Traveling these days can feel like a journey with a hundred forks in the toll road. You're constantly faced with the same choice: Should I pay more to get better service?
It's not just the usual big choices--room vs. suite, coach vs. business class, inside cabin vs. balcony. The industry is making travelers pay on the micro level. And as I've written before, the baseline service (the way you used to be treated without paying extra) is only getting worse.
So now you have to decide: Pay for curbside check-in, or suffer the long line inside the terminal? Pay to join a registered-traveler program, or bide your time in the airport security line? Pay to join the business-class club, or wait in the crowded, noisy terminal? Pay for more legroom (as Patricia Ove of Albuquerque, N.M., does--see tip 12, in 20 Tips), or spend some quality time getting to know your knees better?
Do you pay to join the car-rental company's premium club, or take the chance that the line won't be an hour long? Do you pay the cruise line for preferred boarding and exclusive restaurants, or wait in the lines at the port and at the buffet?
I've also written a lot about how travel can bring people together. All this distinguishing the haves from the have-nots, however, has the opposite effect. We're always being reminded of our status, which--unless you choose to pay and pay and pay--is never as high as it could be.
I remember when I was flying business class once, and we had boarded first. In that awkward moment (for everyone) when the coach passengers were filing through the business-class cabin, a young boy asked his father, "Why are these people up here?"
"They're first class," replied the father.
"What are we?"
If I had a son, that's not a phrase I'd feel very good about saying to him.
One of the reasons people like JetBlue and Southwest so much, it seems to me, is that there's a single cabin, and everyone gets the same treatment. If the flight attendants are nicer to you, it's because they like you.
And that's certainly one reason I find our new back page, The Budget Travel Upgrade, so endearing. We make someone's trip better simply because we can.
So if you're heading off somewhere, fill out the tiny form at BudgetTravelOnline.com. You might just find that you end up getting a better experience than you bargained for.