Who gets an upgrade and who gets bumped? What if your name is on a watch list? How can you avoid baggage fees? Why do airfares change several times in one day? Where to find the "blacklist" of airlines banned for safety reasons?
The answers — along with tips on packing, insurance, lost bags, delays, rip-offs, compensation, and common security issues like prescription drugs and wrapped presents — are tendered by Scott McCartney in "The Wall Street Journal Guide to Power Travel" (Collins Business, $16.99).
As the travel industry weathers financial turbulence and prices fall, McCartney's advice is to keep traveling as much as you can.
"You can get a lot more out of last year's budget," he told Reuters. "It can hurt your business if you clamp down too much."
McCartney, the Journal's "Middle Seat" columnist, has tips for everyone, from novices to elite-status CEOs.
He lists numerous Web sites for current travel news and government statistics, seven sites for flight information and tracking, 16 for destinations, five for frequent-flyer programs, and four for safety.
For fares, he lists 24 sites (not including individual airlines) — from easy-to-navigate Orbitz to the sophisticated ExpertFlyer.com to FareCompare.com for comparison shoppers.
Interspersed are flight trivia, such as this one: With more than 5,000 flights over the United States at any given time, jets fly along designated highways between "fixes," each with five-letter identifiers so pilots and controllers can communicate their location.
To arrive in Kansas City, planes pass over SPICY, BARBQ and RIBBS, while flights approaching New Jersey's Newark International airport toward the northeast will cross either HOWYA or DOOIN.
McCartney also comments on trends, such as an emerging move toward a la carte travel, where passengers pay extra for aisle or window seats, more legroom, and location — front, middle or back.
"It's somewhat surprising customers have accepted it so readily," said McCartney. "Given that people are willing to pay baggage fees, they'll keep pushing to find ways to collect on extras."
The author also addresses some of the public health realities of travel, such as the seatback pocket, in which passengers have been known to find used tissues, a "festering" baby diaper, discarded cups of tobacco spit, toenail clippings and a half-eaten hamburger.
Is the travel industry doing enough to respond to needs of business travelers working under constricted budgets?
"It could do more," McCartney said. "Airlines in particular are slow to respond. Restrictions on buying business and first-class tickets have changed travel dramatically. Corporate travelers are sitting in the back and airlines need to find ways to hang on to them."
Alaska Airlines, for example, has a policy of bringing a cocktail to frequent travelers who don't get upgraded. "It's about recognition, and it has a spillover effect for other passengers."
McCartney also tells a few of the ways airlines court first-class passengers. For example, some Middle East carriers have closed-door suites on board. Lufthansa's facility in Frankfurt looks like a boutique hotel. At London's Heathrow Airport, Virgin Atlantic's Clubhouse has a beauty salon, cinema and Jacuzzi. And, at a British Airways meeting room in Heathrow, the leather boardroom chairs come from the Concorde supersonic jet.