Travel and the small business owner: How to be a road warrior

Traveling by train instead of car lets you get a lot done as the scenery flies by outside.

Traveling by train instead of car lets you get a lot done as the scenery flies by outside.

Travel is routine for many small business folk, and as anyone who has been on the roads, rails or skies can attest, business travel has lost its glamour. The web is full of travel nightmare recaps–flight delays, missed connections, missed meetings, long lines, bad food. Sadly, travel’s no bargain either for the business traveler who can’t book tickets 30 days in advance, stay over a Saturday night to get an hotel or airline discount, or rent a car for a week to get a discount. We, the business traveler, are the road warriors of our day.

Before You Travel

When you build travel expenses into a small business budget, advance planning saves money. Consider the following.

1. Is the trip really necessary? Can the transaction take place on the phone or through video conferencing? If you’re thinking about displaying at a trade show or conference, will your travel expenditure and your time spent away from the office have a good ROI (return on investment)? How many people need to go to accomplish the trip?

2. Who’s paying? If you’re pitching a client, or headed to a trade show or conference to better your business, you are. You want to make sure you travel affordably, since it’s coming from your pocket. If you’re traveling on behalf of a client, or representing a client, the client pays. Make them pay you in advance, so you’re not paying finance charges. Use your credit card to accrue mileage points.

3. Make your travel time productive. I travel to New York a couple of times a month. It’s a 3-hour drive (totally non-productive time) or a 3.5-hour train ride (with free wi-fi and a snack bar). I take the train. I can do emails, web-surfing, and phone work with coffee round trip. To be frank, I also try to do my New York meetings on Wednesdays. That’s matinee day, and if I plan things right, I can sneak in a Broadway show. The client’s already paying for the trip, and I get myself a perk! Many airlines have clubs at their major airports. You can pick up a drink, snack, and free wi-fi and charging stations away from the throngs. Some even have gyms and shower facilities.

4. Stay updated on travel strategies. If you’re a frequent flier, USA Today’s travel pages, especially “Today in The Sky” (specifically reporter Ben Mutzabaugh), are on top of travel trends.

Maximize that business travel expense 

Airlines, hotels, and Amtrak all offer points for frequent travel. These “loyalty programs” are out there to encourage you to fly a specific airline or to use a specific hotel brand whenever you hit the road. The points you accrue can be used towards free flights and upgrades. And, many loyalty programs are linked to credit cards (like Mastercard or Visa) and charge cards (where you pay your monthly balance upon receipt of your bill (American Express).

It’s the credit card deals that make this an attractive way to build points, which in turn, gets you trips. You can charge just about anything to a credit card these days, and when you charge your travel, and your office expenses, and your utilities, gas, and food to a card, the miles add up.

Mark Gold, frequent flier mileage accrual expert, from Taking Flight Blog, says “Find the card with the maximum sign-up bonus that’s affiliated with the airline you’re most likely to use most often.”

Gold says that three major legacy airlines, American (with USAirways), Delta, and United, are all affiliated with airline partners through alliances, i.e. American with One World, Delta with Sky Team, and United with Star Alliance. When you fly the airline or their partners, you accrue the points.

Amtrak also has a frequent traveler program called Amtrak Guest Rewards.

As you accrue the miles, you can use them to subsidize that trip to a trade show or conference, or towards last-minute travel, where there are no bargains. I use mine to upgrade from coach to business class for longer flights.

Make your travel seamless

A last-minute flight delay, weather cancellations, or a train that stops for hours on the tracks can cause you to miss a connection, and ultimately a meeting. Know your alternatives before you hit the road.

Monitor your flights, so you know in advance about delays. I like Flight Tracker.

Some people use travel agencies to book travel and list alternatives. Other people book their own travel and list alternatives. I like to make my own travel plans, unless it’s a very complicated itinerary. Thankfully, mine are pretty standard. Travel agents earn their keep from commissions provided by hotels, cruise companies, and other vendors, but they don’t really get much for an airline booking, so expect to pay a fee. But a knowledgeable travel agent, who knows the places where you travel, knows hotel bargains, can handle your travel insurance needs, and provides concierge service is worth their weight in gold.

I’m a fan of The Cranky Concierge. The Cranky Concierge is the brainchild of Brett Snyder, a self-described “airline dork,” who writes The Cranky Flier consumer air travel blog. He’s been recognized by Conde Nast Traveler as a Top Travel Specialist for providing urgent airline assistance in 2011, 2012, and 2013. On a fee-for-service basis, The Cranky Concierge can assist with making travel plans, proactively monitor for your flight status, assist with making rebookings, and keep you and your office informed of delays, interruptions, and so forth. For information on The Crank Concierge, visit http://crankyconcierge.com/. And, by all means, read Brett’s blog, The Cranky Flier.

Other resources

***AirCare Travel Protection from Berkshire Hathaway. A combination travel insurance and airline concierge program to help passengers with flight cancellations, delays, missed connections and lost luggage. https://www.bhtp.com/travel-protection/aircare

***Airfare Watch Dog, a site that posts airfare deals and money-saving tips from airfare experts. You can sign up for updates. http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/

***Airport Public Transportation Association information on public transportation options at major American airports. A bus or train is always cheaper than a cab. 

***The Points Guy. Ways to maximize travel points. http://thepointsguy.com/

***View From The Wing. Mark Gold recommended this site, which is great for finding great ways to build miles, and updates on which credit cards are offering the most bang for the buck. http://viewfromthewing.com/. Within this, Gold likes: Mommy Points. http://mommypoints.boardingarea.com/#sthash.4K9zwtty.dpbs and One Mile At a Time. http://boardingarea.com/onemileatatime/

***Wendy Perrin, Travel Advocate for TripAdvisor and formerly Condé Nast Traveler’s Director of Consumer News and Digital Community, has started her own blog since leaving Conde Nast. She was also the magazine’s ombudsman, investigating reader complaints about travel companies and helping wronged travelers get compensation. Her blog is a road warrior’s best friend. www.wendyperrin.com

And just for laughs…

The Guide to Sleeping in Airports. Yes, some people do. http://www.sleepinginairports.net/

Airline Meals. Photos of what’s on the menu on flights. http://www.airlinemeals.net/index.php

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Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

4 comments

  1. Web Advisor says:

    I often spend a day travelling when it isn't 100% necessary to allow me to catch up on what's important with my businesses. I'm in the UK and I always travel by train (never driving myself), which allows me the luxury of catching up on my emails and having a good old fashioned think…

    Meeting customers is never time wasted and I find I usually return to the office the next day fired up with good ideas. Plus, of course, I'm constantly in touch by email and cellphone.

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  3. toolsweb says:

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