Business Traveler Interview: Ryan Lile

by Jessica on May 11, 2011

by Jessica | May 11th, 2011  

This is part of a new series here at WhyGo Business Travel featuring brief interviews with people who travel for work, asking them about what they do and some of their favorite travel tips. This way, if you’re looking for a career that will require travel, you’ll get to read about people doing some of the jobs you might consider – and you’ll also learn a few great travel tips from the travel pros!

This week, we’re talking with Ryan Lile. Ryan is based in Portland, where he runs The Savvy Traveler, a consulting business specializing in travel advice and planning for entrepreneurs and executives. He loves to rant, rave and share travel advice on his blog at savvytravel.net.

What do you do?
I offer travel solutions for busy executives and small business owners. With specializations in round-the-world tickets and frequent flier programs, I help my clients maximize every travel dollar by earning elite status, securing upgrades and award tickets, and advising on which airlines and products will best meet their needs (which airlines have flat beds in business class, for example).

Some clients outsource all their travel handling to me, while others call me for high-level advice on challenging trips. I also offer an eight hour training module that teaches administrative and executive assistants my methodology and best practices for travel management.

What kind of travel do you get to do for work? Do you get to choose where you go?
It varies by project, and the vast majority of it is domestic travel. Right now I’m commuting to the east coast every week, so gate agents and other airport workers in Portland and Chicago (where I connect) know me by sight, if not by name. I’ve flown more than a million miles on my own dime, and just started traveling for work about a year ago. Business travel is far less glamorous than quitting your job and roaming around Southeast Asia, but having someone else pay for me to earn miles and status is a huge perk.

Where I go totally depends on the needs of my clients. I’m on an extended project right now, but once that ends it might be a training in Kansas City one week, and meetings in Miami the next. And yes – it’s very much like that movie “Up In The Air”.

How often do you get to travel for work?
Right now it’s coast-to-coast every week.

Did you choose your job at least in part because you love to travel? Would you make the same job choice again, knowing what you know now?
I did and I would. Even though business travel can be exhausting if you’re doing it week after week, I still get excited when I get to the airport. A lot of my friends think I’m crazy, but there’s something about an airport – the aura of possibilities – that just feeds the travel addict inside me.

I don’t want to do transcontinental commuting forever, but it’s certainly keeping life interesting for now.

What are some of your favorite travel tips that you’ve picked up?
I really couldn’t do what I do every week without elite status. I fly United, and having status lets me pre-reserve exit row and “Economy Plus” seating. The extra legroom makes a big difference, especially if I want to work on a laptop in flight. And since United and Continental give unlimited, space available upgrades to elite members I get to ride in first class for free about half the time. Upgrades get more frequent the higher you go in the status chain, so it really pays to concentrate with one program. You also get perks like priority check in and security lines, free checked bags and priority boarding. I almost never check luggage so being able to board early and secure a spot in the overhead bin is a must for me.

I also always have a back up plan. Travel is my business so I know it better than most, but anyone can download smartphone apps that can help you find alternative flights in the event of delays or cancellations. If your flight gets cancelled don’t stand in the 50-person line at the service counter; get on the phone and have a call center agent rebook you. It’s almost always faster this way, and every person the service counter rebooks ahead of you means one less seat on a flight you might want to get on. Some airlines will automatically “protect” you by rebooking you on other flights, but those flights may not be to your liking. Check what they’ve done and make sure it works for you. Agents will change it fee-free (or refund your ticket) if the new booking doesn’t work for you.

What advice do you have for someone who’s interested in doing what you do?
Splitting your time between multiple cities isn’t for everyone. It kills a lot of social opportunities at home and can leave you disconnected from your home life for days or weeks on end. If you don’t love the smell of jet fuel in the morning this life may not be for you.

But if you love being on the road and find yourself with the opportunity, here are three pieces of advice to help you get started:

  1. Choose an airline and concentrate hard on getting elite status. Don’t split your miles among partners. If you’re flying United, Continental and US Airways and crediting miles to two or three different accounts you are really hurting yourself. Pick one program; credit miles to the airline you’ll be flying on the most. Same goes for hotel chains. Pick one and stick with it. Hotel status means more points earned and upgrades to better rooms.
  2. Not all coach seats are created equal. As you’re getting to know your airline and its different aircraft and seating configurations, use seatguru.com to help you find the good seats and avoid the really bad ones. I don’t know the people behind that site, but I’ve used it for years and am eternally grateful for the information it provides.
  3. If you start spending half of your time away from home your life starts to get a little insane. You’ll find that any weekend trips mean that you don’t see home for weeks at a time. I found this incredibly frustrating until I changed my mindset and learned to embrace the insanity of it. You won’t be doing this forever, so try to accept it and enjoy the ride while it lasts.

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