Smart traveling equals leaner budgets
January 10, 2009
Savvy booking can be a great way to trim corporate travel budgets at a time when companies want to save in every area possible, said Mike Cameron, president of the Utah Business Travel Association.
The average business traveler is going 50 percent over budget because airlines, hotels and car rental services are now charging for things that they never did before, said Laurie Rusin, president of LXR Travel and an industry expert invited to the association’s monthly meeting on Thursday in Sandy.
With fees attached to extra bags, blankets and snacks, it’s easy to charge an expense account $100 before even reaching the destination. Smart booking is more important than ever, she said.
The association’s members are corporate travel professionals and representatives from companies serving business travelers, explained spokesman Tom Klein.
"Together in a partnership format we can figure out how to travel more intelligently," Cameron said.
When Rusin opened her personal suitcase to show packing tips she learned as a flight attendant, the members were on the edge of their seats.
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"Our jobs are to take bumps out of the road," Klein said.
Fees for checking extra baggage have been a headache for corporate travel offices, Cameron said. When Rusin held up the luggage she brought with her from New York, it was about the size of a child’s school pack.
"We had very large attendance today. People are in the mood to travel more intelligently," he said.
While vacationers may benefit from having some of their flight, transportation, lodging or food bundled in a discount package, business travel officers want services "a la carte," he said. They not only like to scrutinize every expense, but their plans change more frequently than a tourist.
But finding good deals on short notice is difficult, Rusin said. As a solution, she recommends joining frequent flyer clubs, hotel "reward programs" and car rental discount clubs. These "points" programs also include occasional upgrades and complementary services for the frequent traveler to add luxury to a lifestyle that is becoming increasingly stressful and Spartan.
"Reward yourself while helping your company," she said.
enrolling her company in seven different lodging programs, she gained access to discounts at 65 different hotel brands.
The No. 1 way to save money with traveling is a tip that may sound like common sense: give the travel agent as much information as possible.
Employees need to arrive on a certain day, at a certain time to accomplish a specific task. But if the agent knows which of those requirements is the highest priority, they have more flexibility to shop for the best deals, she said.
If a client’s schedule is flexible, but only on certain days, the agent knows she has flexibility in arranging the salesperson’s trip so long as they arrive on the right day. Greater flexibility allows better shopping, she said.
Rusin’s knowledge of the airline industry has also made her savvy about flying comfortably. Because last-minute flyers pay the most for tickets, the airlines give them priority in choosing seats. That means the worst seats go to passengers with early reservations. Knowing that, she requests a better seat when she arrives at the airport. If the plane has room, she usually gets it.
She also knows that many airlines still adhere to or honor "Rule 240." The rule used to require airlines to place passengers on the next available flight in the case of a delay over three hours even if on a different carrier. It only applies to delays caused by circumstances other than weather, and many desk agents are unfamiliar with it. In a pinch, asking a manager to honor Rule 240 can avoid a long delay.
Whether using the rule or some other offer to change flights, holding onto the e-receipt for the ticket speeds the transfer. If an airline transfers you to a different carrier, the new airline will require a receipt, she said.
Her experience has also taught her tricks for flying internationally.
The website http://www.thetrainline.com allows train tickets to be purchased in advance in many countries.
Including the middle initial of a passenger with a common name who is frequently flagged by the Department of Homeland Security can save time. Giving full names, gender and birth date on every document is now required starting in 2009, she said. The full name should match the one on the passport.
Carrying a small jump drive (preferably with special security features) containing medical information and scanned copies of passports and credit cards can cut down on the number of important documents carried and provide back-up identification in the event of theft.
For an inflatable cushion to use while sleeping on a plane, she recommends http://www.1stclasssleeper.com .
To stop the person in front of you from reclining their seat, http://www.kneedefender.com sells small plastic clips that prevent the chair from going backward.
"The person in front of you thinks their seat is broken and just gives up," Rusin joked.
Unfortunately, they only work when the tray is allowed to be down.
How does Rusin pack her tiny bag? She only brings three pairs of underwear period. She buys reversible jackets, and she doesn’t fold anything.
She lays pants left to right, her blouses and jackets from top to bottom, then she puts socks, shirts underwear in the middle and wraps it up like a package. The outwear on the top and bottom are never creased and therefore easily ironed.