Companies are continuing to invest heavily in travel for employees. In 2017 alone, they spent $1.33 trillion, according to the Global Business Travel Association, and the amount is only expected to increase.
This is good news for several reasons. Not only is it a reflection of an improving global economy, but it also indicates that organizations are focused on strategic spending that helps workers build relevant relationships and grow their professional skills.
Just like a business, the way individuals spend money should align with their values. If you appreciate the financial vote of confidence your employer has given you – or if you’re self-employed and betting on your own success – the best way to show your gratitude is to use money wisely. Plus, showing off your conscientious money moves could convince stakeholders that you deserve more responsibility, more opportunities and potentially even a higher salary.
Ready to go above and beyond budgetary expectations when you travel? Start with these five tips.
1. Review Your Company’s Policies
If you want to exceed the bare minimum requirements, you first have to understand what they are. Read through your company’s rules and procedures carefully before you start making travel arrangements.
A comprehensive policy should include booking instructions, descriptions of approved travel expenditures and a clear process for submitting the appropriate forms and receipts. It may also include specific recommendations for saving. Your organization could have a special discount with one airline, for example, or guidelines about the ideal window in which to reserve your hotel room.
If your organization or consulting business doesn’t have a policy yet, consider connecting with your human resources department or developing one yourself. It doesn’t have to be complicated to start. Even one or two typed pages can provide a great deal of clarity and security.
2. Give Yourself Plenty of Time
The best time to book a U.S. flight is about 70 days ahead of your departure, according to a 2018 study conducted by CheapAir.com. Pair that with the fact that hotel rooms reserved fewer than seven days in advance are 44 percent more expensive than those booked 15 days in advance, according to a recent SAP Concur study, and the message is clear: It pays to plan ahead.
As soon as you have the information you need to start planning your business trip, make a list of next steps that includes important deadlines. Then, add those deadlines to your calendar or planner to keep yourself on track. Making all the necessary arrangements on a tight-but-prolonged schedule can feel daunting – especially for chronic procrastinators and infrequent travelers. But by breaking the process into smaller tasks, you could trick yourself into thinking it’s much simpler.
3. Use Technology to Your Advantage
Websites such as Google Flights, Airfarewatchdog.com and Kayak can help you compare flight prices across several airlines and score big savings on airfare. If you have the flexibility to adjust your departure and return dates or choose from multiple airports, use these online tools to compare options over several days using different online browsers to see which provide the lowest prices.
According to an informal Consumer Reports study, airfares for the same route and time can vary by as much as $238 over different days and can even change considerably on the same day based on the internet browser you use or your search history.
Consider which websites or apps could add to your savings once you reach your destination as well. Do you have the option to stay anywhere? Booking someone else’s home with tools such as Airbnb or HomeAway could be less expensive than staying in a hotel and give you access to a kitchen for additional savings on food. Are you planning on using taxis for ground transportation? Apps such as Lyft or Uber are likely less expensive and could make it easier to track your spending.
4. Plan Budget-Friendly Meal Options in Advance
U.S. travelers spent a quarter of their budgets on food in 2017, according to the U.S. Travel Association. That’s $258 billion total. For professionals tasked with wining and dining clients and other out-of-town business contacts, this area of spending can get particularly tricky. Luckily, with a little planning, it’s possible to reduce your dining costs by hundreds of dollars per trip.
Start by scoping out the restaurants in your destination city, paying close attention to the average price of an entrée, ratings and reviews. Then, cross-reference the best options with deals on websites such as Groupon or RetailMeNot, which often can cut a few dollars off your final bill. If you’re planning on entertaining or meeting with others, see if you can get together for breakfast or lunch instead of dinner. This could eliminate or reduce your alcohol expenses, and allow you to enjoy discounted specials.
As you pack for your trip, don’t forget to include budget-friendly snacks and containers that will prevent you from splurging on food and beverages with airport markups. Since liquids are heavily regulated as you go through airport security, bring an empty water bottle that you can refill at a water fountain.
5. Keep Detailed Records of Your Spending
If you work for someone else, you must maintain clear and consistent records to be reimbursed. If you work for yourself, you must maintain clear and consistent records to properly account for your business expenses and determine what you owe the IRS. Either way, bringing a large, waterproof envelope on your journey is a simple way to stay organized.
Ask for a receipt every time one is available. Photograph paper receipts with your phone, then immediately place them into your envelope for safekeeping. Save digital receipts by creating a separate email folder for each trip and a secure, cloud-based folder so you can access relevant files from anywhere on any device.
If you have a separate credit card for business expenses, using it for all your professional travel needs is a no-brainer. It’s another organizational hack that will streamline your reporting processes and make transactions more efficient. Plus, your credit card could earn you or your employer extra points, cash back or airline miles for the next trip.
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