When gearing up for a business trip, small business owners have a variety of decisions and questions to consider. Who are the key stakeholders you need to meet? Where will you stay? Do you need to rent a car? And of course, what do you hope to accomplish?
But how can you save money on business travel costs? After all, travel is often one of the biggest expense categories for companies. Common causes include high costs for last-minute flights, spending on unnecessary trips, and expensive hotel rooms in metropolitan cities.
The good news -- business travel doesn’t have to blow your budget. If you follow a few (surprisingly simple) rules, any small business owner can effectively reduce their business travel costs. Find out how, below.
Consider whether travel is really necessary
Video conferencing technology makes remote meetings easier than ever. In fact, you may not actually need to meet with clients in person as often as you think. Look into services such as Zoom, BlueJeans, or even Google Hangouts. If a meeting or presentation would be just as compelling and effective over a screen as in person, it may be better for your budget to skip the trip.
That’s not to say that all business trips are unnecessary. In fact, face-to-face meetings can often lead to more effective communication, since you’re able to read each other’s body language and emotional reactions. Face-to-face meetings reduce the need to depend on technology (which can sometimes go arwy) and it's often better to have more difficult or intensive conversations in-person to avoid miscommunication and build trust.
We know that emergencies happen, and sometimes, unforeseen circumstances may force you to book a last-minute business flight. However, it’s better for your budget to book flights in advance when possible.
The "sweet spot" to save the most money to book flights at least three weeks in advance of your business trip, according to global data from the travel site Expedia. The good news if you're flying within the UK? Waiting to purchase a flight within those three weeks probably won't make much of a difference in the price, as travel service Concur reports.
Compare fares on different days
You may be able to save even more if you’re flexible with your dates or times of flights. Use travel sites such as Google Flights or Skyscanner with flexible-date searches to compare how prices will vary from one day to another. Find the most inexpensive flight options, and then check to see if those dates work for the person you’re meeting. If not, go for the next cheapest. Also, keep in mind travel during the week, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is often less expensive than weekends, since you’re not competing with holiday travellers.
Beware of hidden fees
Sometimes, you come across an incredible price that sounds too good to be true. And unfortunately, sometimes it is. Double-check the fine print to make sure that the flight cost includes common airline fees, such as a seat assignment or carry-on baggage. That said, if you find an amazing deal and you’re willing to sacrifice features like a larger carry-on or pre-flight seat selection, those budget airlines can offer a great deal.
Set an employee travel policy
If employees are booking their own accommodations, create ground rules to ensure costs stay within budget. For instance, stick to two- or three-star hotels, or limit your and your employees’ options to a certain chain of hotels that tend to have more reasonable prices. You can also consider checking out Airbnb or VRBO to see if their offerings in the area are less expensive than hotels. If employees from your business will be travelling regularly, talk to a hotel group – you may be able to negotiate a discounted rate or other benefits.
In general, try calling hotels in advance to inquire about any specials or discounted rates if you pay in full before your stay. Look to stay in a hotel that offers complimentary airport transportation -- cutting out the pricey fares that an Uber or taxi would charge.
Use a travel rewards card to earn points
When you use a credit card with travel rewards for your small business expenses, your spending can often add up to great deals. Just redeem your points to receive free or discounted flights for your business travel (taxes and fees will still apply). Plus, when you use an airline-branded credit card to book your travel, you’ll earn extra miles on the dollars you spend -- talk about a win-win situation.