How To Fly For Free*

*Ok, not EXACTLY free, but close, here’s how:

Oftentimes, Southwest Airlines (and other airlines) will sell more seats than the plane actually has. They do this assuming that a small percentage of the travelers will change or miss their flights. You may have experienced this while waiting for your flights, they will sometimes ask for volunteers to give up their seats and take a later flight, in exchange for airfare vouchers, and sometimes, hotel rooms. Most people need/want to get on the plane at that point, and don’t volunteer.

Just like trading, you can put the odds in your favor, here’s how:

1. I like to use SOUTHWEST, because they don’t assign seats, and they don’t have “change fees”, so its not uncommon for people to change their flights last minute. Other airlines have assigned seats and use “standby” tickets so they may not oversell like Southwest does, and this plan may not work.

2. Start with booking a flight, but try to choose a day when you have some flexibility. Instead of looking for the cheapest flight of the day, focus on getting an earlier flight. That way, if you give up your seat, its no big deal. Plus, the cheapest flight may be the least likely to be full. You will need to pay for at least one flight to get the free ones, but if you follow these steps, you will have to pay less for future flights, because you will use vouchers. Avoid booking the first flight of the day as they are rarely delayed (and a delay means less people will miss the flight, increasing your odds. Repeat, a delayed flight is good.)

3. Before you go to the airport, have two plans in your head, one where you get there on time, and one where you get there hours later. Wear comfy shoes, bring snacks and books to read, etc. You will need to have some stamina and patience, so be prepared.

4. Check your bag(s) as normal (2 free on Southwest) being careful to keep your phone charger and laptop charger, headphones, snacks, toothbrush, and maybe some extra clothes in your carry on. Be ready to camp out in the airport. Your checked bags may beat you there.

5. When you get to the gate, immediately make friends with the gate attendant. Walk up to the desk slowly with a big smile on your face, don’t interrupt them, ask how they are doing, and introduce yourself by first name. Make it clear you are not complaining about anything. Flirt a little and see if they are the flirty type too.

6. Nonchalantly ask if the flight is full. If they say “yes” or “probably”, tell them that you have _voluntarily_ given up your seat in the past in exchange for a voucher. Then, ask them if they are looking for volunteers to give up their seats on your flight.

7. At this point, you just became their best friend. Even if they are not overbooked, they will take down your name and tell you to stay in the gate area and listen for your name to be announced over the PA. Because most people don’t walk up and volunteer, you will probably be at the top of the volunteer list, increasing your odds.

8. If they don’t need your seat, you simply get on the flight you booked. I always pay extra for “early bird checkin” (guaranteed Group A) because when you volunteer, they will often refund/pay you with a $25 to delay your boarding. If it doesn’t work on the first flight, be sure to try steps 5-7 on all layovers. If it works you will get a voucher for the full one way trip (all legs).

9. If they do need your seat, they will announce your name and then give you a ticket for the next flight, which may have a different layover. They will also issue you a voucher for the price of your one-way flight plus $300. Sometimes, when they are desperate and have no volunteers, they may offer $500 or $600 plus the cost of your flight. They don’t refund the fees, and you pay fees on the next flight, but its still a huge savings.

10. Once you have given up your seat, you have some time to kill. Buy yourself a nice meal, walk the airport end to end, read, work, sleep, stretch often. I sometimes bring my guitar or uke to pass the time.

If you do this consistently every time you fly, you will find that you will save significant money on airfare. The flights are not exactly free, there are still fees, but it usually totals about $20-30. You have to use the vouchers within one year, but you can apply them to more than one flight, even share them with others!

Example: Thanksgiving 2015, I booked a round trip flight to the East Coast for about $500. I gave up my seat during the layover in Las Vegas for a voucher worth about $500. I used that voucher from Thanksgiving 2015 to pay for a flight for a wedding June 2016, and gave the remaining $170 in voucher to my friend who took care of my cat while I was away. I again volunteered up my seat on the flight home from the June wedding, and earned another $500 voucher which I used to pay for my recent Holiday trip, Christmas Eve through my birthday.  And then once again, on the way back in January, earned another $528 voucher.  So I basically bought one round trip and got three free, plus shared the excess with friends.  And I can keep going and going; it’s not exactly free, but close.

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Just Say No To Bad Swag

I recently received a letter from a well-known “automobile association”, thanking me for being a member for the past twenty years.  Just to be clear, the only reason I continue to be a member is this: about once a year, I need a jump-start, or I lock my keys in my car and need a locksmith, or I need a tow, or a friend needs a jump-start, locksmith or a tow. (Pro tip: you can utilize your membership benefits, even if its not your car, as long as you are a passenger in the vehicle.)  The membership pays for itself with the money that I save.

The letter also informed me that, in appreciation for my 20 years of loyalty, I should stop by the nearest office and pick up my free license plate frame, informing every driver that is behind me that I was a 20 year+ member of the association. Ummmm, no thank you.  What good does this license plate frame do for me? Is an attractive woman going to ask me out me on a date when they see it?  Will it get me out of a speeding ticket?   No, its just more marketing for the company. Consider this my first example of “bad swag”.

Swag“can mean a lot of things; in this blog post, it means promotional merchandise.

Second example: I received junk mail from an automobile insurance company (notice a trend here?) looking for me to switch my current automobile coverage to theirs.  The envelope included a bumper sticker that plainly stated “PLEASE DON’T HIT ME! I am not 100% sure about my coverage”.  To their credit, I was amused by the bumper sticker campaign, but did this company really expect me to put this ugly sticker on my bumper?

Many people in the AV industry think of trade shows when they hear the word “swag”. Most booths offer some form of it: pens, reusable grocery bags, magnets, t-shirts, candy, paperweights, key chains, flashlights, headlamps, miniature screwdrivers, and plenty of those little foam things that you are supposed to squeeze when you are stressed.  I remember one booth had flying monkey toys that you could launch across the room. 99%  of these promotional items have a company logo and/or marketing tagline printed on them.  Some items become “gifts” for the kids once the attendee gets home from the trip.

Aside from the pens and reusable grocery bags, most of the swag you get is garbage.  I keep a few of the foam-stress-relief-thingees around my desk, and squeeze them periodically to exercise my hands and fingers, helping to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  I don’t ever remember being stressed out, squeezing one for a minute, and then feeling less stressed.

What blows my mind is how much money is wasted on this bad swag!  Not to mention the hours spent by marketing departments and/or company owners to “design” this crap: the t-shirts in awful colors chosen to match the company’s logo, covered in industry-related marketing taglines, or sometimes even images of the products.  Who on earth would wear these outside of mowing the lawn, changing your oil, or sealing the driveway?  There is one group who is happy to get these shirts: homeless people.  I love it when I see a homeless person wearing a promotional t-shirt, because it means the shirt is being used, not just thrown away.  Probably not what the marketing team had in mind, but hey, at least the catchy tagline created by the marketing guru is actually being read by someone, right?

hobos
Original image courtesy of Rapgenius on Amazon Web Services

As much as I am a sucker for free stuff, I do my best to avoid accepting this bad swag; although sometimes, I can’t say no, because its mailed directly to me (“Enjoy your lapel pin…”.) As a waste-conscious citizen, I seriously don’t know if I should toss it, recycle it, donate it, or spend the money to ship it back to them, with a note saying, “WTF were you thinking?  You just wasted time and money on something no one will ever use!”

Occasionally, someone gets it right.  For example, one manufacturer’s rep I know quietly hands out $10 Starbucks gift cards to people who engage her at the trade show booth.  These gift cards have no tag lines, no logos (other than the Starbucks logo).  I have not seen her in years, only because I have not attended those same trade shows.  And yet I specifically remember her giving me that gift card, as well as the company she represents.

Other companies have sponsored outings like dinner cruises, baseball games, even paintball.  Those were very fun, very memorable times, and I was able to share the experience with coworkers and loved ones.  And just like the Starbucks card, I remember exactly what company sponsored those events, as well as the people representing them.

So please, marketing gurus, take note:  the next time you are about to “pull the trigger” on your latest sky-blue or lime-green t-shirt, the one with your latest tagline on the front and your logo on the sleeve, think to yourself:  Would I actually wear this?  Would anyone I know actually wear this?  What is this costing my company?  And would we be better off just handing out gift cards, or even the cash equivalent?  Now THAT would be memorable!

 

My Do’s And Don’ts Of LinkedIn Profile Photos

If you are between the ages of 25 and 55, then chances are, you probably already have a LinkedIn Profile.  And chances are, you probably don’t think about it very often, unless you are job hunting (in which case, you may be updating your profile almost daily.)

Most people only update their work experience or skills when they revise their LinkedIn profile. More savvy B2B folks find ways to optimize their LinkedIn profile so that they rank higher in the LinkedIn Search results.  Others may ask for recommendations from former coworkers or clients.  But how much time and thought did they put into their LinkedIn profile photo?  My guess is most people have not thought about their photo since the day they uploaded it. How many times have you changed your photo?

LinkedIn has published guidelines for profile photos, but unless you are posting your company logo, your tagline, your favorite animal, or landscape, they will pretty much accept any photo as long as you are in it. If you break their easy-to-meet guidelines three times, they supposedly will not let you upload any more profile photos. However, I have seen some profiles of people who somehow got around this rule, and have a pet as their profile photo.  My guess is they uploaded the photo before the rules were created or enforced, and now they are essentially ‘grandfathered in’ (or would it be, ‘grandfather-Linked-In’?)

Remember that the FIRST thing someone sees when you show up in a LinkedIn search, or “People You May Know”, is your photo, and those first impressions count!  Yet for most people, the profile photo is the LAST thing they worry about!  So what kind of photo makes a good LinkedIn profile photo?  What makes for a bad one?

Here is my short list of Do’s and Don’ts of LinkedIn profile photos:

1. DON’T use your wedding photo, or a photo someone took of you while you were attending someone else’s wedding.  These are far too common and very easy to spot. Will you be wearing that tuxedo or strapless dress to your next interview?  Dapper!

Black and white professional headshot
My professional headshot in black and white

2. DO yourself a favor and get a professional headshot taken at least once every 5 years. No one likes meeting an older version of you after they saw the younger you online. Request a full color headshot and a black and white version of the same photo.  Beyond your LinkedIn profile, its good to have “your best face” on hand for other reasons like company newsletters, bylined articles, online dating sites, obituaries … “you never know when you are going to go” is my motto.  Might as well be ready for it.

3. DON’T use a photo that is obviously a cropped photo of you and someone else.  This is just as common as the wedding photos and drives me berserk!  Just because you were wearing a tie that day does not mean you look professional.  You look sweaty! And if you are going to crop out other people, you should also crop out that drink in your hand.

Example of cropped photo taken at a wedding
Cropped photo taken at a wedding

4. DO make sure to smile in your LinkedIn profile photo. Just like dating sites, people on LinkedIn want to work with happy people. Save your Resting Bitch Face for after you get the gig.

#LMRBFO = Laughing My Resting Bitch Face Off
#LMRBFO = Laughing My Resting Bitch Face Off

5. DON’T keep your profile photo blank.  If you don’t have a profile photo yet, then you probably should not have a public profile yet either.  No one wants to work with a ghost.  Plus, without a photo, how can the people you have previously worked with know that its actually you, and not someone pretending to be you?

6. DO include other items in your profile photo that are relevant to your career.  For example, if you are an audio engineer who typically works at concerts, then a photo of you standing next to a huge audio mixing console certainly adds value to your online resume.  It says “yes, I have done this before, so I am qualified”.  Or if you are a bowling coach, its okay to have bowling ball in hand.

7. DON’T wear sunglasses. Hey, I understand where you are coming from: I think I look better in sunglasses too, but its not appropriate on a professional networking site. Your eyes are the window to your soul, and by wearing sunglasses, you just closed the shades. The one exception to this would be if the person was visually impaired, or if they wear prescription glasses that transition to sunglasses in sunlight.  Also, if you use a photo taken outdoors, make sure your face is clearly visible.  Oftentimes, outdoor photos have too much contrast between the sunlight and shadows.

Sunglasses and Dreadlocks
Would you hire this shady dude?  I sure wouldn’t.

8. DO wear something that resembles what you would typically wear to your job on a day to day basis.  No wedding dresses, no hats, no tie-dyed shirts, no sports attire.  I don’t care how much you love your team; there are people on LinkedIn who do not.  Why jeopardize your career just because you are still bitter that the Hartford Whalers moved to North Carolina in 1997, and left Connecticut without any major sports team?  Not cool, Whalers!

9. DON’T have a coworker, friend, or family member take a photo of you using their mobile phone camera, standing in front of a wall or a tree.  Unless you are the photogenic type, these types of photos will never be as good as a professional headshot.  AND NO SELFIES. NO EXCEPTIONS.

Photo taken on Easter
Photo taken by my friend on Easter

10. DO make yourself stand out, but be careful: this can be a double-edged sword.  You may be wearing a t-shirt that says something funny in your photo, but others may not get the joke.  Better to use a photo from that time you went sky diving, or snorkeling.  These types of “adventure photos” will create instant conversation when you connect with someone new on LinkedIn. Photos of you receiving an award also show you are valuable.

Hopefully by now, you ‘get the picture’.  By putting a little extra time, effort, and yes, a little money into your LinkedIn profile, you will be sure to be putting your best business face forward, and your online resume will be much more professional. First impressions are everything, and online, that impression is limited to your profile photos.

Additional advice on LinkedIn:

https://pkaudiovisual.com/2014/02/05/social-media-networking/

If we are not yet connected on LinkedIn, here is my profile:
http://www.linkedin.com/in/pkaudiovisual/