Tips for Saving on Business Travel

A business trip often is meant to solidify relationships with clients and customers or to gain new ones.

Other times it's for sales calls and "meets and greets" with suppliers. In any event, the goal of business travel is generally to make money — not to fritter it away on needless expenses.

Businesses have to keep a close tab on the costs of being on the road. While it might be tempting to cut back on travel costs to save money — especially during tough times — the result could be a drop-off in sales and leads or damage to important business relationships. A better solution might be to figure out a leaner and meaner way to take business trips.

Here are some simple things to do to help keep expenses in check.

The Early Bird Finds the Deal

It pays to start your homework well before you leave. Whether it's booking air travel early or researching hotel prices, online shopping is easy and handy. The various online airline and hotel discount sites — such as Expedia, Orbitz, Hotwire, Travelocity, and Priceline — may offer better deals than the airlines and hotels themselves. But it's the airline aggregator sites that make it simple to compare and contrast the airline ticket and hotel prices from a variety of online discount sources.

Just remember, if you book through a site and not through the hotel directly, you aren't earning member rewards points available through the hotel. Depending on the rate, you may or may not earn frequent flyer points when you book through an airline discount site and not through the airline.

Check Your Calendar

If your travel plans are flexible, look for any and all deals available during certain times of the year. Not surprisingly, it's more expensive to stay in hotels during peak travel times. If you can in certain areas, travel during the week and not over the weekend, and you're sure to get the best rates.

If you're traveling to a popular vacation spot, expect plane tickets to be the most expensive during certain periods and major holidays. Whenever possible, avoid peak travel times and days for extra savings on hotels and flights. Use airline frequent flyer points or other loyalty points to pay for flights and hotel stays, especially to offset the costs when you have to travel during "prime" times.

Jazz singer Billie Holiday once crooned about traveling light, and for small business owners and the self-employed, the advice is one to heed. Today, many more airlines are charging passengers for checked bags. So, if you can, pack the essentials and make sure to bring what you need on the plane as carry-on luggage. Watch over stuffing bags, as airlines may have a weight limit and will charge additional fees for these checked bags.

Carry-ons can't exceed a certain size and weight, so be aware before you leave the ground. Some airlines are even charging for carry-ons. If you're required to take a large number of items with you, it might be cheaper to ship the items and time them to meet you when you get there. If you're using a rental car, you might want to rethink the rental car insurance. Check your auto insurance policy before you leave to find out if it covers rental cars and to what extent.

Time is Money

The increase in airline security has upped the time to get through the airport. If you're a very frequent flyer, you might want to check with the Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) about the possibility of expedited screening at select U.S. airports with certain airlines. Note that the expedited screening, known as TSA PreCheck, does have a fee associated with it.

Resist the Temptation

If your business requires you to be away from home for considerable stretches of time, it can be tempting to treat yourself to expensive dinners or shopping trips when you aren't meeting with customers or clients. Preplan to help avoid overspending. Figure out your agenda in detail, and plan for the possibility of downtime, especially during the day. A little research may reveal some interesting and relatively inexpensive options for filing the time.

Learn from Your Mistakes

It pays to take a look back at your last trip. Review the expenses and formulate a plan to reduce them the next time you leave home. If you haven't already separated your personal and business checking accounts, stop into your bank and ask a representative about the process. This is an important accounting tool to keep your business costs on track and help you provide a clean record, in the event the IRS ask for more information about your deductible business expenses.

Local Travel when You Get There

One big expense for many business people is the back and forth travel from the hotel to the location or office. If you're used to taking cabs, compare the cost with renting a car. If you know you're traveling for business for an extended period of time, research rental car companies and deals online. Reserve before you get there, and make sure to check the compact car options.

If you're in a metropolitan area, you might decide you don't need a rental car at all, depending on the location of your client. Using bus, light rail and subway can be cheaper and quicker travel alternatives. And, of course, the Lyft and Uber services can save you money.

Plot your itinerary, and check out the website of the public transit system before getting there. Most major cities, from San Francisco to Chicago to New York City, have simple-to-read and use transit maps online. Depending on the location, there might also be online travel planners to get you from point A to point B.

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