Traveling for business can be a costly proposition; you are often on the road at peak times (and paying peak prices for it), and if a few people from the office are on the trip, the company’s travel expenses can go through the roof. Following are some travel hacks and airfare saving tips to keep your business travel expenses low.
1. Ask for corporate discounts.
No matter how large or small your traveling entourage is, it behooves you to ask what corporate discounts are in place. Many hotel chains, car rental services, travel agents, and even some airlines have discount programs for companies. All you have to do is ask!
2. Consider the train.
It’s less expensive, better for the environment, and more comfortable than air travel. Business class and first class tickets don’t involve quite the markup that first class plane tickets do, and you’ll get heaps of legroom, power outlets, and great service.
If it’s a long ride, you can book a sleeping berth for less than you think. With showers and dining facilities on-board, you can step off the train just as fresh as you were when you boarded. Not only will it most likely beat the cost of airfare (plus transportation to and from the airports), but you can also save money on that first (or last) night of accommodation, and arrive to that business meeting ready to make waves.
3. Join a frequent flyer program and use a rewards credit card for business expenses.
You’ll rack up lots of points, and you can reward yourself — or your employees — with an upgraded flight when the time comes. It’s also a great employee perk if you give them the option of accumulating their own frequent flyer miles for their business flights (even if the company pays for the flights).
4. Use car-sharing services instead of renting a car.
If you are a member of a car sharing program in your home town, you may be able to use their services in the city you are visiting as well. This will save you on costly rentals, since you can have a car suited specifically to your needs and schedule — not just the blanket duration of your trip as with a rental.
5. Don’t go.
Admittedly it isn’t always possible, but the truth is if you can avoid it, you stand to save a lot of money by simply not taking that business trip. Instead, have that “face-to-face” meeting by taking advantage of video conferencing services and other telecommunications technology.
6. Pre-print your boarding pass.
Most airlines allow you to check in and allocate your seat 24 hours prior to your departure. This strategy is especially beneficial if you are traveling with carry-on luggage only, but even with checked bags you can proceed to the designated drop-off zone and save waiting in long check-in lines.
7. Know where you’re sitting.
While you are checking in early, make sure you reserve the good seats with SeatGuru. This site shows you the exact layout of the plane you’ll fly by searching the carrier and route. They color code the seats to show you the best ones so you can ensure you’re sitting in one of them. Generally speaking, you want to sit towards the front of the plane to avoid lengthy disembarking procedures. If you are traveling with just carry-on luggage and don’t have to wait for checked bags to come out, sitting close to the front of the plane and walking out of the airport before the luggage carousel is even fired up will feel especially luxurious.
8. Ask for an upgrade.
Although many upgrades to business and first class seats are allocated to frequent flyer mile holders with elite status, it never hurts to ask nicely if there is room at the front of the plane for you. Best results often come from asking at the gate, well in advance of the flight departure. In some cases they’ll offer you a chance to purchase an upgrade, but sometimes they’ll just give you one for free since you asked so nicely.
9. Book your flights in advance.
Although there once was a time when last-minute flights (for example those booked within a week of departure) were inexpensive, those days are largely gone. The earlier you book the better, but try to book your flights at least 14 days in advance.
10. Don’t fly with the commuters.
Mondays and Fridays are big travel days, due in part to those business people who commute to work. Book around these times, and you’re likely to save money on not only airfare, but accommodation in some cases as well.
11. Don’t limit yourself to standard search engines.
Although most online travel providers will comparison shop for you, they also omit many of the regional and budget carriers from their searches. Make sure you aren’t missing out on a screaming deal by checking out Which Budget (which shows you what budget airlines fly the route you are looking for), or Attitude Travel (where you can find low-cost airlines by region).
12. Use regional airports.
Again often missed by major search engines (and even some travel agents), be sure to check out what the smaller regional airports can offer. For example, the best way to fly to Toronto from select U.S. cities is with Porter Airlines, which flies into Toronto’s regional Island Airport. From there, you’re the world’s shortest ferry ride away from the heart of downtown Toronto. Here are just some of the potential benefits of flying with regional airports:
- You’ll save time and money on transportation to and from large airports.
- You’ll save money on airport taxes by using regional airports in lieu of larger international ones.
- Security lines and checkpoints are usually smaller.
- Regional airports often cater to business travelers, so the quality of travel and service can be superior.
13. Use online travel services for businesses.
Although these services may not save you money per se, you will save the time (and aggravation) of researching and booking your own travel arrangements. Not only that, but in many cases, they will advocate on your behalf if something goes wrong mid-trip. Just making a phone call to somebody who can solve your problem while you’re in the midst of a business trip can be valuable.
American Express Travel offers full service travel arrangements for businesses, including finding competitive cars, hotels, and flights.
Open a Travelocity Business account, and you will get some added benefits like unused ticket tracking and free 24-hour travel support. You also have the ability to store your membership and credit card information to save time on future bookings. Standard Travelocity services include comparative searches for rental cars, hotels, and flights.
As another full-service online travel site, at Orbitz for Business you can compare and book all your business travel expenses. And if your fare drops after you book your ticket, Orbitz will refund you the difference.
14. Use a travel agent.
Although many of the resources here point to online searches and online travel providers, there is something to be said for developing a relationship with the proverbial travel agent next door. You will get truly personalized service (especially if you are a regular business travel customer and develop a relationship with them), and this becomes especially important if you need their help mid-stream. Rarely do you pay more than you would if you book online, and you’ll save time in outsourcing this responsibility to somebody in the industry.
What is your experience? Do you have any money (or time) saving travel hacks and airfare saving tips for fellow business owners? Feel free to share your two cents in the comments.