Nicholas Kralev

In the 1990s, I had the pleasure of meeting Nick Kralev. At the time, he was a journalism student at the University of Bridgeport. Perhaps “student” isn’t the right word. As a freelance reporter for the Financial Times and other publications, he was already a journalist. Since then, he has covered the State Department and other areas as a correspondent for the Washington Times.

Nick’s new book—Decoding Air Travel: A Guide to Saving on Airfare and Flying in Luxury—is right on time for travel season.


Decoding Air Travel

Author "Decoding Air Travel"

Guest post by Nicholas Kralev

Air travel can be inexpensive, seamless, comfortable, enjoyable and even luxurious – all at the same time.

I realize there is a good chance you think I’m crazy. You are probably more inclined to describe your travel experience as expensive, frustrating and miserable. I can’t argue with that – it’s today’s reality for most people. But it doesn’t have to be so, and I wrote a book whose goal is to help you change that reality and improve your travel life.

Decoding Air Travel: A Guide to Saving on Airfare and Flying in Luxury has one main message: It’s time to stop complaining about the airlines, learn the system and use it to our advantage. There is no doubt that the system has become very complex – that’s why putting some thought in trip-planning can go a long way.

During my book tour around the country, I’m often asked about my proudest moment in working the airline system. I always cite the times when I’ve flown in Business Class on long-haul flights, enjoying 180-degree flat beds and gourmet meals – and I’ve paid less than many Economy passengers.

You may wonder how I learned to do what essentially amounts to beating the airlines at their own game and get the best of both worlds – paying the lowest coach fares while flying in Business and First Class. I’ve flown almost 2 million miles and visited more than 80 countries, mostly in my previous positions as a correspondent for the Financial Times and The Washington Times.

When I started at the Washington Times in 2001, I had a very small travel budget, which had allowed my predecessor to make only three or four foreign trips a year. I was supposed to cover diplomacy and international affairs, and I didn’t think that sitting in Washington almost the entire time was a good idea. I couldn’t get more money, and my only option was to stretch the budget I had. So I decided to learn everything I could about airfares – and the air travel system in general – and within a year, I doubled the number of trips I took on that same budget.

But then I had another problem: I didn’t want to sit in coach. Flying to three continents in a week was no fun in the back of the plane. Obviously, I couldn’t afford expensive premium tickets, so I had to figure out how to sit in Business or First Class while paying for Economy. The solution was in mastering the frequent-flier game. I quickly achieved top-tier elite status and began learning all I could about airline alliances, miles, upgrades, award tickets and other benefits.

I have maintained that status for 10 years, and I haven’t sat in coach on a domestic or intercontinental flight since 2002 – unless Economy was the only cabin on the plane, of course.

There are many things one can’t control when it comes to air travel – the weather, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, war, civil unrest, labor strikes, aircraft mechanical problems and many others. However, there are plenty of things a smart flier can do to make the system work better and more efficiently – from booking a ticket to avoiding hassle and stress to creating an enjoyable in-flight experience.

Why do I care about this so much? Because I want more people to travel and see the world. I spent the last decade being around diplomats and writing about them almost every day as a newspaper correspondent. Although different countries’ national interests are the main drivers of international relations, the underlying mission of diplomacy is to make the world a better place. One way to do that is to give more ordinary people – not just diplomats – the opportunity to travel to other countries, experience different cultures and try to understand points of view they may not agree with.

Most people cite two main reasons for not traveling abroad: It’s too expensive and too much of a hassle. If only there were ways to eliminate those barriers. As it happens, there are such ways – that’s what this book is all about.

Nicholas Kralev is founder and CEO of Kralev International LLC, a travel consulting and training company. A former Financial Times and Washington Times correspondent, he has traveled around the world with four U.S. secretaries of state – Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright.