BUSINESS TRAVELERS MAY have rare access to cut-rate rooms at four-star hotels and deep discounts at fine dining establishments, but travel costs can still take a pretty big toll on their bottom line.
Making matters worse these days is that a lack of demand and rising costs have airlines cutting back on flights, putting lower-priced seating in short supply. Tack on added service fees for everything from checking luggage to using a hotel’s gym, and some business travelers could get stuck paying an extra $400 a trip, notes Hervé Sedky, vice president and general manager of American Express Business Travel’s global advisory services.
While the easiest way to avoid paying higher prices is to scrap business travel altogether, some businesses can’t afford to lose valuable face-to-face time with their clients, says Brendan J. O’Keefe, an accountant and financial advisor in Orleans, Mass.
Here are six tips to keep your employees on the road without breaking the bank:
Determine which meetings will have the biggest return on investment, says Kevin Maguire, president and CEO of the National Business Travel Association in Austin, Texas. If it doesn’t make financial sense to spend $2,000 to ship your pitchman to the client’s offices in Sacramento, where the sale could likely be small, then convene via conference call, video or web conference.
Revise travel policies
Can your employees make a profit off the per diems you set? Can they pocket the frequent-flier miles off the airfare your company pays for? Take a close look at your business’s travel policy and make sure money isn’t getting thrown out the window, says Maguire. Also, set expense limits and ensure that employees adhere to them.
Require employees to book in advance
For the best rates, book flights at least 14 to 21 days in advance, says Tom Parsons, CEO of discount airfares site BestFares.com. Then, keep a lookout for discounts, he says. If you spot a flight deal that’ll save you more than $150 (the typical rate for changing a ticket) scoop it up, he says. You can typically redeem that ticket later. ( Click here for our story on budgeting for business travel.)
Use rewards cards
Even though some rewards cards have made it more difficult to earn and redeem rewards , the points can still add up. The 39 employees at Capital Inventory , a Woodstock, Ga., pharmacy inventory service manage to rack up an average 1.25 million rewards points each year, amounting to annual savings of $40,000 to $50,000 on air travel, says founder Bill Straub.
Become a member
For a minimal membership cost, joining an organization like AAA and AARP can result in serious travel savings. For instance, AAA members can save 10% on Amtrak’s Metroliner Service between New York and Washington on weekdays. Also, seek out company-backed rewards programs such as Hotels.com’s welcomerewards program, which gives members one free night’s stay at its properties after they book 10 nights through the site. (The free night is limited to $400.)