Travel can be a big-budget expense for small businesses. Yet it is one of the largest controllable expenses for many firms. You can save money by picking the right time to travel, planning ahead, and maneuvering through the market. Here are some simple rules to follow that can reduce travel costs without sacrificing a valuable means of doing business.
Ask, "Is this trip really necessary?" Teleconferencing, conference calls, fax machines, and online meetings ( http://www.webex.com) can sometimes serve as a substitute for business trips. If you must travel, then schedule long business trips with several stops versus making a series of one-day trips.
Book tickets wisely. Try to avoid buying tickets on a weekend -- that is when airlines try out fare increases. Weekend fare tests usually end by Tuesday. Become a member of an airline's "elite" frequent flier program. You gain this status by flying a certain number of flight segments in a year (25 or 30) or a minimum number of miles (say 25,000). Elite members get priority when it comes to upgrades.
Whip out those membership cards. Value-added programs are everywhere. From your American Automobile Association, American Association of Retired Persons, or trade association memberships to your grocery store club, most program cards can be used for a discount on other products and services, including travel accommodations. Look for details in your membership booklets. Remember to carry your restaurant discount card, too. The IGT Card ( http://www.igtcard.com/index2.htm) and the Transmedia card ( http://www.transmediacard.com), for example, generally offer 25% off all food and beverage charges at participating restaurants in major cities.
Name your own price -- and save. That is the service mark of Priceline.com ( http://www.priceline.com). The company offers deals on airline tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars, and more. You say what you want to pay, and service providers respond because they always have more than they can sell. One bootstrapper got a room at the four-star Wyndham Checkers Hotel for $85 per night in Los Angeles.