By Joe Brancatelli
June 19, 2014 --I'm no YouTube sensation like quintessential New Yorker Johnny T, but there I was last Sunday at the edge of the Theater District urging a woman and her daughter to put away their huge map of Manhattan.

"You never want to look like a tourist in New York," I explained as I passed, jaywalking briskly toward my hotel room. "If you've got your map unfolded, you look like a mark."

They looked at me, a bit confused, but dutifully folded up the map—and then came thisclose to being sideswiped as they attempted to jaywalk, too.

Lesson learned? Perhaps it's safest to dispense travel advice here at Seat 2B, where the biggest risk you run is a pop-up ad that annoys you. So let's talk about some things you need to know when you travel.

The carry-on chisel
Legacy airlines are no longer happy charging us for luggage that we check. They aren't content to police their carry-on limits more strictly, the better to grab a stray $25 from a not-as-smart-as-he-thinks traveler who's trying to carry on a steamer trunk. No, now they are chiseling us on carry-on sizes, too.

For decades, the carry-on limit on major U.S. airlines has been 45 linear inches, which is derived by adding the length, width and depth your bag. The luggage industry has gone to school on the 45-inch limit and produced a cornucopia of carry-ons to fit the restrictions.

So what do big airlines do now? They chisel us by surreptitiously changing the game. Although they claim the 45-inch linear rule remains in effect, now they say your carry-on bag also must be no larger than 22 inches long or 14 inches wide or 9 inches deep. As my frequent-flying friend Will Allen points out, that means many bags that meet the 45-inch linear restriction are now magically oversized and must be checked for a fee. American Airlines and its US Airways subsidiary have adopted the chisel. So have Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

Solution? Fly Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines or Virgin America, where the carry-on limit is at least 50 linear inches. And if you're flying the other guys, carry a cheap, small tape measure in case some fee-hunting airline employee challenges the size of your bag.

Low is the new high
If you've traveled to any large American city lately, you've surely noticed the newest trend: hotels built on smaller and smaller real-estate footprints. That allows the major chains to add properties in downtown cores at substantially lower cost.

The problem? Hotel developers are scrimping on elevators. Elevators take up space that can otherwise be used for additional rooms. Case in point? That Manhattan hotel to which I was hurrying on Sunday was 40 stories high. Yet it had only three elevators—and one of them was unavailable because it was commandeered by the service staff. The result: appalling waits for elevators and dreadful overcrowding when a car did arrive.

Solution: If you value your time, book rooms on lower floors. Yes, you'll sacrifice a view. Yes, there might be some street noise. But you'll avoid the infuriating, time-wasting elevator waits and, worst case scenario, you can walk it. That's good cardio and fat-burning exercise.

Witness for the defense
Two business travelers recently told me eerily similar tales: They were bullied by officious, out-of-control airline staffers who then called the police and tried to have them arrested. Both, however, had the presence of mind to turn on the voice-recorder feature of their smartphones. That gave them an audio record of the confrontation. In both cases, the police told the travelers they were fine and, in one situation, the cops threatened to arrest the airline employee for harassment.

I do not suggest that all cases of purported " air rage" are actually the fault of overzealous, power-mad airline employees. We've all witnessed situations where idiotic passengers deserve a slap upside the head, if not arrest. But airline gate agents, flight attendants and ticket counter agents aren't all models of decorum, either. They are overworked, underpaid, under terrible pressure and sometimes they snap. The difference is that they get the benefit of the doubt from law enforcement whenever there is an incident that escalates to the "call the police" stage.

The solution: have the voice-recorder app on your home screen. Fire it up whenever a situation is getting ugly. And don't forget your smartphone's camera. Although it's unwise—and often illegal—to take photographs at airports or on airplanes, your smartphone camera is extremely helpful at the car-rental counter. As the rental firms search for dings and scratches they can blame on you, you need to take good photos of your rental vehicle before you leave the lot. And take photos when you return, too. The shots will give you photographic defenses if you get into a scrap with a rental firm over a surprise repair bill.

Ask and you might receive
Sebastian Mikosz, chief executive of LOT Polish Airlines, recently told me that his airline has an in-flight upgrade option for its new premium-economy cabin. If premium-economy seats are available, passengers seated in coach can arrange with flight attendants to move up for as little as US$200.

In more than 30 years of business travel, I've never heard of a paid, in-flight upgrade scheme. But I do know that most airlines, especially on international flights, happily sell upgrades at the ticket counter. It never hurts to inquire about stepping up to business or premium-economy class when you check in for your flight. Prices are often surprisingly reasonable. And be sure to check for upgrades if you use the automated kiosks. They are increasingly programmed to sell you an upgrade to a better seat on the spot.

Ditto for hotels. When you arrive, it never hurts to chat up the front-desk clerk and inquire if any better rooms are available. Sometimes, an upgrade to a more commodious accommodation will be free for the asking. Sometimes, a suite upgrade can be secured for just a few dollars. But one thing's for sure: If you don't ask, you won't receive.

ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.

THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright © 2014 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.