For most Americans, the Thanksgiving holiday is synonymous with travel. And this year looks like one for the record books, with the American Automobile Association estimating that more than 37 million Americans will hit the road.
For me, Thanksgiving means more than that. More than the traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, cranberry sauce, and a fight over who gets to pull the wishbone. It means a lot of requests for Joel's airline upgrade tips.
I've been thinking a lot about this lately, and I think the best tip I can offer this year is: Give thanks. That's right. Just say, "Thank you."
I learned a long time ago that having an attitude of graciousness, gratitude and respect is by far the most effective means of interacting with travel employees -- especially in these somewhat difficult times. These employees are often overworked, underpaid and stressed-out, and yet we demand a lot of them when we're trying to get home to family or get away on a Thanksgiving holiday.
Do we ever stop to appreciate those who make our trips possible? Those unsung travel heroes who efficiently make reservations, provide brilliant service and safely deliver us along the way?
It takes surprisingly little to reward those toiling to assure our travel goodwill. A simple smile, "Thank you," or "You're doing a great job" goes far.
This easy technique of giving thanks pays off for you and for others. When you give thanks, you let people know that their work is appreciated. This builds incentive for them to treat other customers with courtesy, too. Let me give you an example.
Last week, I gave a friend an award ticket to visit her family and friends on the East Coast. She can't return in December, so she took all her holiday gifts with her. While checking in her oversize and overweight luggage, the counter agent told my friend that she would have to pay a $45 surcharge.
Then the agent noticed that the ticket was associated with my record and, remembering a letter I wrote praising this agent's First-Class service, she waived the fee. What goes around comes around.
My first job after college was working for Tom Hopkins, an internationally recognized sales trainer. One day he pulled me aside and told me the most effective means of closing a sale is to write a handwritten thank-you note after your initial meeting with the customer. I have found this to be a valuable technique for rewarding travel service employees as well.
I tested the idea before completing the second edition of my book, The Penny Pincher's Passport to Luxury Travel by going to 33 hotels in the San Diego area, ranging from the super-deluxe Aviara Four Seasons to the moderate Hyatt Islandia. I questioned service employees ranging from front-desk agents to concierges, bell staff, pool staff, reservations agents and housekeeping personnel.
Eighty-nine percent of the employees surveyed said they would prefer a written letter praising their quality of service to a tip. The only exception was the concierge group, of which 67 percent preferred cash. The most common reason for preferring a letter over a tip was that a letter goes into the employee's personnel file and helps them when it comes time for merit raises, promotions or job movement.
So, when you're out there traveling this Thanksgiving, remember to give thanks. Whether it's a smile, a sincere thank-you or a gracious letter, it will do more than pay tribute to the dedicated individuals who are giving you their time, service and expertise.
It could also land you an upgrade.

Joel Widzer