Budget business travel is more important now than at any other time in our history. Travel budgets are under greater scrutiny. Cost-cutting CEOs want their workers to take fewer trips. They also want expenses on the trips that are absolutely necessary kept to responsible minimums. Unfortunately, some of the cost-cutting measures that leisure travelers employ are impractical or even impossible in the business travel world. Here are some tips that will help you turn out a more pleasing expense report.
A budget must be a realistic and based on destination costs rather than an arbitrary per diem figure. Don't send someone to New York and Cedar Rapids with the same expense account. You can know how much it will cost to send an employee on a given trip before he or she leaves for the airport. If you must travel to expensive destinations, don't despair. Many of the largest and costliest cities also offer money-saving advantages. Paris, London and New York, for example, all offer highly developed and efficient subway systems. It's possible to travel within these cities very inexpensively.
Did you know that there are at least five Internet tools you can use to track airfares, including one that will tell you what people paid on a particular route over the past few days?
Having this kind of information bookmarked can help someone at your small business become a sort of in-house "travel bureau." Get that person familiar with Priceline, car rentals, and transportation passes, too. Then let your expert make arrangements for everyone.
Innkeepers will grimace, but you can sometimes negotiate with hotels on rates. If you'll be staying at a given hotel 10 nights in the next few months, that's 10 nights about which they no longer have to worry about an empty room. That should be worth a special rate if you pay in advance. It never hurts to ask. Hotels give breaks and "corporate rates" all the time...they just don't advertise the fact. If they can get you to pay full price, they're happy. If you can tell them it's between their property and another down the street for your 20 nights of business this quarter, they'll frequently offer some kind of discount.
It's almost always cheaper to invite clients to a nice lunch than a nice dinner. Sometimes a restaurant you can't afford for dinner is within budget at lunchtime. Along these same lines, fill up on a free breakfast if it is offered at your hotel. It might decrease the temptation to order an expensive lunch or dinner.
It's not always possible to pack lightly for a business trip, but the less you lug, the more cost savings are possible. I see business travelers taking local mass transit to the airport all the time--but those travelers don't have three heavy bags in tow. They're carry-on travelers who know it might cost $4.50 to take mass transit instead of paying a cab driver $30.
It sometimes pays to book the smallest model at the lowest price, especially in places where they might not have a lot of sub-compact cars in stock. If they run out, they are required to upgrade you at the sub-compact price.
Waive the insurance offered at the car rental counter if your personal auto insurance or your credit card covers you. Car rental coverage tends to be expensive.
Always ask for a car with a full tank of gas, and be sure to return it full. That way, you're only paying for the gas you burn.
Don't Panic on Short-Notice Trips
First, check the airline "special offer" pages and the budget airlines. Southwest, for example, usually has a "walk-up" (day of) fare that is significantly cheaper than its competitors. Be careful using Priceline for flights, because you can get some very unpleasant schedules in exchange for your savings. On hotels, Priceline often works very well.
The "splurge" is sometimes a business necessity. You don't want to buy your client a cheap steak, and you don't want them to drop you off at the Roach Trap Motel. The challenge is to provide quality at a reasonable price.
Using the Internet to book airfares, hotels and even reserve tables at restaurants makes these splurges less hazardous to your budget's health. For example, Priceline or Hotwire sometimes allow you to buy a three- or four-star room (and the services that come with it) at a one- or two-star price. You can use online menu guides to find restaurants that are upscale yet not outrageously expensive.
Saturday night stays are disappearing as budget airlines write new airfare rules. But a few airfares still require staying over Saturday night. Most business travelers want to be home on weekends, but if you can structure a trip to take advantage of a much lower fare, it's worth consideration.
Speaking of Saturday, it is one of the three cheapest days to fly, along with Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Thursdays follow closely. Mondays and Fridays are frequently more expensive. Book accordingly.
It's obvious advice, but it bears repeating: hands off the mini-bar! You would think twice about paying $8 for a package of peanuts on vacation, so why is a business trip any different? The same is true of $20 in-room movies. Pack a good book or a DVD to watch on your laptop instead.