14 Travel Hacks and Airfare Saving Tips

By Nora Dunn on 28 February 2010 (Updated 2 March 2011) 13 comments
Photo: melhi

Traveling for business can be a costly proposition; you are often on the road at peak times (and paying peak prices for it), and if a few people from the office are on the trip, the company’s travel expenses can go through the roof. Following are some travel hacks and airfare saving tips to keep your business travel expenses low.

1. Ask for Corporate Discounts.

No matter how large or small your traveling entourage is, it behooves you to ask what corporate discounts are in place. Many hotel chains, car rental services, travel agents, and even some airlines have discount programs for companies. All you have to do is ask!

2. Consider the train.

It’s less expensive, better for the environment, and more comfortable than air travel. Business class and first class tickets don’t involve quite the markup that first class plane tickets do, and you’ll get heaps of legroom, power outlets, and great service.

If it’s a long ride, you can book a sleeping berth for less than you think. With showers and dining facilities on-board, you can step off the train just as fresh as you were when you boarded. Not only will it most likely beat the cost of airfare (plus transportation to and from the airports), but you can also save money on that first (or last) night of accommodation, and arrive to that business meeting ready to make waves.

3. Join a frequent flyer program and use a rewards credit card for business expenses.

You’ll rack up lots of points, and you can reward yourself — or your employees — with an upgraded flight when the time comes. It’s also a great employee perk if you give them the option of accumulating their own frequent flyer miles for their business flights (even if the company pays for the flights).

4. Use car-sharing services instead of renting a car.

If you are a member of a car sharing program in your home town, you may be able to use their services in the city you are visiting as well. This will save you on costly rentals, since you can have a car suited specifically to your needs and schedule — not just the blanket duration of your trip as with a rental.

5. Don’t Go.

Admittedly it isn’t always possible, but the truth is if you can avoid it, you stand to save a lot of money by simply not taking that business trip. Instead, have that “face-to-face” meeting by taking advantage of video conferencing services and other telecommunications technology.

6. Pre-print your boarding pass.

Most airlines allow you to check in and allocate your seat 24 hours prior to your departure. This strategy is especially beneficial if you are traveling with carry-on luggage only, but even with checked bags you can proceed to the designated drop-off zone and save waiting in long check-in lines.

7. Know where you’re sitting.

While you are checking in early, make sure you reserve the good seats with SeatGuru. This site shows you the exact layout of the plane you’ll fly by searching the carrier and route. They color code the seats to show you the best ones so you can ensure you’re sitting in one of them. Generally speaking, you want to sit towards the front of the plane to avoid lengthy disembarking procedures. If you are traveling with just carry-on luggage and don’t have to wait for checked bags to come out, sitting close to the front of the plane and walking out of the airport before the luggage carousel is even fired up will feel especially luxurious.

8. Ask for an upgrade.

Although many upgrades to business and first class seats are allocated to frequent flyer mile holders with elite status, it never hurts to ask nicely if there is room at the front of the plane for you. Best results often come from asking at the gate, well in advance of the flight departure. In some cases they’ll offer you a chance to purchase an upgrade, but sometimes they’ll just give you one for free since you asked so nicely.

9. Book your flights in advance.

Although there once was a time when last-minute flights (for example those booked within a week of departure) were inexpensive, those days are largely gone. The earlier you book the better, but try to book your flights at least 14 days in advance.

10. Don’t fly with the commuters.

Mondays and Fridays are big travel days, due in part to those business people who commute to work. Book around these times, and you’re likely to save money on not only airfare, but accommodation in some cases as well.

11. Don’t limit yourself to standard search engines.

Although most online travel providers will comparison shop for you, they also omit many of the regional and budget carriers from their searches. Make sure you aren’t missing out on a screaming deal by checking out Which Budget (which shows you what budget airlines fly the route you are looking for), or Attitude Travel (where you can find low-cost airlines by region).

12. Use Regional Airports.

Again often missed by major search engines (and even some travel agents), be sure to check out what the smaller regional airports can offer. For example, the best way to fly to Toronto from select U.S. cities is with Porter Airlines, which flies into Toronto’s regional Island Airport. From there, you’re the world’s shortest ferry ride away from the heart of downtown Toronto. Here are just some of the potential benefits of flying with regional airports:

  • You’ll save time and money on transportation to and from large airports.
  • You’ll save money on airport taxes by using regional airports in lieu of larger international ones.
  • Security lines and checkpoints are usually smaller.
  • Regional airports often cater to business travelers, so the quality of travel and service can be superior.

13. Use online travel services for businesses.

Although these services may not save you money per se, you will save the time (and aggravation) of researching and booking your own travel arrangements. Not only that, but in many cases, they will advocate on your behalf if something goes wrong mid-trip. Just making a phone call to somebody who can solve your problem while you’re in the midst of a business trip can be valuable.

American Express Travel offers full service travel arrangements for businesses, including finding competitive cars, hotels, and flights.

Open a Travelocity Business account, and you will get some added benefits like unused ticket tracking and free 24-hour travel support. You also have the ability to store your membership and credit card information to save time on future bookings. Standard Travelocity services include comparative searches for rental cars, hotels, and flights.

As another full-service online travel site, at Orbitz for Business you can compare and book all your business travel expenses. And if your fare drops after you book your ticket, Orbitz will refund you the difference.

14. Use a travel agent.

Although many of the resources here point to online searches and online travel providers, there is something to be said for developing a relationship with the proverbial travel agent next door. You will get truly personalized service (especially if you are a regular business travel customer and develop a relationship with them), and this becomes especially important if you need their help mid-stream. Rarely do you pay more than you would if you book online, and you’ll save time in outsourcing this responsibility to somebody in the industry.

What is your experience? Do you have any money (or time) saving travel hacks and airfare saving tips for fellow business owners? Feel free to share your two cents in the comments.

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Guest's picture
Guest

As a frequent traveler, I'd recommend a slight modification to #8: "Best results often come from asking at the gate, well in advance of the flight departure." It doesn't hurt to ask for an upgrade _immediately before_ departure as well, when the airline knows it won't fill up those seats (on a relatively empty flight). Also, it benefits you and everyone else if you learn how to slide through security efficiently. I'm amazed how many people wait until they are standing next to the metal detector before they start preparing for the checkpoint. Instead, put your belt, watch, cell phone, etc. into your carry-on while you wait in line; pull your laptop out of its case; and wear shoes which easily slip on and off (or at least untie them while in line).

Guest's picture
Barb

I love to negotiate WHENEVER I CAN. I never thought to ask for an upgrade to the business class. What a great idea. Thank you.

Guest's picture
Kolby K

I also find that using digital boarding passes on your phone when possible is a huge time saver.

Nora Dunn's picture

Thanks for the extra tips guys! Please keep 'em coming...

Guest's picture

A nice little "gem" that I just discovered for cheap airfares is Tripeedo.com

It gives you like 20 quotes from lots of airlines and it all seems to be very user-friendly.

Carlos Portocarrero's picture

I can't wait for the day when the US gets a bullet train system that goes anywhere in the country. So much more relaxing than riding on an airplane...

The Writer's Coin  |  Follow me on Twitter

Guest's picture
JeffG

The comment about regional airports is true but you may not save money on the actual airfare but in other ways.

For example, I live 10 minutes away from Akron Canton Regional Air Port, and when I was booking my honeymoon it was determined that it was going to cost $60 extra per ticket to fly out of Akron Canton then it would to fly out of Cleveland. Trust me when I tell you this was worth the expense. A 10 minute drive to the airport the day after my wedding was much more enjoyable for me and my new bride then a two hour drive to Cleveland. Also to save on parking, I just parked in short term parking and had given my car keys to my parents who later that day came and picked up my car. Long term parking there is about $60 for a week. The security checkpoint at Akron Canton, on a busy day is about a 20 to 30 minute wait at the very most.

Guest's picture
Franklin

I enjoy the scenic train rides, the 4 feet or so of leg room, and the fact that they're usually so empty you don't have to share a space with anyone but the bottom line for traveling by train (Amtrak at least) is that you need to expect delays. I didn't have this problem so much in the Northeast region, but on a train from San Antonio to Dallas, we were delayed by 4....hours.... On the way back, my train wasn't even ready to leave until 8 hours after the listed departure time, and I ended up having to book a flight. So plan accordingly and bring enough movies and books to keep you company.

Guest's picture
Matt Denner

The train can be a great way to travel, but the statement that it is less expensive cannot be taken at face value. It may be cheaper depending on where you're travelling from and where you're travelling to, but is almost always more expensive for people in my area. On a recent trip to DC, I compared the prices and strongly considered travelling by train, but found that it would cost over twice as much and would obviously take far more time for a trip halfway across the country.

If you can take the train, it's a great option. But don't assume that it will bring you any savings until you've compared costs.

Guest's picture
Herman

In my experience a local travel agent always will get me a good deal I can't beat using the web. I have had great succes with different small travel agents, they do the same kind of search I do but add their experience. Furthermore I have only one bill..

Guest's picture
Guest

Buy a non-ferrous (titanium, carbon fiber, etc) money clip and belt.

These go right through the metal detector without issue, alleviating two small pains when going through airport security.

It doesn't sound like much but it takes a little bit of the stress out of traveling. Totally worth it to me.

Guest's picture
Kevin M Diffily

Living in DC I have found that Amtrak is almost always more expensive than flying or taking a higher end bus from here to Boston and most places in between. That said the train is by far the most comfortable option.

Guest's picture
MoneyIsTheRoot

The car sharing idea is good... I know thats popular on college campuses. The only thing to keep in mind, is that we are talking about business travel. Car sharing may not allow the same flexibility as renting your own car...I could see that idea working for a personal vacation though.

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