Bargains for business travelers seem to be growing ever more elusive. But if staying on the move is the only way you're going to stay in business, we've got some ideas on how to cut corners without curtailing your activities. Inc surveyed five entrepreneurs who told us how they keep a lid on sky-high travel costs.
Ron LaVine, president of Intellworks Inc., a sales-training company in Oak Park, Calif., travels constantly to conduct workshops on cold-calling techniques. LaVine used to pay for his own airfare, hotel rooms, meals, and car rentals and then submit the receipts to his clients and wait -- usually for several weeks -- for reimbursement. Now he uses Web sites and a travel agent to calculate those expenses in advance; then he builds the costs into each training agreement. That way, clients pay the charges up front, freeing LaVine "to focus on being a sales trainer rather than a bill collector," he says.
Bernard Plishtin, president and CEO of software-video producer Hot Roof Inc., in Great Barrington, Mass., banned the company's use of outside travel agencies for booking hotel rooms. Instead, his 12 employees arrange their own accommodations using a variety of self-service sites like the Hotel Reservations Network ( www.hoteldiscount.com), Hotels.com, and Lodging.com. His staffers typically save 25% to 50% per room and often wind up in far better digs than they did when agents handled the job. For example, Plishtin says, the company routinely paid $200 to $250 a night -- and often more -- for agent-arranged accommodations in New York City. Recently, Plishtin's assistant used an on-line site to book a room at the Algonquin Hotel in midtown Manhattan for $129 a night.
Bill Marbach, vice-president of sales at Lodging.com, an on-line hotel-reservations service in Boca Raton, Fla., says his company has its own internal travel secret. Its executives buy unused Southwest Airlines mileage vouchers on eBay and then give them to employees for business travel. The company typically pays $250 to $300 for the vouchers, "a good rate for a cross-country or last-minute trip," says Marbach. One caveat: People can't sell their mileage vouchers, but they can give them away. So when offering them on auction sites, sellers list another item for sale, tacking on the voucher as a "bonus."
Mary Sadlier, executive vice-president at Advertising Ventures Inc., a $4-million ad agency in Providence, R.I., says that her 20 employees use a company credit card that allows them to accrue points toward Marriott Gift Cheques for all their business expenses. The company gets points for every dollar charged on the cards and then trades those points for the Cheques, which the hotel chain accepts for rooms, meals, conference-room rentals, equipment fees, and gift-shop charges. "This is different from the regular frequent-flier programs, where the points go to the employees," Sadlier says. "These go right to the company, and we use them to offset other costs." Participating credit cards include American Express, which allows customers to transfer frequent-buyer points to Marriott's program, and the Marriott Rewards Visa Signature Card, available through the hotel chain's Web site, www.marriottrewards.com.
Peter M. Kash, a business-book author and senior managing director at Paramount Capital Inc., a New York City-based biotech venture-capital firm, has traveled to more than 50 countries on business. A month or two before his overseas trips, Kash calls the consul general in the country he plans to visit and speaks to the commercial attachÉ. That person often helps Kash make important connections -- at no charge. The early groundwork saves time by getting Kash to the people who can be most helpful to his business. It also saves thousands of dollars per trip by eliminating the need to hire local consultants or intermediaries.