Whether you’re flying out to meet with a client or present at a conference, traveling for business can be as costly as it is necessary. Sure, you’ve examined past expense reports and set aside a budget–but how else can you avoid unnecessary costs? With a little forethought and these six tips, you can shave hundreds of dollars off of your next business trip.
1. Book early–but not too early.
When searching for the best time to purchase a plane ticket, you’ll find a wide range of advice. However, a 2013 study by CheapAir analyzed over 4 million trips in the hopes of settling the debate once and for all. They found that booking “54 days in advance” will give you the lowest rate, with the next best opportunity anywhere between 29 and 104 days before your trip. However, the rate at which prices soar and decline will vary based on your destination, the number of tickets already sold, and the current/projected price of oil. International flights, for example, should be booked much earlier than 54 days.
The best strategy by far is to start taking note of ticket prices as soon as possible. If you’re still well outside the 54 day mark, keep an eye out for deals or packages in the months leading up to your trip. When in doubt, book earlier rather than later–the CheapAir study also debunks the persistent rumor that waiting until 24 hours before the flight takes off will mean big last-minute savings. In fact, the average difference between the cheapest rate and the worst was $312! If you find yourself having to fly out on short notice, know that ticket prices steadily increase over the final 14 days–if you don’t have the luxury of strategizing, just book as soon as you can.
2. Be open-minded about your travel days.
When you travel can have just as big an impact on cost as where you go and for how long. To save money, most people opt to limit the time they’re away from home. But depending on hotel and meal prices, you may find it’s actually less expensive to stay an extra night. How? Remember that hotel and airfare rates fluctuate based on season, fuel prices, and the number of guests. Weekday flights, particularly Tuesdays and Wednesdays, can be significantly cheaper than popular travel days like Saturdays and Sundays. If your schedule is flexible, look for the best combination of travel and hotel fees. This is especially true of promotional deals from booking services–don’t assume that a combined flight and hotel package for 4 nights will always cost more than separate bookings for 2-3.
That being said, don’t rely on pre-made packages without investigating all of your other options. Consider flying to alternate airports or mixing-and-matching your airlines. For example, flying United out of SFO, then taking American Airlines to OAK on your return trip might cost less than a roundtrip ticket with either.
3. Don’t pay for internet.
These days, internet access is essentially mandatory for those looking to work while traveling. But Hotel WiFi can be steep and unreliable, especially during a crowded conference. If using the internet is integral to your business trip, consider it an incentive to save even more money on cheaper lodging: a recent study shows that more “budget-friendly” hotels like Quality, Ramada, and Best Western tend to have fast, free WiFi. Meanwhile, the Hiltons and Marriotts, in addition to being more expensive, are more likely to charge for internet access.
Stuck somewhere without WiFi? Remember that most smart phones can also be used as a mobile hotspot. Just make sure your mobile plan offers enough data to perform any necessary e-mailing, document sharing, and social media while you’re away–otherwise you’ll be paying for overage fees!
4. Traveling abroad? Plan ahead to avoid roaming charges.
If your business requires you to spend a lot of time overseas, you’ll want to find a mobile plan with flexible international rates. Depending on how often you travel abroad, this could mean the ability to activate international coverage only on the months or days of your trip. Some carriers like T-Mobile even allow unlimited data and texting all over the world at no additional charge.
Using a temporary prepaid SIM card will keep costs low, but it won’t be tied to your current mobile number. However, this is only an option for unlocked GSM devices, which disqualifies a great deal of phones sold in the US. If you want to completely avoid roaming voice or data fees, take advantage of free VOIP and messaging services via WiFi. Regardless of your mobile or data plan, this is the safest method of communicating with colleagues and loved ones without unexpected charges.
5. When browsing hotels, look at more than the price of your room.
Finding the right hotel is an excellent way to save on multiple travel expenses with a single decision. Are you the kind of person who needs more than a stale muffin to get through a conference? In addition to free (or cheap) WiFi, choose a hotel with free breakfast. Not all free breakfasts are pitiful–look around until you find a full and satisfying breakfast bar. It’s a simple solution, but replacing ⅓ of each day’s meals with free food adds up fast. And don’t we all want to minimize the fast food receipts on our expense reports?
Depending on the popularity of the venue, you may also want to find lodging close enough to your destination that you won’t need a car or cab. Just make sure to weigh the cost of transportation against the increased cost of a desirable hotel.
Don’t scoff! With soaring ticket prices, busy schedules, and the convenience of Google Hangouts, some businesses are opting out of business travel altogether. There’s no better way to cut back on travel expenses than to eliminate all unnecessary road trips and airfare. While services like Google Hangouts and Skype are great for meetings, there has also been a rise in online or virtual conferences. Worried you won’t be able to network? One of the beauties of livestreamed panels like those at Ensuring Success is the ability to freely engage with colleagues over social media. You might find you connect with peers and vendors you normally wouldn’t have encountered in person.
Be sure to sit down with your team to discuss which conferences require your physical presence, and which can be “attended” from afar. Sometimes embracing video chat even means more effective meetings with clients and coworkers alike.
No matter what your travel expenses, Tallie will save you countless hours by automating your expense reports. Try it for yourself with a 14-day free trial – no credit card, no obligation. Need a helping hand? Our experts can optimize Tallie for your accounting system with a free 1-on-1 product demo. Happy trails!