A Frequent Flyer's Starter Kit
All Things Flight-Related
My first choice for an airfare search tool would be ITA Software’s Matrix Airfare Search. Although simple in appearance, this software allows for advanced input options, such as specific route options, as well as routing/extension codes. Furthermore, you can pick flights operated by specific airlines, or use the default options to combine airlines in order to get the lowest price possible for your itinerary. All in all, ITA Matrix is an effective way to search for the lowest prices on almost any type of routing, including open-jaw routes and multi-city itineraries.
Once you have finished booking your flight, checking SeatGuru to make sure you get a seat complete with all of the amenities that you prefer is crucial. SeatGuru contains a vast collection of seat maps for most of the world’s airlines. You can find seat maps for aircraft ranging from U.S. airlines’ regional CRJ fleets to internationally-configured Boeing 777s. One of my favorite features about SeatGuru is that it accurately displays the seats that offer more comfort than others (like extra legroom!); furthermore, it warns you about the seats that come with reduced comfort, such as a misaligned window, close proximity with the galleys/lavatories, etc.
Want to book that coveted window seat, but can’t find any left on the plane? ExpertFlyer can help you save the day. It displays the seat maps for every flight on specific dates, allowing you to see which seats are occupied. What’s more, you can set up seat alerts with a paid subscription, allowing you to grab any specific seat when it opens up on a flight before your fellow travelers get to it first. In addition, I also use ExpertFlyer to observe seat availability on flights that I have not booked yet, since some airlines do not release their seat selection maps to passengers until a booking has been completed.
Handy Tools to Have
MyFlightRadar24 is a great tool that allows you to track and analyze your flight history. Once you sign up for an account, you can start inputting information about your flights that you’ve taken previously. MyFlightRadar24 will the graph this information on a map, and provide additional information such as your top-visited destinations, top routes, etc. One of the coolest features is that it takes the total distance you’ve flown and shows you the distance you’ve flown around the Earth, to the moon, and even to the Sun! MyFlightRadar24 is generally much easier to use than other flight history tracker applications, mostly due to its intuitive and simple interface.
Having multiple frequent-flyer accounts to manage is not fun sometimes. AwardWallet comes into place here, offering a central location for you to manage all of your frequent-flyer programs. It’s easy-to-use interface makes checking the balances of your frequent-flyer programs with a single click. Not only does AwardWallet accurately track your miles, it also displays your progress toward certain levels of elite status with the loyalty programs, as well as times at which miles are set to expire. Overall, AwardWallet is the most powerful tool for tracking your frequent-flyer loyalty programs, eliminating the hassle of having to remember every small detail about your miles and points.
Interested in seeing where the plane flying above your head is going to? FlightRadar24, an ADS-B tracking software that includes both a website suited for computers and a mobile app, displays a radar-style feed of all aircraft that are currently in the air. Information about the aircraft’s position, altitude, airline, aircraft type, and registration is included for each aircraft. The VR view on the mobile app even identifies aircraft in the sky directly above you when you point your phone’s camera at it! FR24 is an aviation enthusiast’s best friend; giving you a real-time view of what’s going on in the skies.
How to Pay
MileagePlus Go is the world’s first prepaid debit card that allows you to earn mileage for your United Airlines MileagePlus account. For each dollar that you spend, you earn 1 mile, up to 2,500 miles each month. This Visa card comes with no credit check, no interest payments, and no late fees, as expected with a debit card. There’s one downside to MPGO, though. It comes with a $85 annual fee, which is deduced after your first load onto the card.
Shopping portals, such as United's MileagePlus X, are revolutionary ways to earn airline mileage through everyday shopping activities. Participating locations allow a certain number of award miles per dollar to be gained after every purchase you make through the portal. Most major airlines have these, and the mileage earned can be redeemed towards award tickets, upgrades, or the like.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is by far one of the most popular credit options in store right now. Perfect for the frequent traveller, it comes with a $300 annual travel credit, 3x points on travel and dining, Priority Pass™ benefits, and so much more. In addition, you get an additional 50,000 (formerly 100,000) bonus points, worth $750, after $4,000 is spent within the first three months. You can also get a $100 credit towards applying for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry, necessities for those who want to beat the lines at the airport. Furthermore, 1:1 transfers of points are allowed for many airline and hotel loyalty programs.
My preferred camera for taking pictures during my travels is the Sony Alpha A6300. This digital camera offers a 24.2 Megapixel resolution, not to mention 4k video recording capabilities. It’s a great camera to have for everyday photography, in the cases where professional equipment would be more than enough for your needs.
In addition to the A6300, I also have a favorite DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex) camera. The Canon EOS 80D is one of my favorite cameras that I use for plane spotting, as well as other applications in general. Although its capabilities in general are similar to the A6300, the EOS 80D can be fitted with various types of zoom lenses (I have the 55-250mm zoom lens), allowing for high-quality photography, even at less-than-ideal distances.
If you’re on a tight budget and not willing to spend hundreds of dollars on quality headphones, the Samsung Level In earbuds are perfect for you. Complete with active noise cancellation (ANC), these earbuds provide high-quality sound, while minimizing the background noise. I have tested these on many flights, and I must say they are very good at drowning out the noise from the engines. These also come with a talk-in mode, as well as ways to adjust volume, skip tracks, and accept calls. A single charge can last up to 9 hours.
For those who like to travel light, G-RO’s Smart Companion series allow you to maximize your luggage space while not skimping on protection and weight. The large wheels also add maneuverability, allowing for a more natural experience. In addition to clever ways to maximize space, these bags each feature a USB port to charge your devices, as well as bluetooth tracking via your smartphone to ensure that your luggage never gets lost again.
I always travel under the assumption that I may not be able to find a power source for my devices. The RAVPower Universal Power Bank allows you to charge both USB-enabled devices as well as your laptop, with its own dedicated AC output. This 20100mAh battery allows you to juice up many of your devices on to go.
Need to travel on the go, but forgot to bring your universal power bank? Have no fear - the GREENLIGHTING Solar powered charger is here to save the day. Consisting of just a suction cub with a few solar panels underneath and USB charging, there has never been a better way to relax and know that your phone will be fully charged once you wake up. Just simply clip the suction cup onto a window and let your phone charge away!
TripIt is the main tool that I use for managing my itineraries. From flight reservations to car rentals, TripIt effectively pulls information about each reservation into one itinerary, creating a centralized location for all the information you will need on your trip. It’s very simple to use TripIt - all you have to do is allow TripIt to access your travel emails, so it can effectively combine the multiple bookings into one itinerary.
Have you every arrived at your destination with lots of time to spare but with nothing to do? Triposo, a travel guide for even the most unexperienced tourist, can help you save the day. Triposo is an app that takes “crowd-sourced information from Wikitravel, Wikipedia, and several other sites,” and proceeds to give you “recommendations for activities, hotels, restaurants and more, along with maps and directions.” Best of all, Triposo can work offline, so even if you’ll be without internet access for an extended period of time, rest assured that Triposo has you covered. All you need to do is download the guides beforehand.
App in the Air is a powerful tool that allows you to be notified of your flight’s status in real time. The relatively simple interface makes your flights easy to manage. Furthermore, just like my FlightRadar24, it offers a comprehensive breakdown of all the flights that you’ve taken in the past. Furthermore, it integrates perfectly with TripIt, allowing all of your TripIt flights to be imported straight to App in the Air.
The above list of products contains items that I find useful for my travels abroad, and would highly recommend to those seeking travel advice. However, Flight Level 360 is by no means affiliated with the manufacturers of any of these products.