Sometimes business meetings absolutely, positively need to be face to face. You press the flesh, assess body language and facial expressions, and cut to the chase with rapid-fire exchanges. A recent U.S. Travel Association-commissioned study underscores the value of in-person interactions: For every dollar a company spent on business travel, it generated almost $3 in profit. To reduce your trip costs, Carol Margolis, an international speaker and consultant, and the author of Business Travel Success, helped compile these 34 ways to painlessly trim spending.
1. Lock in your rate early. “I try to buy my tickets about six weeks out if I’m certain of my travel,” says Margolis, who opts for cheaper, nonrefundable fares.
2. Use alternative airports. Lower-cost airlines often operate flights out of secondary airports—for instance, Chicago’s Midway versus O’Hare or Houston’s Hobby versus Intercontinental—which drives down prices on all of the airlines. Travel websites such as Kayak.com usually have a “check nearby airports” option for comparison-shopping; just make sure extra ground transportation costs don’t swallow your savings.
3. Fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. “Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday have the highest costs, mainly due to people starting and ending vacations and business travel,” Margolis says.
4. Consider charter flights. In certain circumstances—such as when you have multiple employees heading to the same place at once—booking your own plane could be an economical, time-saving alternative.
5. Fork over $49 per year for the pro version of the TripIt mobile app. In addition to other cool features, TripIt Pro alerts you if your reserved flights decline in price, allowing you to click for a cheaper deal and refund.
Whittling Hotel Costs
6. Avoid city-center hotels. In destinations like Boston and Washington, D.C., which have public transit systems, opt for accommodations in outlying areas.
7. If you’ll be in one locale for a while, check out extended-stay hotels such as TownePlace Suites, Homestead Studio Suites and Extended Stay America. Some traditional hotels have weekly or monthly rates, but even with those discounts, you’re typically paying more than at extended-stay hotels.
8. Call a hotel directly to get special rates. “Weekend rates are common,” Margolis says, “sometimes with check-in on Thursday night, and aren’t always available online at the hotel chain’s website.” Good ol’ haggling can work, too, but call the hotel itself, not the toll-free number.
9. Don’t rule out a hostel. While still no-frills, many hostels are upgrading to include amenities such as private rooms with private baths, free Wi-Fi, and onsite bars and restaurants to appeal to more and older travelers. Stay on Main in Los Angeles, for example, boasts a work desk, flat-screen TV and iPod docking station in all rooms, and even has a fitness center, conference room and concierge services.
10. If you’re traveling spur of the moment, check for rooms via the free HotelTonight app. Hotels supply last-minute deals on their unsold rooms, with discounts up to 70 percent. Another hotel booking service to consider is Tingo.com, a free site that automatically sends you a refund if the price of the room drops after you reserve it.
11. Share a room and the cost. If you’re headed to a big association meeting or industry conference, find out whether anyone you know (and like!) is going and would be willing to share a room.
12. Watch for hidden fees. U.S. hotels collected a record of about $1.95 billion in surcharges last year, so check the full price, not just the nightly rate. Fees for Internet, parking, etc., can quickly add up.
Cutting Car-Rental Costs
14. Don’t automatically rent at the airport. Taxes, insurances and fees are often cheaper at non-airport sites. For example, renting a car at the San Francisco airport will cost you twice as much or more than it would if you rented the same car in Marin County. “Even when you add in the cost of taking public transportation or a cab to the off-airport site, you’ll still almost always come out ahead,” Margolis says. She cites this for-instance: “When I travel to Chicago, I take a $25 cab to the suburb I’m going to and have them drop me at Hertz. The taxes and fees are so much less that it pays to do this whenever I have a multiday trip. And when returning the car, there’s no drop-off charge to take it back to the airport, so I have taxi fare only one way.” Margolis also suggests this trick: “Take the complimentary hotel shuttle bus to your hotel and book a car for the next day,” saving a day’s rental.
15. Ask your credit card company whether car insurance coverage is included in your benefits. “They are with my cards,” says Margolis, “so I never pay for additional insurance unless I’m renting a car abroad.” And you know this, but it’s worth repeating: Never buy gasoline from the rental agency; you’ll pay way less by filling up before returning the car.
16. Bring your own GPS or use a navigation tool on your mobile phone instead of paying extra for a car with a GPS. Says Margolis: “I use NAVIGON [$59.99 for North America] and Google Maps [free] on my iPhone.”
17. Consider a car-sharing service like Zipcar. While there is generally a one-time setup cost and a small monthly or annual fee (Zipcar’s basic plan has a $25 application fee and costs $60 a year), you can still save because gas and insurance are already included in the rental cost, plus you can reserve a car for as little as an hour.
Finding Food for Less
18. Book a room on the hotel’s club level (also called the concierge or executive floor), an area where guests receive special perks such as a private check-in desk and access to a special lounge with free food and drink.
Says Margolis: “While it may be $50 or so more a night, it will include breakfast, usually a light lunch and dinner, and complimentary water and soft drinks. This can save a lot in meals and beverages. And the room is almost always nicer.”
19. Avoid room service charges and tips by calling the hotel restaurant directly and placing an order for pickup.
20. Stay at a hotel that offers a free breakfast. “Embassy Suites is one of my favorites for their full made-to-order breakfast,” Margolis says. Plus, you can take an extra muffin or piece of fruit with you as a midday snack.
21. Make your meals. Eating out can be an expensive proposition, especially when you factor in tax and tip and intangibles like parking. Rooms at longer-stay hotels such as Homewood Suites have full kitchens so you don’t have to dine out as much, which can save you a ton on food. Marriott’s Residence Inn hotels even offer free grocery delivery.
Trimming Transportation Bucks
23. Try the train, which can be a cost-effective alternative to airplanes and rental cars. Bonus: Amtrak is upgrading its Wi-Fi service to 4G.
24. Share a cab. Before you get in the taxi line, ask whether anyone is headed to the same airport or same nearby hotel; if so, suggest sharing the ride and splitting the cost.
25. Pare your parking costs. Avoid pricey valet or self-parking at hotels by parking in a nearby public garage or on the street. Park in the airport’s long-term lot or near, but outside, the airport. (Inflight magazines and boarding passes often have coupons from The Parking Spot, which operates lots outside airports and has a convenient shuttle service.) Another way to save on airport parking: Some airport-adjacent hotels with shuttles will let you check in the night before your morning flight, drive you to the airport and allow you to leave your car on their lot for free. Of course, your trip needs to be long enough that one night’s lodging (including taxes and fees) is cheaper than any parking fees.
26. Save at the pump. Statistically, gasoline is cheapest on Wednesday mornings. And fuel almost always goes up on holidays, so fill up at least three days before. A free mobile app like GasBuddy can show you the best prices at area stations. Also note that some stations may charge credit card users more than cash-paying customers.
All Sorts of Savings
27. Pack light and avoid airline luggage fees. A checked bag can cost you $25 or more, so limit yourself to a carry-on. The website Minimus.biz sells almost everything you might need—from mouthwash to mustard—in travel-size packets.
28. Leverage loyalty program discounts. Becoming a member of a rewards program is a great way to cut travel costs.
29. Never spend money on things you already have. For example, bring snacks for your flight so you don’t have to buy expensive airport or airplane food. And download reading and viewing materials to your e-reader or tablet so you won’t be tempted to pay for in-room movies.
30. Find social media deals. Follow the hotels, airlines and rental car agencies you use the most on Twitter or Facebook; they often offer discounts and special promotions. Also follow travel-related Twitter chats. “For example, #TNI may award a Hyatt stay,” Margolis says. “#travelskills has offered Best Western gift cards. Search for these hashtags on Twitter.”
31. Consult the experts. Travel agents are trained to seek the best prices and often have relationships with certain vendors, so consider using a qualified agent or corporate travel agency like Orbitz for Business, especially for long, complicated trips with multiple stops and/or employees. An agency may charge anywhere from $25 to book a domestic flight to $100 an hour to plan an entire trip, but in many cases, the savings will match or exceed the fee.
32. Avoid paying for expensive hotel dry cleaning. Pack a travel-size bottle of Dry Cleaner's Secret Wrinkle Releaser Plus spray (available for $5.99 at sites like Walgreens.com and Drugstore.com), or walk your clothes to the nearest laundry or dry cleaner.
33. Find free or cheap workspace on the road. Out of town and need a place to look over those reports or meet with clients? You don’t have to rent an expensive hotel meeting room. At LiquidSpace.com, you can find office space available by the hour or day. A private room at the Suites 400 office in Dallas will run you $20 an hour, for example, while you can buy a $5 day pass to use a co-working space at the YetiZen Innovation Lab in San Francisco. Some of the smaller, open areas available, like those at partnering Marriott hotels, won’t cost you a dime.
34. Join the club. Join organizations such as AAA (basic membership costs vary; it’s $69 a year in the Mid-Atlantic region) or AARP ($16 a year for anyone 50 or older) for discounts on everything from dining to Disney World tickets. Says Margolis: “I use AAA’s free iPhone app for finding discounts near me wherever I am in the U.S. And its hotel discounts are worth the membership cost many times over.”