Seat 2B By Joe Brancatelli
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9 Things to Do Now to Make Your Travel Better
January 15, 2015 -It's OK to admit it: It's only the middle of the month and you've blown every one of those New Year's Resolutions you so piously promised to keep just a few weeks ago.

Today I offer a fresh start, at least from a business-travel perspective.

Here are nine resolutions for road warriors that you can keep. They're not hard. They'll make your life on the road in 2015 a lot easier. No sweating at the gym, skipping French fries or revisiting failed relationships is required. And no one will notice that you didn't even start working on these resolutions until the second half of the first month of the year.

1. Hold up your end of the merger
American Airlines and US Airways are legally and financially a single entity, but the carriers still operate separately more than a year after their merger. The company promises a combined frequent-flier program later this year, and that'll send chills down the spine of business travelers who suffered through the botched 2012 merger of of United and Continental airlines.

So don't miss an opportunity to protect yourself whenever American and US Air make it possible. Just such an opening appeared last week when the two carriers created a bridge between your American AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles plans. Log into one of your two accounts and you'll automatically be offered the opportunity to link to the other. Do it. The more closely aligned your accounts are, the less chance of a screw-up later this year.

2. Don't leave any Platinum on the table
If you carry an American Express Platinum or Centurion card, you have a terrific benefit: Amex reimburses you for as much as $200 worth of ancillary charges on one airline each year. The charges could be for baggage, club entries, change fees or almost anything other than airfares. The catch? Amex requires you to choose a single carrier, and the choice must be made by the end of January. Do it now before you forget and leave $200 on the table.

3. Check that passport
Check your passport's validity date to make sure you renew before it expires. But that's not the only thing you need to consider. Many countries won't allow you to enter unless your passport has at least six months of validity remaining. So if your passport expires in the second half of 2015, start the renewal process now so you won't get caught short.

And do a physical reconnoiter of your passport, too. If you think you'll visit countries in 2015 that require a visa, you'll need at least two empty pages to accommodate each bureaucratic operation. If you're down to a few blanks, apply for additional pages.

4. Make your entry like a pro
One of the best $100 you'll ever spend is on Global Entry, the government's customs and immigration bypass system.

Rather than fill out another customs declaration and wait in line to interact with a Customs and Border Protection agent, Global Entry allows you to use a kiosk to rapidly dispense with the formalities. But you're required to keep your passport information up-to-date for Global Entry to work. So if you've renewed recently, log into your Global Entry account and update the passport number.

While you're there, consider joining one of Global Entry's allied plans for the Netherlands or South Korea or acquire the APEC Business Travel Card, which offers customs and immigration bypass for a number of Pacific Rim nations. One final check: the expiration date on your Global Entry membership. Many business travelers will be due this year for their first-ever renewal of the initial five-year membership period.

5. Check your PreCheck
We've discussed how the Transportation Security Administration made its PreCheck security-bypass program unnecessarily complicated and vulnerable to data breakdowns. That's why you need to check frequently to ensure that your airline profiles and the data your travel agent/travel manager has on file exactly matches what the TSA knows about you.

Make sure your known traveler number is correct in each profile. Double check the spelling of your name and how it is registered with airlines and travel agents. They must match exactly down to the period of a middle initial or the correct suffix for you to get the PreCheck benefits you deserve. Now's the time to go through this tedious exercise so that the TSA doesn't trip you up in the bureaucratic briar patches it created.

6. Play the field
If your travel patterns have changed or if you're just bored with the airlines and hotel chains where you hold elite status now is the time to request a status match or status challenge from a competitor.Virtually all airlines and hotel chains start the 2015 status year on March 1, so start leveraging. That's especially true if you're going to lose status or failed to qualify at the same level with your existing provider. Use the remaining few weeks of 2014 status to try for 2015 status from some other airline or hotel.

7. Collect your bonuses
The first quarter is historically the weakest for business travel. That leads airlines and hotel chains to offer bonus promotions to induce you to increase your travel spending. Far be it from me to suggest you travel more, but you should get maximum benefit from your first-quarter activity. JetBlue, United and American all have Q1 bonus promotions. So do Marriott Rewards, InterContinental Rewards Club, Starwood Preferred Guest, Club Carlson and, for the first time in several years, Hyatt Gold Passport. Some of the bonus schemes require advance registration, so be sure to sign up.

8. Protect those points
Speaking of frequency plans, many airlines and hotels slap expiration dates on your miles and points. You'll lose your program credits if you don't have some activity in a specified period of time. (Depending on the program, that's anywhere from 12 to 36 months.) Check all of your programs now for any miles or points that may be at risk in 2015.

Then do what it takes now to keep your credits alive. Often you can keep plan credits active with a small credit card purchase, claiming a minimal award (say for magazine subscriptions) or donating credits to a worthy charity. It shouldn't take much to keep your miles and points current, but do it before your travel picks up again and you forget what's at risk.

9. At least make the hackers work for it
Finally, change the passwords on your travel accounts. Right now. Thieves apparently stole miles from thousands of American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus accounts last month and the Hilton HHonors program was successfully attacked last year. Sadly, in this day and age, nothing is safe from the bad guys. So do what you must to keep your information safe.

This column is Copyright 2015 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2015 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.