Maximizing your travel dollars: the cost of travel may be up, but business fliers can find ways to save.
RETURNING FROM A BUSINESS TRIP, GARY BOLDEN found himself delayed at Little Rock National Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas. His flight back to Los Angeles for another meeting had been cancelled. "There was a later flight, but it would have arrived at 10 p.m. instead of 4 p.m., making me late for an appointment," says golden, president of the Los Angeles-based Bolden One Records and principal in Dynasty Inc., a family-run construction firm in Little Rock. As he usually does when a flight is delayed or cancelled, Bolden called his company's travel agent, Jesse Fulton, a manager at Lawyer's Travel in Washington, D.C., to handle the problem. "He immediately booked me on a flight with another carrier, something I was told couldn't be done by the reservationist at the airport."
Like other business travelers, Bolden runs into these kinds of last-minute flight changes. But because he's a frequent flier with a knowledgeable agent, he was able to rebook his flight without the hassle or the extra cost of penalties.
Now that traveling is becoming more costly, that kind of privilege is essential as businesses try to hold down the bottom line. Airfares for business travelers jumped from an average round-trip cost of $442 in May 1992 to $820 in January 1997, according to American Express Travel. Just last year J. alone, fares rose 25%, and this past March most carriers upped fares an average of 4% as a result of the reinstatement of the ticket tax.
Fortunately for business travelers like golden, the ways of saving and earning free trips have also increased. Finding these deals can be tedious for travelers, but having frequent travel club memberships and taking advantage of membership tie-ins to other travel-related services can cost you and your company less.
LET THE POINTS ADD UP
One of the best ways for individual travelers to make dollars stretch, says Nancy Dunnan, editor of Travel Smart newsletter, is to use frequent flier tie-ins. These days, you can earn miles not only by flying, but by dining out, making long distance phone calls, renting cars, booking cruises, even buying flowers. And a few airlines are giving mileage for mortgage payments, the principal on a home purchase and deposits in mutual funds. With these tie-ins, says Dunnan, the travel companies want to gain loyal customers by offering discounts and possible free trips, rentals and/or stays. Savvy travelers are taking advantage of these deals. Americans are earning about as many miles from credit card use and other purchases from partnered companies with airlines as from actual air miles, says Randy Petersen of InsideFlyer.
"Nowadays, it takes a great deal of miles to earn a free ticket domestically (25,000-60,000 miles, depending on the class), and even more for an international ticket (50,000-100,000 miles)," notes Barbara Johnson, owner of KH Grand Travel Agency in Los Angeles.
That's why golden, who travels an average of twice a month, explores all avenues of savings and tries to stick to one carrier, although he's a member in more than one frequent-flier program. "That way, I can earn more miles faster," he says. Dunnan agrees this is the best way to get free tickets, and says that it doesn't really pay to spread your miles around. "Stay with one carrier, but join other programs just in case you may need to fly on another airline."
Bolden also relies on his airline affinity credit card to acquire miles. "Every time I charge something, I earn another point," says golden, who upgrades whenever possible. "While my ticket may cost $300 round-trip and another $200 to upgrade, I'll do so to earn double miles or miles and a half." But not everyone can do this. "The ability to upgrade depends on the status of the frequent flier," says Fulton. "Gary is ar a Premium status, so he can upgrade tickets from coach to first class for say, $100 each way, and earn bonus miles. But if you've purchased a $1,700 round-trip from Los Angeles to New York and you're not a frequent flier or on a lower level, you might not even be able to upgrade," he explains. Bolden earned about 10 free trips last year with this method. According to InsideFlyer, travelers took 13,000 free trips last year.
TIPS FOR YOUR COMPANY
It's important to put together a solid travel policy for your company. Keep in mind specific guidelines for booking preferred hotels and airlines, selecting rental cars, handling meals and entertainment and payment methods. Consider how much your employees travel and what class of service you can afford. American Express offers The Travel Policy Handbook and software called Travel Policy Expert, which develop policies for small businesses. It's free to American Express corporate customers.
When you have a clear idea about your guidelines, the next step is choosing a good travel manager/agent. It will be key to carrying out and managing your company's travel policy, says Jeffrey B. Lang, author of The American Express Guide to Corporate Travel Management. "Travel and entertainment is one of the fastest-growing expense categories for U.S. businesses today," writes Lang. "Although it is the third largest controllable expense, holding down travel expense is for many companies an afterthought."
When selecting an agency for your company, advises Lang, look for one that offers all the services your company needs. Lawyer's Travel, for example, offers giftshopping while you're on the road, medical help and concierge service. Take bids from various agencies and evaluate the services, suggests Lang.
Since his company is small, with just seven staff members, Bolden makes most of the travel decisions. "Our policy is really not written and everything is to my discretion," says golden, who usually travels on record company business. Not having a set policy is not a good idea for businesses to follow, and Bolden knows it. "That's why it was important for me to have a good agent, one who has the time to figure out the best deals for us."
"When I know a client like I know Gary golden, if situations come up, I can usually figure out what he wants to do, and explain to him the best options," says Fulton. "One of the benefits to agencies such as ours, with 25-30 offices, is the clout we carry with airlines, car rental agencies and hotels. You can benefit when we get special discounts because of the volume of business we supply."
After deciding on a travel policy and estimating the amount of money your company will be spending, you can hammer out deals with the various travel suppliers, says Diane Brown, travel manager for Burrell Communications Group in Chicago. "Say you are going to spend $30,000 on travel this year. Approach an airline and find out what perks and incentives they are going to provide to your company," suggests Brown. All travel carriers, she says, will have a standard revenue you will have to meet before special deals are made.
But even when businesses have cultivated a relationship with a travel supplier, most, says Brown, will go for cheaper rates when they can find them. "Although we like to use one carrier, if we can find a more reasonable rate and the arrangements make sense, we will go with that carrier, rental car or hotel."
Another tip: if you are working as a subcontractor on a project with a major firm, ask about their travel policies and benefits. Your company may be able to take advantage of their discounts when you travel on business related to their business.
FINDING THOSE DEALS
There are a number of ways that you can hone in on savings. If you're booking your own flight, for example, most reservationists won't know about special promotions, says Dunnan, but a supervisor might help you get the best deal available. Another trick to learn about special promotions--other than scanning the newspapers--says Johnson, is to ask to speak to the carrier's sales department. They will know about all the specials.
Also, read the frequent flier newsletter you get in the mail. It has an update of your account points and lists all sorts of seasonal value-added promotions. Some may offer double or triple miles during a specific period when using an affiliated partner for car rental or hotel stays. And check out the airline and hotel Web sites (see sidebar, "Traveling Through the Web,") for last-minute travel bargains and special promotions.
Similar to frequent-flier miles, you can also save money through hotel frequent-stay programs. Some, like Hilton, have affinity credit cards where you earn points for every dollar you spend. For example, Hilton's new Optima card through American Express earns two points for every dollar charged (three points for every dollar charged at one of its 220 hotels). At the same time, the guest earns points on both the Hilton Honors program and airline miles if traveling on one of its carrier partners.
Car rental agencies also have membership programs that can get you 5%-25% off rentals. And some auto membership clubs, like AAA, also give discounts of 10% at certain car rental agencies.
Another way to save money is to join a travel club. Lorraine Miller, research manager for Burrell, joined one for her personal travel. Hers, through Encore Travel, gets 50% off participating hotels. Plus, she can get points through their frequent-stay programs. The club can book hotels and car rentals at a discount as well. The only drawback: if traveling at peak season or during a convention and hotel space is scarce, the discount may not be available. And with air travel, there are blackout days. Most travel clubs also issue coupons to be used within a certain time limit, which could be good for additional discounts.
Before joining a travel club, check its reputation. "Find out where it is headquartered and look into that city's Better Business Bureau or attorney general's office. If possible, use one that has been recommended to you by a friend or colleague," advises Dunnan.
When traveling for business, Miller benefits from earning frequent-flier miles, which her company, as do most, allows her to keep. She can use these to earn free trips for personal travel. But since Miller has no say so in what carrier she flies with for business, she is a member in a variety of programs. "Hotel points are also the property of the traveler," notes Brown. If Miller wants to extend a business trip for personal use, she can use earned points for extra hotel nights.
Every aspect of travel can help you save on your next trip. The key, says Dunnan, is making use of all the tie-ins.
RELATED ARTICLE: Traveling Through the Web
You can find last-minute flight and hotel bargains by tapping into these sites:
American Airlines: www.americanair.com Register at the Web for American's NetSAAver's e-mail list. Every week, American e-mails subscribers a list of about 24 discount fares.
Continental Airlines: www.flycontinental.com Sign up at the Web site for C.O.O.L. (Continental On-Line), an e-mail list of discount fares.
Northwest Airlines: www.nwa.com Northwest lists CyberSaver fares on its Web site every Wednesday.
United Airlines: www.ual.com Links to hotel and rental car discounts can be found on Mileage Plus Partners.
USAirways: www.usair.com Join the carrier's e-mail subscriber list through the site.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||Consumer News; Includes nine Web sites for airlines and hotels discounts and services|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1997|
|Previous Article:||Money Matters for Generation X.|
|Next Article:||Remembering the old UGA tour.|