If closing a big deal means jumping on a plane for nine hours and living out of a hotel for a few days, by all means book the flight no matter the price.
But as the cost of travel increases and travel budgets stay the same, many businesses have new resolve to reduce their travel spending. After a period of using the Internet for bargain shopping, some are once again looking to the experts for help, travel agents say.
“A person can easily spend an hour [online] trying to find a great offer,” says Doreen Loofburrow, director of travel services at the American Automobile Association in Oregon.
To curb runaway travel expenditures, companies also can do a number of basic things short of axing business trips altogether.
For a growing company, first establish a clear travel policy, says Jill Lutz, a corporate account manager at Portland-based Azumano Travel. This may mean forbidding pricey business- and first-class airline seats in exchange for the more modest coach seats. It may also entail a designated manager pre-approving a booking.
Last-minute traveling is always more expensive and something a travel policy should discourage. The farther ahead a company can anticipate and plan a business trip, the less expensive the airline ticket and hotel rates will be, says Lutz.
Consider traveling during off-peak times and seasons. Executives love to fly in the mornings and on Mondays, which drives up the cost. Consider traveling mid-day and mid-week because those flights are often cheaper.
If this is too much to handle and distracts you from your work, consider using a corporate travel agent. For example, Lutz helps companies by developing a profile of their historical and anticipated business trips. Knowing the company’s business-trip habits and budget allows her to find the best travel deals.
An agent can save a company up to 20% with all-inclusive travel package costs compared to piecemeal travel purchases, says Loofburrow. And often a travel agency buys airline tickets in bulk and then can pass those tickets on to clients at a discount.
Before entrusting a corporate travel agent with your travel business, ask for references and for examples of how they trimmed travel costs for their clients. Make sure they know the restrictions of your company’s travel budget. If last-second traveling is common, make sure there is a 24-hour contact.
Of course, the trusty teleconference can also save you a buck, says Lutz.