs, Kralev emphasizes the importance of focusing on the alliances - the Star Alliance with United, Lufthansa and numerous others; Oneworld with American, BA and others; and SkyTeam with Delta, Air France, and others. Booking on partner airlines is a way of getting the itinerary and fare you want, though it can be tricky, while, in general, award points won with any alliance airline is good for awards and elite status throughout the alliance.

Jet air travel is of course one of the wonders of our era, though it has become in many ways a bewildering and often frustrating experience for most of us. Kralev's authoritative book shows you how, as he puts it in the introduction, "to change that reality and improve your travel life."


  1. Hey, nice site you have here! Keep up the excellent work!

    Decoding Services

  2. nice Blog.. Very useful informative blog.. Thanks for sharing..