By now you know how to get the most out of your miles and are planning a great trip. Don't let rookie mistakes ruin it.
Before you leave:
Passport: I recommend making a photocopy of your passport and information page. Keep one in a safe at home and keep one with you in case your physical passport gets lost or stolen. This way you can either call home and have them fax your photocopy to the embassy or you can do so yourself.
Debit Card: Whenever I see people exchanging money at the airport I think of one word: Rookie. Every "no fee" exchange service is ripping you off for 10 cents on the dollar and charging you a consumer and not a banking exchange rate. There is an extremely probable chance that your Debit/ATM card works just fine in the country you are visiting. Double check. Bring it and make one or two cash withdrawals. This gets you the bank rate not the consumer rate on exchange. Most banks charge a flat $5.00 or waived fee to use your debit card abroad. The five dollars will save you substantially on the $40-100 you could be losing out on through a currency exchange.
Credit Card: Bring (if you have them) a mix of cards. Hopefully none of your cards charge foreign transaction fees. Assuming thats true try to bring a Mastercard, Visa and American Express. Does your card have a chip on it? That only helps. Some countries are more friendly to Mastercard, Visa or American Express so having all ensures that you will never be stuck at the register.
Paper Itineraries: This might sound like a very "mom" idea but its essential. Sometimes computers break down. Sometimes airlines or hotels have systemwide glitches. Don't want to get stuck? Don't forget your paper copies. These serve as a easy reminder to you and can bail you out big time when adversity strikes.
At the Airport:
Check in: If you are using your miles cleverly and are sitting up front...kudos. If not it never hurts to ask what can be done to improve your seat. Airlines offer a variety of minor upgrade experiences from extra legroom, more recline and free drinks to a whole other cabin class. Be courteous, not entitled and see what is on offer.
Lounges: Hopefully you have been listening and if you travel much have invested in a card or program that grants you lounge access. Not lounges are created equal but almost all lounges offer free alcoholic beverages, snacks, food, complimentary wifi and quiet sitting areas. This makes an airport very tranquil or rowdy depending on how you want to play it. I love lounges that have private shower suites where you can change into comfy clothes before the flight. If you haven't found a card that offers lounge membership the primary cards for lounge access are: The American Express Platinum, Citi Prestige, Visa Black.
Taxis: Uber is amazing if you are in a major city. I have a free ride for you if you email me. Do not take taxis or transit vehicles that have not been previously arranged. This is the easiest and usually the worst pitfall for travellers. From something as mundane as being ripped off to something much worse like being robbed in a foreign country don't let this happen to you. Do your research in advance, look for public transit and then decide according to your budget and schedule.
At Your Destination:
Tip on Arrival: I get very frustrated with hotel and service tipping. Its a huge pain. For my workaround I recommend tipping well when you arrive at your destination. The way I see it you set a great first impression and show a respect to the employees with whom you will be spending your time. Tip each guy and then don't worry about it. You never know, sometimes it leads to a room upgrade or some free drinks.
Embrace Culture: No one likes the westerner who is complaining that there aren't pancakes for Breakfast in Thailand. Try new things, attempt to speak even the most basic foreign language phrases and let yourself experience something out of the norm. I laugh when people tell me they fly across the world to go to restaurant chains they could find anywhere. You could get all of that very easily without the 15 hour flight. Try some local food, see what people wear, have a local drink and immerse yourself.
you now have all the basic principles to figure this out for yourself and take some amazing trips. Click Points and Miles blog above to view the latest news, offers and insights.