The best long-haul travel apps for your smartphone

Apps to help you catch taxis overseas

BlaBlaCar, HailO and Uber are just a few of the global ride-sharing apps available around the world. Video: New York Times

Do you recall what it was like to travel without an app-laden smartphone? I certainly do, and it's not a rose-hued memory of "the good old days".

Yes, it was still fun – but that's because it's all that I knew. Today I'd be loathe to step back in time to the era before Apple and Android, because a legion of travel-friendly apps now saves me time and makes the time I have even more enjoyable.

I've got scores of travel apps loaded onto my iPhone, but rather than list an outright 'top 10', here's a practical take on the subject.

This week I flew from Sydney to London to see some new concepts in business class and first class cabins being developed by Airbus.

Here's a rundown of the apps I used from the journey's start to finish.

An upgrade from business class to first class ... is arguably one of the best ways to use your Qantas points.

The links will take you to each app's listing on the iTunes Store, but most are also available for Android phones and can be found by searching in the Google Play app store.

To the airport

My trips usually begin by hitching a ride with Uber.

The only catch is that with Uber being an 'on demand' service, if you have a very early morning run to the airport you'll want to check for drivers in your local area ahead of time.

One way around this: if you get to know an Uber driver who happens to live nearby, get their mobile phone number and then SMS them the day prior to 'book' your ride.


They can be outside your door at the appointed time and once you're in the car you summon an Uber ride and he can immediately accept into the booking.

By this point I've already used the Qantas app to select my seat and snare an upgrade from business class to first class – at only 60,000 frequent flyer points all the way from Sydney to London, it's arguably one of the best ways to use your Qantas points.

If you're not already using an airline app for your trips with any carrier, you owe it to yourself to try them out. They've come a long way since those clunky first versions.

I'm also a convert to airport apps such as the one issued by Sydney Airport.

Best feature? On the way to the airport I choose my QF1 flight and tap a button to 'subscribe' to alerts such as delays, changes to the boarding gate, and notifications once boarding commences and when it's the final call to board.

Up, up and away

With some time in the excellent Qantas First Lounge before the long flight ahead, I fire up Spotify.

Although Spotify is a streaming music service which relies on a 3G/4G or WiFi connection, one feature of the Premium package is the ability to download music for playing offline.

Having a Premium subscription, I use the lounge's WiFi to download a series of albums and playlists for use during the flight.

(The Premium subscription costs $12/month, which at $3/week is well worth it, and there's a current trial offer for three months of Spotify Premium for just $1.)

Also during the flight I tend to watch a collection of my own videos – it's the perfect environment for some indulgent binge viewing.

I most often watch videos on my MacBook Air, but Apple's own QuickTime app doesn't work with the many formats and flavours of downloaded videos.

I find the free MPV plays anything I'll throw at it, although for advanced features such as choosing different audio tracks or displaying subtitles, VideoLAN's VLC (also free) can't be beat and also plays a variety of audio and streaming files.

Friends who use their iPads for inflight video recommend Infuse and AVPlayerHD. The free version of Infuse plays many, but not all video files. It'll take a $15 upgrade to Infuse Pro to load some additional video formats, while the $4.50 AVPlayerHD also has its share of fans.

London calling

During QF1's stopover at Dubai I call up the Heathrow Express app and book my ticket on the time-saving fast train from Heathrow straight through to Paddington.

The digital barcode ticket loads directly in the app, so there's no need to queue at the ticket machines once you get to Heathrow.

(If you have Gold status with any Star Alliance airline you'll also get a free upgrade to first class on the Heathrow Express, although there's only 15 minutes to enjoy it before the ride is over.)

Getting from London's Paddington Station to my hotel is a doddle with Rome2Rio.

This app version of the popular website shows all your transport options – train, bus, taxi, Uber and even walking – between any two given locations.

It's especially useful for navigating extensive and interlocking subway systems such as in London, Tokyo and New York.

Out and about

There's no need for a currency conversion app in the UK: sadly, to convert from UK pounds to Aussie dollars at the moment, you just double the price.

When something more complicated is called for, I use the free and superbly simple Currency app; other colleagues also use Currency Converter and the more advanced XE Currency.

Finally, because I love a good coffee, as soon as I'm checked into my hotel I scope out the best local cafes with the aptly-named London's Best Coffee app.

Oh, and you don't need an app to realise that many of London's highest-rated cafes boast Aussie baristas.

What are your favourite smartphone apps for your travels? Let us know in the comment section below.

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.