Airlines are infamous for their hidden fees and shrinking seats, and it's fashionable to talk about how terrible it is to travel. But small-business owners tend to do it anyway. According to an annual report released in 2015 by the Global Business Travel Association, a trade group, total U.S. business travel spending was expected to increase 6.2 percent to $310.2 billion in 2015. According to Certify, a travel and expense report management software company, business travelers spend an average of $949 on airline costs, hotel fees and other expenses in the United States.
It can get even pricier, of course, when you travel internationally. Not that you need to see statistics to know that traveling is expensive. What you need are tips, advice and strategies for stretching your business travel budget.
So if you want to make the most of your next business trip and don't want to just spend blindly, here are five tips and tricks to consider unpacking before you pack your bags.
1. Fly First Class for Less
A few months ago, Adam Bierman, a managing partner at MedMen.com, was traveling three to four times a month. Lately, he has been traveling almost every week to clients and events. As a result, Bierman discovered an interesting strategy for getting more for less.
"Some airlines offer huge discounts when you upgrade your flight 24 hours before your departure," Bierman says. "A first class flight from Los Angeles to New York City can be anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000. An economy ticket for the same flight can range from $300 to $400. Your last-minute upgrade can bump your economy ticket to a first class ticket for an extra $100 to $300. This trick can potentially save you a few hundred dollars."
2. Use Public Transportation
Sure, it's nice to be able to walk to a meeting and be in the thick of things by staying at a hotel in the middle of a metropolis. But Martin Milanov, a digital specialist with FairPoint GmbH, a business-to-business travel agency in Frankfurt, Germany, suggests booking a cozy hotel farther away from downtown but near a bus stop or subway station, to save money and still get into downtown easily. If you need to make it from the airport to the hotel, take a bus, taxi or shuttle.
"The era of rent-a-car is long over," he says. "Using public transportation can save you sometimes hundreds of dollars, especially if you're on a business trip for more than a week."
And if you really want to go on the cheap, you could go to your destination by taking the bus, instead of a plane, train or your car. According to "The Traveler's Tradeoff: Comparing Intercity Bus, Plane & Train Fares Across the United States," a publication from researchers at DePaul University, taking the bus is 50 to 55 percent cheaper than taking the train and 75 percent cheaper than flying.
If you want to hit the road for less, you can check out Busbud.com, which posts bus routes around the world.
3. Try a New App
"It provides incredible data for planning flights, including cheapest days to fly, which days to arrive and depart, alternate airports and a list of direct and indirect flights with the airline and price," she says.
Some of the app's features include notifications for price alerts and a calculator that adds up extra fees based on the airline, says Portillo, "so you know what you are getting into when you purchase a discount fare," including fees for extras like checking bags, selecting a seat, accessing Wi-Fi and having a snack.
"While some business travelers have the luxury of billing those charges back to a client, others are traveling to generate business or for other non-billable reasons, and those fees can really add up," she says.
There are numerous other travel apps and websites that could help you save money on a business trip. For more ideas, check out:
- AwardWallet.com. This free site lets you keep track of your rewards programs. If you rack up a lot of frequent flyer miles or hotel and credit card points, you may find it useful.
- BestParking.com. This site is designed to help you find the best parking spot in the city, possibly useful if you're traveling to a far-flung city for a business meeting.
- iTranslateApp.com. If you're on a business trip where you don't know the language, this app will help you translate words, phrases and text in 90 different languages.
- AirFareWatchdog.com. This is basically what it sounds like: a discount airfare site.
- Neat. This app helps serious business travelers easily keep track of receipts and other documents for tax write-offs or reimbursing employees (price ranges from $5.99 a month to $24.99 a month).
4. Use Coupon Sites
If you're a fan of coupon sites like Groupon, you might want to consider using them not just for your own personal use in the city you live in, but the city you're going to.
"If you're traveling to a bigger city for a conference or business meeting and want to check out some nice dining places or simply want to cut some corners with your budget, go to Groupon, LivingSocial or LocalFlavor.com and their respective phone apps," Milanov suggests. "With a few hours' worth of research, you can sort out the majority of your daily expenses while on a business trip with discounts of up to 50 percent."
5. Get Free Airport Parking
FlightCar is a rental car service with a twist: If you leave your car with FlightCar while you're on your business trip, your car may be rented out. Whether it's rented or not, you'll get free parking and a free car wash. And if it is rented, on top of your savings, you'll even make a little money. So far, it's available at airports in 14 cities: Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle and Washington, DC.
On an average five-day business trip, business travelers can save $100 on airport parking fees and make $30 in rental earnings, according to Rujul Zaparde, FlightCar's CEO and co-founder.
Thirty bucks. Well, it beats sitting for eight hours in a 29-inch seat and paying for pretzels.
Read more articles about business travel.