Dealing with the business travel “squeeze”

Squeeze.  It’s a common theme in business travel.  Ever since the economy tanked in 2008 I’ve really seen an uptick squeeze ballin businesses trying to squeeze as much as they can out of everything they can possibly think of.  Air carriers are moving seats as close as they possibly can get together to add more rows to planes.   Planes constantly need to be worked on which I can only guess is because the airlines are pushing them to their limits (for example, Duct tape story 1 & Duct tape story 2) .  Loyalty programs are becoming less generous so that more points can get squeezed out of your account.  Despite record profits and lower oil costs airfares are going up in price which is squeezing money out of your pockets.  Hotels are guilty of the squeeze too by doing things like charging ridiculous rates for Wi-Fi (just look at what Marriott got caught doing) and making reward stays more expensive.  Even companies that business travelers work for are squeezing more by micromanaging expenses. To help with all this, here my tips for dealing with the squeeze.

Change airlines.  I haven’t made the switch yet to Delta, but I’m really considering it.  After a pretty bad streak of delays due to maintenance (not to mention some really awful customer service) with American and Southwest I went looking for answers.   I researched the Air Travel Consumer Report released by the DOT and I noticed that overall Delta is consistently performing better than American and Southwest in on time performance, as well as delays caused by the carrier (which includes maintenance delays).   These results are giving me incentive to making a change.  My loyalty only goes so far.

Don’t hoard miles.  Over the years of traveling I built up a decent amount of airline miles through different airlines.  I used to let those miles stack up like a savings account, but after airlines began devaluing their rewards programs I changed my thought process.  The Home Warrior and I now actively use and manage our points.  Our balances get low sometimes, but what’s the point of having a reward if you’re not going to use it?

Choose a better seat.   The easiest, and most obvious, way to get relief from the squeeze on a plane is to choose a comfortable seat position.  When ordering your ticket you can choose your seat assignment for some airlines.  Try to choose an exit row or bulkhead seat (just remember in a bulkhead seat your personal item must go in the overhead compartment during takeoff and landing).  One caveat: if you have wider hips remember that these seats are slightly narrower than normal to make room for the tray table. My personal preference is in the front part of the aircraft, in Main Cabin Extra or Economy Plus (or whatever your airline calls it). Also, think about your placement in the row. If you get claustrophobic or need to get up often it’s probably better for you to be on the aisle. But if you plan to sleep and want to lean against the wall, maybe the window is a better choice.

Avoid paying for hotel WiFi.  Some of the prices hotels charge for WiFi are completely ridiculous, and it’s often one of the biggest complaints hotel guests have during their stay. One way you possibly could avoid a charge for WiFi is through status.  For instance, Hilton HHonors offers free WiFi to their Gold and Diamond members for most properties.  (If you haven’t signed up for your hotel rewards program you can find a list of where to do so here.)  Another way to avoid a WiFi charge is to use your phone as a tethering device.  On an iPhone you can do this in “settings” under “personal hotspot”.  If you choose this option be careful as you’re using your phone’s data plan, and if you exceed your plan it will obviously offset the benefit of avoiding the hotel WiFi charge.  A good way to know how much data you’ll use tethering is to check your carrier’s website before you begin tethering to see your data usage balance, then check the balance after using it for a day.  You can also use mobile WiFi devices such as these to gain internet access.  These devices essentially connect to a cellular network and provide internet access and usually for multiple devices.  Last, you can always try finding a local coffee shop nearby for access.  Not only does this help you avoid the charge but you also get a nice change of scenery.

Cut down on your expenses.   The cost for business travel increases year after year.  Although the return on investment for business travel is impressive, increased spending gets the attention of whoever is paying the price.  You can’t save money everywhere on a business trip, but you can make some different.

  • Carry-on your luggage. Airlines love tocharge fees.  One of the best ways to avoid them is to carry-on your luggage. Southwest Airlines lets you check two bags for free, although I still carry-on my bags for every trip. Another option—there are plenty of credit cards that offer a free checked bag as one of the benefits.
  • Plan your meals. If you don’t have a plan for your meals before your trip you’ll most likely eat badly and spend more money than necessary.  If I’m traveling somewhere unfamiliar I’ll first look to see if any of the restaurants around my hotel are in my rewards card dining portal program.  If so I’ll check Yelp or Urban Spoon for reviews to make sure it’s a good restaurant.  Next I go to the restaurants website to see if they have any coupons, or to see if they have a newsletter I can sign up for to receive a special offer.  Sometimes the front desk will have coupons for restaurants surrounding the hotel so be sure to ask them at check-in.   Finally, I check out the restaurant’s happy hour times.  Sometimes you can find things half off during happy hour and save a bundle.
  • Another way to save money is to go to a grocery store to buy food, especially if you have a fridge in your room.  Not only is this a healthier option in most cases, it can be a big money saver as well.  Speaking of healthy eating—be sure to check out my post on eating well during business travel if you haven’t already.
  • Many hotels offer a free breakfast, but I’ve stayed at plenty of places that go beyond that. Embassy Suites offers free happy hour and Homewood Suites has hot meals most nights. The food isn’t always great, but if you’re really trying to save money it’s a good option to consider.
  • Know rental car gas policies. Most car rental companies allow you to prepay for a tank of gas. Otherwise you have to fill it up yourself prior to returning, or pay double the per gallon rates for them to fill it up. Many employers will prefer one or the other.

Readers, what are your tips for avoiding the business travel squeeze?

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