When you own your own business and pay all of the bills, business travel takes on new meaning. Unlike corporate travelers who are backed by expense accounts and expect upgrades and perks, you are clearly fixed on the bottom line.
The good news is that even in these times of rising travel prices, there are still plenty of opportunities to trim travel costs and save money. Here are 10 tips for getting a handle on your travel budget.
- Create and distribute a travel policy. A travel policy can help you control business travel costs and provide your employees with clear guidelines about the types and amounts of allowable expenses. Your written travel and expense policy should also include consequences for violating it.
- Search the Web for bargains. Forget the days of picking up the phone and booking a flight. If you want to cut travel costs, you’ll need to hone your fare-search tactics. Popular travel sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, LastMinuteTravel.com, Priceline, and Hotwire make it easy for you to find reasonably priced hotels, airline tickets, and rental cars.
- Volunteer to get bumped. If your flight is overbooked and the airline asks for volunteers to take a later flight, step forward. Most airlines offer generous travel vouchers that can save you big bucks on your next trip. As a business traveler your travel plans may not always be flexible, but if you can be, you could get a free ticket for your time.
- Join your preferred airline’s frequent-flier program. Free trips, airport club access, and hotel discounts are among the perks you’ll receive for booking flights on the same airline.
- Establish a uniform reporting system. Get all your employees on the same page with standardized forms for reporting expenses. This helps ensure that every report is accurate and can be easily reviewed by you and your accountant.
- Meet virtually. Virtual meetings can reduce your travel costs, boost productivity, and even increase morale. While there will always be cases where meeting face to face is best, virtual meetings can eliminate the need for business travel. Virtual meeting options include videoconferencing, Web conferencing, teleconferencing, and online collaboration.
- Negotiate lower travel and lodging prices. In the past, small businesses didn’t have the power to negotiate lower prices. But if you travel enough, you may be able to get better rates. More and more travel-related businesses have begun offering special discounts to small and medium-sized businesses.
- Use a single corporate credit card for all travel and entertainment expenses. This simplifies the bookkeeping process, and may even earn you airline miles if you use the right card.
- Take advantage of convention discounts. Convention organizers often work with local hotels to offer discounted rates to attendees. Find out which hotels are affiliated with the convention, and always ask for the discounted convention rate. If you are traveling to a convention, find out if the meeting planners have secured travel discounts for attendees. Ask if the company with whom you are doing business recommends a local hotel, as usually they will receive a discounted rate from which you can benefit with this association.
- Take advantage of tax deductions. Business travel costs can be deducted as a business expense. If your travel is all business, you can deduct all the travel-related expenses; if your travel is part business and part pleasure, you can deduct the portion that was business-related. If, for example, you extended your stay at your business destination, made a sightseeing side trip, or had other nonbusiness activities, you can deduct only the portion of your travel expenses that relate to business.