Tips from 'The Today Show' Travel Editor

As the summer travel season begins, Madeleine Brand gets some travel tips from Peter Greenberg, travel editor for NBC's The Today Show. Greenberg is currently in Paris to get some traveling in before the tourist season really heats up — just part of his advice to fellow travelers.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

And I'm Noah Adams. Planning a trip? You are not alone. The summer's travel season could set records. And that means, when they say get to the airport early, they mean that. Think two hours for a domestic flight.

BRAND: Peter Greenberg is the travel editor for The Today Show and he's actually traveling right now. You're on holiday in Paris, Peter?

Mr. PETER GREENBERG (Travel editor, The Today Show): I'm never on holiday. I'm working in Paris.

BRAND: You're working in Paris. Well, what a great job you must have. Anyway, you're traveling in the off-season and did you do that deliberately?

Mr. GREENBERG: No. Actually there's no such thing as the off-season anymore. That's the myth. Planes are now full all the time. I don't think anybody listening to this show has been on a plane in the last six months that hasn't been totally full. And the reason for that is something called capacity.

The airlines have decided that they can make more money reallocating the airline fleet overseas, over the North Atlantic, than fly domestic routes in the United States. For example, Delta Airlines, right now, is flying 81,000 fewer seats per day domestically, in the U.S., then they did a year ago. That would explain why all those flights are full.

The problem is, just having an airline reservation doesn't necessarily guarantee you a seat. The over-booking's going to go up; and the bumping's going to go up; and you might as well even embrace, what I call, the center seat Zen. Meaning, expect that you're going to be stuck in the center seat between the two sumo wrestlers, and then if it happens you won't be disappointed, and if doesn't you'll be pleasantly surprised.

BRAND: I thought maybe, obviously mistakenly, that there was a silver lining with gas prices, in that fewer people would be traveling, so airports would be less crowded.

Mr. GREENBERG: You know, you would think that, except for one thing; we are a nation of addicted travelers. We want to travel and we are not going to be denied. As an example, last year, a roundtrip fair from Los Angeles to New York was about $305, at this time of the year. This time of the year, this year, it's over $500. We're still paying it. We're not happy, but we're getting on the plane.

BRAND: Wow. So, where does the law of supply and demand kick in?

Mr. GREENBERG: Well, the law of supply and demand kicks in when you become a contrarian traveler, which is the smart way to go. And that is, it's not a question of thinking off-season, think different airports. Think Long Beach, or Burbank, or Ontario, instead of LAX. Think Providence, Rhode Island instead of Boston. Think Oakland instead of San Francisco.

Think point to point, instead of going through a hub that could end up costing you time and money, in terms of delays or lost bags. Let us not forget the airlines lost more bags last year than ever before, over 23 percent higher in 2005 then in 2004 because the bags just aren't making the connections. And by the way, neither are you when you go through those hubs.

BRAND: Do you have any tips besides going to regional airports?

Mr. GREENBERG: What you want to do, is understand that the best way to use the internet is to actually sign in for your flight 23 hours ahead of time. Meaning, if you're on a flight tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m., you can actually at 11:05 a.m. today, check in for the flight, which gets you a boarding pass which you can print up at home. Which means when you get to the airport you've eliminated one of those long steps in the process of waiting in line. You also get a better seat because at least you got in there early. That's one thing to do.

The other thing to do, is to do what I do. Understand that there are two kinds of airline bags: carry on and lost. And as a result I haven't checked a bag domestically in about eight years. I use FedEx, but there are 17 other services that are out there that will do that for you, courier your bags door-to-door. And I literally save on average two hours of my life every time I travel by not checking bags.

BRAND: How expensive is that?

Mr. GREENBERG: It's about $30 to $40 a bag, but you know what, it's not how much it costs, it's how much it's worth. And by the way when I get to the airport I'm not standing in a long line to first of all check a bag in and then go to the TSA and check it in. when I land, I can be a contrarian traveler as well. I don't go to the arrivals area. That's a zoo. My car or my ride, picks me up at departures where nobody is.

BRAND: Well let's hope you have a big wardrobe because you're going to have to pack, a couple of days, at least, before you go.

Mr. GREENBERG: Well, it's just about smart travel. And when you come back, nobody says your dirty laundry has to come back positively overnight. It's really about common sense and being efficient. And understanding the difference between cost and value.

BRAND: What about contrarian destinations? Would you recommend any places that might be off the beaten track, that would be cheaper to go to for a vacation?

Mr. GREENBERG: Sure. They're not necessarily off the beaten track. What they are is allowing you to be a contrarian. Meaning, do the Caribbean in the summer. Do Alaska in the winter. I mean, I'm not going to Paris to lie at the pool, so why wouldn't I go to Paris now as opposed to the summer where it's crowded with 75 million screaming Americans trying to get into the Louvre? The thing is here, it's about the experience, not just the destination. It's about experiencing culture, and food, and style. And you can do that 12 months a year. You don't have to do it when everybody else is doing it.

BRAND: Peter Greenberg, thank you very much.

Mr. GREENBERG: Thanks very much.

BRAND: Peter Greenberg's new book is called, The Traveler's Diet. He spoke to us from Paris.

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