8 business travel hacks from a frequent flyer

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5 min read

JOHANNESBURG – Let’s be honest, business travel isn’t always champagne and caviar. But hey, who needs predictable when you can outsmart those cramped flights and snag the elusive hotel upgrade? With a few insider tricks, you’ll transform travel from a necessary evil into a (dare we say it) enjoyable adventure. But a few insider tips and hard-earned tricks of the trade can help make the journey smoother, more productive and even – dare we say it – enjoyable.

We asked Kamogelo Maerman, national sales leader at FCM Travel who logs thousands of kilometres annually, to share his top travel hacks for corporate travellers wanting to up their game. His advice? Slow down, get ahead of the inevitable hassles, pack strategically, work smarter, and don’t forget to stop and smell the local culture.

Keep work to the lounge

An airport private lounge is the ideal place to kill items on your to-do list. If your travel programme doesn’t allow for this perk, consider asking if the entry fee can be covered by your company.

“Get to the airport early and use the time to get urgent emails out of the way,” says Maerman. “You can spend two hours in the lounge before a domestic flight and four hours before an international trip. Use a virtual private network if you’re not comfortable with the airport Wi-Fi.”

His winning strategy is to get the work out the way, and use the time on the plane for reading – or relaxing. “Working on the plane is like trying to do ballet in a broom closet – between turbulence, poor lighting, and pricey but unreliable Wi-Fi, you may end up with a headache instead of a winning presentation,” he warns. 

Get ahead of yourself

Arrive the day before an important meeting, rather than jetting in like a rockstar for the main event, only to underperform because you got lost or have jet lag.

“Because I work in sales, I need to be cool and collected to deliver my best pitch. I don’t want to be flustered because a traffic jam forced me to walk the last six blocks,” says Maerman.

Maerman says he would rather start early and fly straight out after a meeting than cut it fine and linger over lagers afterwards. “You’re primarily there to see a client, so make sure you put your best foot forward,” he explains. “It’s a good idea to acclimatise – not just to the weather and the new time zone, but to a whole new environment.”

An early check-in also pays logistical dividends, allowing you to get ground transportation sorted, as well as discover your way around the neighbourhoods near your hotel and meeting locations before go-time.

Turn on the charm

Maerman recalls being delayed before a flight and having to throw himself on the mercy of a passport control queue.

“It was that or pay 300 euros to change my flight,” he says.

He turned on the charm for security and passengers alike, explained his dilemma, and asked to jump the queue – nicely, of course.

Most passengers are happy to let you pass if you’re going to miss your flight, he says. But charm doesn’t win the day in all cases. “It still hasn’t gotten me an upgrade – except at the car rental counter!” he quips.

Pack like a pro

Maerman prefers to travel light, with a laptop, power bank, and essentials such as a jersey (in case his flight neighbours put their air vents on blast). This saves having to squash your bag into the overcrowded luggage compartment – or worse, get it booked into the hold.

“Travel with what makes you comfortable – but don’t try to check in with a litre of whisky in your hand luggage as it will be confiscated,” he cautions. “Read the fine print and make sure you’re allowed to board with certain items. If not, keep them in your suitcase.”

Pick a seat – but not any seat

Maerman says he opts for 26C on a regular Airbus.

“I like to sit behind the wing, but not have it obstruct my view because a window seat gives you a unique vantage point,” he says. “When I flew from Kigali to Nairobi recently, I enjoyed seeing the Congo River and the villages along its banks from 25 000 feet.”

On larger aircraft, he prefers the lower deck as disembarking is easier. “I also don’t have to see the opulence in first class,” he jokes.

He recommends reviewing a seat map on the airline’s website and checking in 24 hours ahead of time to secure the seat you want.

Relax, don’t do it

It’s tempting to be the first person out of your seat and off the plane, but there’s no point in standing for 15 minutes then getting caught up in a stampede.

“I like to relax, wait until everyone else has disembarked, then head over to the carousel, where my bag is sure to be waiting for me and has probably done a couple of revolutions already,” says Maerman.

It’s especially useful if you’ve checked your baggage in early – first in is often last out.

Choosing a hotel

Find a hotel close to your client for ease of access, but make sure it’s in a safe area.

Working at your hotel? Make sure you’ve got good Wi-Fi, a comfy bed to ensure a good night’s rest, and a well-lit, decent-sized desk. 

Have a substantial hotel breakfast to set you up for the day, but dine at a local restaurant to get to know the city.

“It can be a conversation starter with your client – plus you won’t experience Barcelona from your hotel room,” says Maerman.

Splurge a little

You’ll want to stick to your travel budget – but splurging a little will allow you to get to know a place. “If you’ve been to Nairobi but haven’t tried their beers, you’re not living,” jokes Maerman. “I’ll save money when I go to Phalaborwa.”