All posts in Hot Topics

How to Pack Light to Avoid Airline Baggage Fees: Part 1

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

Airline baggage fees can quickly add up for frequent flyers. At $50 per roundtrip flight, checking a bag is too expensive to be practical.  We’ve shared our own packing tips in the past, but we thought we’d give everyone a fresh perspective from Fred Perrotta, co-founder of Tortuga Backpacks, to get all the facts and fixes for packing light as a means to avoid baggage fees. Even if you have the status or a loyalty credit card that allows for a free checked bag, you’re still at the mercy of the airlines. Checking a bag is always a risk. Your luggage could be lost, misrouted or damaged.

Traveling carry-on-only is ideal. You’ll save money and spend less time waiting around for your bags at the airport. Packing light doesn’t have to be as difficult as many travelers imagine it to be. Below are the guidelines you need to know for traveling with only a carry-on bag.

The Basics

Carry-on luggage rules vary by airline. Most airlines do not allow bags larger than 45 linear inches (length + width + height). If your airline breaks it down by each dimension, 22 x 14 x 9″ is the most common configuration. These dimensions are a good rule of thumb when shopping for luggage.

Forty pounds is the usual weight limit outside of budget airlines, which are more strict. The lighter you can travel, the better.

tsa 311 for carryonsToiletries

Airlines are strict with liquids and gels. The TSA’s rule is 3-1-1.

Your liquids must be in bottles of 3.4 ounces or less. You must carry them in a “1 quart transparent plastic bag hermetically sealed.” Each passenger may carry one such bag.

The TSA is not flexible on these rules so follow them to the letter.

You can find travel-sized toiletries at Target or your local drug store. If you can’t find your favorite brand, try 3 Fl Oz, which only sells travel-sized bottles. For any must-have products that only come in larger sizes, buy a GoToob. GoToobs are refillable, rubber travel bottles for your toiletries.

You don’t have to scour the internet to put together your toiletry kit. Most products can be bought at your destination for the same price or less as at home. Buy anything that costs less than $10 and that you won’t need in transit after you land. I find that having a toothbrush, toothpaste, and face wash on hand can be a lifesaver after long flights.

Fred Perrotta helps travelers pack everything they need without checking a bag. He is the co-founder of Tortuga Backpacks, makers of the ultimate travel backpack.

In Part 2 of our packing series, we will cover how to pack a light wardrobe while still looking good.



ExpertFlyer Hot Topics – Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

Last week, we featured three of the six most common flying fear factors.  This post will discuss the remaining three factors, including steps to conquer them from Brave Flyer author, Michael Salem.


The mother of all fears! This item never fails to show up on any list when it comes to fear of flying. The funny part about it is that most people who fear it and think about it all the time have little knowledge or background on what causes air bumps (turbulence). What is also funny (or sad) is that turbulence has nothing to do with in-flight risk. I personally (having done a lot of research) never heard of a plane crashing due to air bumps. So if you want to use your rational brain for a second here, there is simply zero risk due to turbulence and absolutely nothing to worry about or even discuss.

Please remember that the air is much like the sea -  it is constantly moving and shifting – and in the same way that a ship moves up and down, the plane will do the same, but much less.

These bumps can be caused from wind uplift which usually happens when flying over mountains where the wind will collide with the mountains and get redirected upwards, causing it to bump your plane from below. Turbulence can also happen when the plane crosses different jet streams or flies close to storms. Whatever the reason may be, it’s only the wind bumping the aircraft.

Think about it and be fair, being onboard a plane is the smoothest experience you will ever have in any motorized transportation equipment. Don’t believe me? Next time you are riding (not driving) a car or a bus, close your eyes and concentrate on the bumpiness of the ride – it is not a smooth ride at all.

How to Manage Fear #4:  Turbulence Continue reading →

Fear of Flying – Causes and Cures: Part I

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics – Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

We recently interviewed Michael Salem, a former fearful flyer and author of “Brave Flyer – How to End Your Fear of Flying.”  In this series, we’re featuring Michael’s logical insights on the primary phobias contributing to the fear of flying and preventive measures that petrified flyers can implement to get through their overpowering anxiety.

In his book, Salem describes the fear of flying like a box containing a mixture of other phobias and fears, as well as external elements that strengthen the fear. Listed below are the six most common fear factors. In Part 1, we’ll expand on the first three and how to manage them:

  1. Fear of Heights (Acrophobia)
  2. Fear of Enclosed Places (Claustrophobia)
  3. Loss of Control (Symptom)
  4. Air Bumps – Turbulence (External element)
  5. Takeoff Procedure (External element)
  6. Unknown or Unfamiliar Sounds (External element)

fear of heights


This is one of the more common fears that come to mind when people get asked about their fear of flying. Although this factor is repeatedly named the culprit by fearful flyers, Salem doesn’t believe that this specific fear should be part of the list, because the major part of a flight, the plane is so high that a person loses their sense of height altogether. In other words, one has no point of reference to notice how high they are (no small cars or houses can be seen).

How to Manage Fear #1:  Heights

  • Falling from a fourth floor balcony is not much safer than falling from 30,000 feet. So why does it feel different when you are on a plane? Ask yourself how you manage to be okay with working, visiting a friend, or staying at a hotel on an upper floor. Also, remind yourself how many times you have been in an elevator and were probably just fine with the fact that you had a good distance between you and the ground.
  • Remind yourself of this fact: Planes don’t just fall from the sky – the mechanics of their wings do not even allow this free fall to happen. It is a simple question of physics. Even if all the engines were to suddenly lose all power for no good reason (which, by the way, has never happened on a commercial airliner), the plane will turn into a glider and not a piece of rock falling from the sky.
  • Don’t think of the plane as an elevated object that you are riding, think of it as your ‘new’ ground, and forget about the ‘old’ ground (earth). These planes are so massive in size and so stable that you can easily consider them to be a ground on their own.
  • Referring back to the start of this section: The only time you might notice the height is during the first few minutes or so after takeoff, and the last 20 minutes or so before landing. That’s when you can actually notice the small cars and buildings which will lead to the sense of height. The way to solve this is to simply not look out the window during these minutes or, even better, close your eyes. Very simple solution. Continue reading →

5 more ways to earn miles without stepping foot on a plane

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

In part 2 of our Hot Topics feature, Clint Johnston, author of the popular blog, discloses five more of his off-board mileage running tactics. If you missed part 1, catch up here.

1. Airline Promotions

Airlines are offering new promotions all the time. For example, in the past there have been Netflix promotions offering thousands of miles for signing up. Airline shopping portals frequently offer bonus miles around holidays and throughout the year. Stay up to date on promotions and never miss out on a mile.

the art of travel hacking2. Newsletters

Airlines, such as Delta, will have promotions displayed on their site that you can search for and find. However, newsletter offer a simple alternative and new deals will be delivered to your inbox when they are available. Airline newsletters are one of the best ways to stay up to date on the latest promotions and partnerships.

3. Car Rentals

Airlines have partnerships with many companies and this even includes renting cars. You can earn frequent flyer miles every time you rent with these partnering companies. For example, Delta allows you to earn up to 3,400 miles by renting from Hertz. If you plan to rent from Hertz anyway this might be a good option for you.

4. Debit Cards

If you would prefer to not sign up for another credit card then a debit card is a great solution. There are not many left but Delta and Suntrust Bank still offer a debit card for travelers. You will earn a few thousand miles sign up bonus on your first purchase and miles for everything you buy on the card after that.

5. Mileage Transfers

Generally I would advise against mileage transfers unless they are offering a 100% bonus on the miles. Even then it isn’t cheap to transfer miles between accounts but it is still possible to get a lot of value from this method, although it will cost you money. Sometimes you have to spend a little to save a little. If you come out saving money in the end it is a good deal and a great way to save money on your next flight.

Master the Art of Travel Hacking

There are many ways to earn miles travel hacking and earning miles all year long. However, it doesn’t have to stop here. You can earn enough miles every year for multiple free flights by taking travel hacking to the next level. In fact, I just wrote a new book all about travel hacking and earning miles. If you want to master the art of travel hacking be sure to check it out and start flying for free.


5 ways to earn miles without stepping foot on a plane

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

Earning miles in the air is very straight forward. Get on the plane and earn one frequent flyer mile for every mile flown in the air. Although, elite flyers may earn a mileage bonus for every mile flown, there are much better ways to earn miles on the ground. In this Hot Topics feature, Clint Johnston, author of the popular blog, has several clever off-board methods to increase your mileage bank.

clint johnstonThe fastest way to earning miles doesn’t require you to board a plane. All you need to do is take advantage of the miles that are already being offered to you by the airlines from various programs. This is what travel hackers do every year to take free flights around the world.

Travel hacking is the art of accumulating as many miles as you can to redeem for free flights and hotels. These are some of my favorite travel hacks to earn as many miles as possible every year.

1. Sign Up for a Co-Branded Credit Card

Apply for a co-branded airline credit card that has a large sign up bonus. These cards will earn you 30,000 miles or more once you meet the minimum spending requirements. Most cards do not have annual fees the first year and you can choose to cancel the card before the fee is due or keep it if you find the benefits valuable to you as a traveler.

2. Sign Up for a Points Credit Card

Points cards also have large sign up bonuses and they offer more flexibility. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card comes with a 40,000 point bonus and this can be redeemed on many different airlines. The benefit of a card like this is the points are more flexible than miles but both types of cards offer a jumpstart to earning more miles.

3. Shop Through Online Portals

Every major airline has a shopping portal where you can earn miles for items you buy online. To earn miles simply login with your frequent flyer account on the portal, find your favorite retailer, and you will be redirected to the site. By starting your shopping at the portal you will earn miles for every dollar spent. If you already planned to buy something online you might as well earn miles in return. 

4. Earn Miles Sleeping at Hotels

Hotel loyalty programs are great and there are great hotel credit cards with large sign up bonuses worth multiple nights in a hotel. However, if you would prefer to earn miles every night you book a hotel you should use Rocketmiles. By booking hotels through their site you earn thousands of miles for every night spent in a hotel. Over the course of a year this can really add up and even earn you enough miles to book a free flight.

5. Earn Miles with Dining Programs

Every major airline has a dining program where you can earn miles for every dollar you spend at participating restaurants. Simply register a credit card or debit card with the airline dining of your choosing and go out to dinner to earn miles. Once you swipe the card the miles will automatically post to your frequent flyer account.  This program is nice because it will earn you more miles than simply using your travel credit card alone. Some restaurants offer multiple miles per dollar and even bonus miles.

Next week Clint will share 5 more tips for racking up frequent flyer miles without actually flying.