7 Ways To Save Money On Business Travel
Business travel is soaring, especially among Americans. We currently make up the largest business travel market on the globe, contribute about $491 billion to the GDP and probably have a few more years until we're bumped out of top place by China, according to a Global Business Travel Association report.
But though business travel is great for the economy, it's not so kind to the individual traveler's bank account. Costs are rising precipitously for the average road warrior, who spends about $230 on transportation, $147 on room and board, and $100 on food, per domestic business trip. Throw in inflated baggage fees and a daily Wi-Fi pass that costs more than a night's stay in a no-tell motel, and even travelers who expense the lion's share of the damage will be hurting by the end of the trip.
Here are a few easy ways to save money while traveling on business -- and get around fees -- when you're on the road.
Related: 7 Secret Fees Cutting Into Your Travel Budget
1. Get The Most Out of ATMs and Your Credit Cards
If you're planning to expense a lot of what you buy over the course of your trip, use your best rewards card -- you'll get money back, as well as some points or miles thrown your way. If you are traveling internationally, use a credit card that offers fee-free foreign transactions.
If you're going to use mostly cash, be strategic about how and where you withdraw it -- especially if you're traveling outside the country, where exchange rates and out-of-network ATM fees will find new and inventive ways to gouge you.
"The best formula for saving money as you travel is to use a bank that charges low rates for international ATM transactions and withdraw a large amount each time," said Elle Kaplan, CEO and founding partner of LexION Capital Management. "If you are paying with a credit card, use a card with the lowest possible international fees. Research before going and make sure you are paying with the local currency. Do not pay in dollars."
2. Businessmen Can Couch Surf, Too
So, you're a valued member of an elite hotel rewards program: Good for you. You'll enjoy a wide range of perks, from continental breakfast to free Wi-Fi and absurdly high thread counts.
If, however, you haven't yet established a relationship with a hotel rewards program, and your budget is more suited for a single bed at an airport inn, you're not completely out of options.
Home-sharing sites like Airbnb are becoming increasingly commonplace for corporate travelers. Not only are costs much lower than at standard accommodations, visitors often have access to a wider range of amenities -- such as a kitchen, which will help them save more money by preparing their own food.
Business coach Jennifer Martin said alternative lodging can help keep prices at a minimum while still providing a great business travel experience.
"For the super budget-minded, couch surfing offers the adventuresome the opportunity to stay at a private home for free," Martin said. "Accommodations run the gamut from bringing your sleeping bag and sleeping on the floor to 600-count sheets on your own feather bed in a private sanctuary."
Business travelers leery of straying too far into their college years can take comfort in the fact that many companies in the "sharing economy" are launching business portals. This August, Airbnb announced it was partnering with corporate expense account management company Concur to target business travelers looking for cheaper overnight options.
Related: Protect Your Bank Accounts While Traveling: Know What (and What Not) to Carry in Your Wallet
3. Use Apps to Get Local Coupons and Discounts
Food and entertainment costs easily mount when you're visiting an unfamiliar city. But instead of going into the situation blind, research your destination before you go to scout out any opportunities to save money.
"Going to Seattle? Log in to Groupon, LivingSocial or Amazon Local and enter Seattle as your city; then you can purchase discounts on everything from restaurants and music to entertainment and massage," Martin said.
Additionally, many restaurants offer patrons discounts if they check in on Foursquare or leave a review on Yelp. Map out these social media coups beforehand to save big on travel costs.
4. Travel on the Right Days
If you have a little breathing room in your travel schedule, moving a flight or hotel stay a day to one side or the other can make a huge price difference.
"Remember, in some markets, a weekend flight is cheaper than weekdays," said Elizabeth Avery, president of Solo Trekker 4 U LLC. "For example, in New York, if you fly home Saturday morning from LaGuardia to Reagan/Washington National, it is cheaper because of the reduced load factor."
Typically, Avery said, flights booked on Tuesday or Wednesday will offer the best deals.
Like flights, hotel prices can also vary widely based on the day of the week. "If you have to spend the night, in New York and certain other business-oriented destinations, hotel rates go down Friday night and up again on Saturday," Avery said. "If you can schedule Friday meetings, compare rates for the rest of the week."
5. Don't Bank Too Hard on Your Expense Report
When it comes to business expenses, a good rule of thumb is always to verify what you'll be compensated for before you take off. You don't want to end up on the hook for the four-star hotel and three-course dinner when, in reality, you've only been approved for a $20 per diem.
To keep on top of your numerous receipts, consider using a free service like the Expensify app, which will import your daily expenses from your credit card or bank account, sort them into categories ("transportation," "meals," etc.), and help you create and submit expense reports. The program will even allow you to set up a direct deposit so that you can get reimbursed online.
Related: The Great Travel Challenge: How to Vacation on a Budget
6. Business Expenses? You Can Probably Deduct Them
Travel-related business expenses are some of the most commonly used tax deductions, and can encompass a wide range of expenditures, from transportation (planes! trains! automobiles!) to laundry, phone costs, meals and baggage. You simply have to be working away from home for less than a year on an assignment and meet any specific state or city requirements (as documented on IRS.gov).
Check your eligibility to find out if you can get some of your money back come Tax Day.
7. Assume You'll Never Find Free Wi-Fi, and Plan Ahead
This is one you absolutely don't want to leave till the last minute. For business travelers, Wi-Fi is as important as water -- and, unfortunately, in most public places, airports and hotels, it's as ludicrously overpriced as bottled water. Don't assume you'll be provided with free access to your work emails.
First off, do some legwork to determine if your destination airport or hotel will provide free internet. (There are still some that do, thankfully -- GOBankingRates compiled a few here.) If you instead come face-to-face with a $30 daily subscription, consider purchasing a mobile hot spot from your cellphone provider. It'll be a bigger expense upfront, but you'll save much more money in the long run.