12 Little-Known Secrets of Low-Cost Business Travel

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1. Use alternate airports

Though this choice has been discussed at length in previous issues of Budget Travel, it can never be sufficiently stressed.

Freelance writer Rick Churchill, whose Wynwood, Pennsylvania, home is just outside Philadelphia, points out that "often going a bit out of your way can produce real airfare savings. I always try to fly out of Baltimore rather than US Airways - dominated Philadelphia. Since Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) is serviced by a much greater number of carriers, tickets often cost half that for flights departing closer to home. And, because Amtrak trains stop quite close to BWI - and are linked to air terminals by a bus shuttle - it's not an unpleasant detour." Churchill notes that another key factor favoring BWI, not just for Pennsylvania travelers but for those in and around Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia, is its Southwest Airlines service. In Baltimore (as in Providence, Rhode Island, which is increasingly a bargain lure for Boston-area denizens), Southwest's low rates force other carriers to keep fares down in order to stay competitive.

Very often, one airport can be much cheaper than another nearby when the latter is used as a hub. For example, Delta dominates the city of Cincinnati (one of its important hubs) and offers few bargains from that location. However, Columbus is only an hour's drive north and offers a much broader carrier balance, so that many southern Ohioans drive north for a tad over an hour to secure serious savings. Another pick-the-city choice is in Missouri, where fares into hub-free Kansas City are often much lower than into TWA-dominated St. Louis. Christopher Trencher, vice president of transportation for New York City consulting firm Stern & Stewart, emphasizes that "particularly for Missourians living between those cities, driving west is often well worth the ride." Other cheaper airports: Newark compared to nearby LaGuardia in metropolitan New York City, Milwaukee compared to nearby Chicago, Little Rock to Memphis, Oakland to San Francisco, Ontario (California) or Long Beach to Los Angeles, Manchester (New Hampshire) to Boston, Youngstown to Pittsburgh. There are many others.

2. Make intermediate stops at low-cost airports en route

When Rick Churchill is West Coast-bound and can afford to trade a few hours for reduced fares, he'll often book via Las Vegas. He explains, "Las Vegas gets a huge amount of traffic from all over the country. It's nobody's hub, and not only are fares lower, but Southwest frequently runs Las Vegas/Los Angeles or Orange County promotions where one-way tickets often cost as little as $29."

His only caveat is that "you've got to be careful not to lose what you've saved at the airport's slot machines."

3. Search the Internet

Christopher Trencher notes that online searches of the Internet often pay real dividends for business travelers. "Airlines often offer Web site fares that are much lower than those you'll be quoted over the phone. And most carriers also now give frequent-flyer mileage bonuses for booking online."

4. Consolidate your trips

Ted Darnall, president of North American hotel operations for Starwood Hotels and Resorts in White Plains, New York, says, "Our company enjoys real travel savings by consolidating business trips and reducing, as much as possible, transcontinental flights." He goes on to explain, "Instead of flying this week from New York to Los Angeles and next week to San Francisco, we're certain that most business isn't that urgent, and a trip incorporating several West Coast stops produces huge savings."

5. Substitute SuperShuttles for rental cars

Serious savings are available between airports and hotels. For instance, Shelley Clark, creative director of New York City public relations firm Lou Hammond & Associates, recommends SuperShuttle, which operates blue and gold, seven-person airport/city minivans in 17 U.S. cities. She says, "Always cheaper than a taxi and usually less than even airport-to-city-terminal buses, they take you directly from the airport to your city destination, or from your city destination back to the airport." She points out that La-Guardia-to-midtown New York fares run $15. Comparable taxi fare: $20-$24.

According to SuperShuttle Director of Marketing Ken Testani, airport/city fares range from $6 per person in Phoenix to $14 between Dallas/Fort Worth airport and downtown Dallas. He also notes that while the vans seat seven, they rarely make more than three stops per trip. Currently, SuperShuttle airports include Atlantic City; Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Burbank, California; Dallas/Ft. Worth; Denver; Jacksonville, Florida; Los Angeles; Newark; New York (LaGuardia and JFK); Miami; Ontario and Orange County, California; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Sacramento, California; San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (Dulles and National). For more information call 800/258-3826 or www.supershuttle.com.

6. Save hotel charges by arriving on Sundays

With average daily New York City hotel rates well above $200 (and San Francisco and Washington, D.C., not far behind), the chance of finding a bargain these days is slim indeed. However, Drew Schlesinger, general manager of the 770-room Crowne Plaza Manhattan, urges travelers to try arriving on a Sunday. "Among business travelers, that's the least favorite day to arrive, because they clearly want to avoid breaking up their weekends. However, here and at many other New York hotels, I'm certain that rates are much more negotiable for those willing to start their trips on Sunday than on any other day of the week." He adds, "Every city and hotel has one day of the week when arrivals are usually at their lowest. Find out what that day is anywhere you go, and chances are you'll be more likely to get lower rates for your entire stay."

7. Always request preferential hotel rates

Charleston-based Byron Miller, director of public relations for South Carolina State Ports Authority, says he continually enjoys business travel savings by requesting a government rate in addition to corporate or whatever other discounts he can find. He adds, "I am a government employee, so my request is entirely legitimate, but no hotel ever asks me to authenticate my job status." On average, Miller says he saves between $20 and $30 per night via his government rate.

8. Avoid those hotel profit centers

A number of frequent business travelers stress the need to make absolutely minimal use of hotel services beyond the bare essentials. For example, Karen E. Rubin, senior vice president of HVS International, a global hotel consulting firm, says, "Avoid in-room fax machines. They're incredibly expensive, and often you either don't get inbound returns or they sit for hours in the hotel operator's room before being delivered." When she does have faxing to do, she says, "I head for Kinko's. They're professionals, charge reasonable rates, and always know what they're doing."

Rubin also urges business travelers to bring likely-to-be-needed supplies such as water or fruit to their rooms. She notes, "I'm a hotel analyst, always trying to help properties boost their revenues. But I really think $4 for a bottle of water is just a bit much. Travelers should squelch their embarrassment and buy their beverages near their hotel."

9. Avoid hotel phones

Health spa planner Patty Monteson, who owns Health Fitness Dynamics, Inc., in Pompano Beach, Florida, says, "Instead of hotel phones, I always use my cell phone to make calls from my room. That not only avoids access charges every time you lift an in-room receiver but results in much, much lower rates." Noting that her AT&T phone plan gives her 600 minutes for $90 with no roaming charges, "I might as well use some of them when I travel. For me it's a real win-win situation." Similarly, Alan Benjamin, managing partner in Benjamin West, a Boulder-based furniture fixture and equipment purchasing agent for the hospitality industry, uses his 10[cents]-a-minute phone plan to avoid "outrageous hotel phone charges." New York City investment banker Julian Schroeder urges travelers to know and use their MCI, AT&T, or other access codes before making long-haul calls. Punching in an extra series of numbers can often cut one's phone bills hugely, he says.

10. When colleagues travel together, rent a suite

Alan Benjamin also suggests that businesspeople traveling together rent a suite. If there's no problem with a shared bathroom and no other social or personality conflicts, "a suite can be much cheaper than the tab for two individual rooms." he says.

11. Live like a local at the destination

Julian Schroeder, who regularly commutes between New York and Asia on fiscal missions for Schroders, says that the prime ground rule for economizing during international travel is to buy where the locals do. "In Korea, a soda in a local grocery goes for 80[cents] instead of $3 or more out of your minibar. The same goes for snacks, which you suddenly may want in the middle of the night if your eating and sleeping habits are disrupted by flying halfway around the world."

Schroeder particularly encourages overseas travelers to eat at local restaurants away from their hotels. "Why spend $20 for a hotel breakfast when something as good or better is probably available around the corner for a fraction of what the hotel charges?" he says. If possible, use quality local infrastructure ("sultry Singapore's clean, modern, air-conditioned subway is a much better bet than sitting in major-league traffic jams"), and check out gift-buying possibilities, either for immediate distribution or for holiday gift giving ("fine silk products in Thailand and Korea are still a bargain").

12. Make your bookings on cost-cutting upstart airlines

Christopher Trencher particularly emphasizes the Southwest factor, including Islip, Long Island as a counterpoint to Kennedy or LaGuardia, and Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, New York, as another metro New York airport alternative. For every flight, instruct your staff to place calls to the independent, no-frills airlines such as Air Tran, ATA, Vanguard, and the like, always checking what they offer against the fares of the larger carriers.

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