Ugh, another business trip. Waking up before dawn to go to the airport, squeezing into a coach seat, running into a business meeting, going back to the hotel, grabbing a quick bite of bad food, working until midnight to prepare for the next day’s meeting, putting out new clothes and packing the rest, setting your alarm for an ungodly time in the morning, and collapsing asleep. Rinse, repeat.
What’s worse about all of this when you’re an entrepreneur is that this decidedly unpleasant experience can cost way too much money. You know about many of the cost-saving solutions – credit cardsfor collecting miles, online ticket buying, not checking your bags, home rentals on Airbnb and VRBO – but it can be tough to figure out when to use which tools.
Rather than rushing plan your travel itineraries days before you have to leave, take some time to think about what your needs are going to be over the next few months and then implement a coherent strategy. Here are five guidelines for cost-effective travel planning:
- Before you sign up for credit cards that give you miles or points, figure out what your travel needs are. If you live in a city that is served predominantly by one airline or if your most important client lives in a city that is serviced by only one carrier, it may very well be worth it for you to get a credit card that gives you points towards that specific airline. If you fly a variety of different carriers, however, a more general rewards card may be worthwhile. For example, a Starwood Preferred Guest card could come in handy if you frequently travel to cities where hotel rates are high. Additionally, you can trade in some of those points for flights as well.
- When possible, plan ahead. It’s easier to manage travel costs when you can plan ahead. Airline prices are cheaper when purchased between one and three months in advance. Cheap but decent hotels have more availability when you call sooner rather than later. If you are trying to meet with multiple clients, they will likely have more flexibility to meet with you if you plan further out. Don’t go too far ahead, though; you might spend money unnecessarily by buying tickets too far into the future. Instead, use online tools to try to find the best flight prices. These tools include fare trackers and predictive methods such as the ones available on Kayak.com.
- When you can’t plan ahead, use other resources. Some websites like LastMinuteTravel.com, HotWire.com, and TravelZoo.com offer last minute travel deals on flights, hotels, and even car rentals, cruises, and other vacation packages. If it’s too late to book in advance, use your frequent flyer miles when purchasing a plane ticket to save yourself some money. If all of your favorite hotels are booked, consider using sites like Airbnb or VRBO, where you can rent a room, apartment, or house directly from the property owners.
- Travel light and use public transportation when you can. Try to travel with just one roller bag and a small carry-on, purse, or briefcase for essential items like your cellphone, wallet, and important business documents. There are many reasons to travel light: many airlines charge extra fees for checked bags, waiting at baggage claim takes time, and once you hit the ground, your options for getting around are reduced if you have to lug around large bags. Consider public transportation when traveling form the airport to your hotel. Often, the most expensive cab ride you can take is from the airport to the hotel and back. Many cities offer a public transportation option to major metropolitan hubs, like taking the AirTrain from JFK to Penn Station in New York City, the BART from SFO to downtown San Francisco, or the Heathrow Express from Heathrow to Paddington Station in London. Avoid renting a car if possible. For short local trips at your destination, consider mass transit, ride sharing, or a taxi.
- Don’t rely on the hotel concierge to figure out where to eat. Hotel restaurants tend to be overly expensive and concierges often seem to recommend the same restaurants to all travelers. Use websites like Yelp and Google to find restaurants near your hotel with food in your price range. If you use Airbnb or a similar rental site, you can also save money by picking up light groceries and cooking food in the kitchen you have available. If you are short on time, picking up pre-made or simple meals and microwaving them back at your rental will still be less expensive than eating out for every meal.
Travel is essential for entrepreneurs to meet clients and business partners. It can be a headache, but, with a little planning, at least it doesn’t have to be expensive.