Five business travel challenges for small companies to overcome

Regardless of economic conditions, owning and running a small business isn’t easy. It’s always tough to find clients, allocate your funds effectively and maximize your bang for the buck. And, business travel is a big part of this. When you go out on the road, you know you’re committing some serious cash to the endeavor, and you want to make sure you get as much value out of it as possible.

Part of this has nothing to do with what you’re spending: you want to make sure the reasons for your business trip are smart. But, you also need to keep an eye on the expense side of this to ensure you aren’t spending unnecessarily. Business planning covers the first aspect of this, and travel planning addresses the second.

So, how can white collar travel folks spend more intelligently on business travel? Here are five ideas:

1. Forget brand: are you loyal to a particular airline? Cut those ties. Sure, you’re thinking that accumulating miles can get you free business travel later … and there is some truth to that. However, you could be spending more than the price of a ticket when working toward that benefit. Also, there may be constraints on when you can take free travel.
2. Stay a little loyal, though: even if you aren’t buying on loyalty, you should still enroll in the loyalty programs for every airline, rental car company and hotel you use. It may take longer to accumulate benefits when you spread your purchases around, but the free perks you receive won’t come at the (literal) expense of your travel budget.

3. Shop around a bit: time is money, and the hours you spend looking for a flight are hours you could sink into other business activities. So, look at your effective rate per hour (i.e., how much your time is worth). Let’s say, for example, that an hour of your time is worth $100. If you could spend an hour to save $250 on a flight, that’s a good return – swallow the pill and do some comparison shopping for airfare and room rates.

4. Look at alternatives to airline loyalty: some online travel agencies have loyalty programs. Remember to join them, as you can accumulate benefits with them as well as with the airlines. As with airline choices, though, don’t choose a particular booking site just to accumulate points. Cash comes first!

5. Play the credit card game: use a branded credit card to make your travel arrangements. Choose one for the airline you use most. So, if you have a Delta card and wind up flying American Airlines every now and then to save money, you’ll still accumulate some benefits with Delta. Just don’t forget to pay the card off at the end of the month!

[photo by codepo8 via Flickr]

Business travel increasing, but with caution

The Association of Corporate Travel Executives found in a survey last month that a lot of business travelers will be open their wallets a little wider. Seventy percent of respondents say they expect to shell out more on business travel next year, with 60 percent indicating that their employees would travel more next year. Meanwhile, the National Business Travel Association found that travel spending is up 5.5 percent over last year and is likely to inch 4.5 percent higher next year.

According to USA Today:

“In recent months, soaring corporate profits and strong cash reserves have meant that companies have begun to relax their travel restrictions and allow their existing employees to get out on the road more,” says Suzanne Cook, senior adviser with the U.S. Travel Association. “It shows that companies are realizing the value of face-to-face travel to not only preserve current relationships but to build future business.”

With hotel and airline prices going up, which is part of the reason for the increase in spending, many businesses are looking at alternatives. Fifty-four percent of corporate travel executives are pushing videoconferencing and other ways to stay in touch.

Nonetheless, it looks like business travel is back in style. So, how will you adjust to it? Will you take this approach, or this one?

White Collar Travel: Four ways a Kindle can improve your productivity

I’ve known several white collar folks who have spent their last hours in the office before a business trip printing off material to read on the plane. Laptop battery lives are never long enough, and nobody wants to waste it on reading. So, killing a few trees can buy a bit more in-flight productivity. This means filling a bag until it’s almost to the point of bursting, though, as well as having to lug around a few extra pounds. Once on the plane, paper is strewn across the tray table and become sdifficult to manage. It’s a colossal pain in the ass, but absent a better alternative, trafficking in paper is the best available alternative.

It doesn’t have to be this way any more – not with the Kindle.

For travelers, an e-reader like the Kindle (or similar products from Sony or Barnes & Noble) already eases the travel load by taking the books out of your bag and sparing you some space and weight. These devices can also alleviate the paper problem. The Kindle can handle PDF files, so you can catch up on the reports, white papers and other industry information you usually put off reading until the wheels go up. You recapture time lost to printing (for you or for your assistant), and you obviate the need to carry and sift through all that paper.

There are several other advantages as well:1. Getting through security
Nobody associates paper with inefficiency at an airport security checkpoint. It doesn’t set off any alarms and won’t get you a pat-down. But, when you’re extracting your laptop out of your bag, you could wind up pulling a stack of paper out with it, which you’ll have to shove back in there while people are waiting in line behind you … impatiently.

2. Waiting at the gate
The dynamic here is similar to the one on the plane, though not as drastic because you can spread out a bit. Even with more space, you’ll still have to find the paper you want and get it back into your bag, which isn’t life-changing, but it’s a headache you don’t need when you’re traveling.

3. You get more done during the flight
You lose time sifting and sorting paper when you’re on the plane – shuffling, stuffing, trying to make it all fit again. The e-reader is a single device that’s slim and easy to fold and slide. And, you won’t have to reorganize your documents when you get to the office or your hotel room.

4. Packing to go home
Doubtless, you’ll be able to jettison much of the stuff you printed for your first flight before you return home. But, you’ll probably print out a new stack for the new flight. The last hours of a business trip tend to be packed already, so you may not have time to do all the printing you want. Even if you do, it’s still another item on the checklist that you’d probably prefer to skip. With the e-reader, your to do list gets a little bit shorter.

Read more White Collar Travel here.

White Collar Travel: Five reasons to book your hotel stays in blocks

Cost-conscious businesses are always looking for ways to reduce travel expenses. So, if you can find a way to cut yours a bit, you’ll get some credit for budgetary discipline, which is always a plus when times are tough. Take the right approach, and you may be able to improve your travel experience, too. If you plan to stay at the same hotel for several months, it may make more sense to make a long-term reservation than to book a week at a time. In addition to saving some money, you’ll be able to cut the amount of stuff you tote with you on the plane and have the same room every week, which means fewer trips to the wrong door when you’ve been at the hotel for sixteen weeks in a row (or longer).

If your project is both long-term and unlikely to change, contact the hotel and ask what they can do for you. Explain the situation – it won’t take long; most of them are incredibly familiar with the business travel dynamic – and ask if they can work something out with you. You’ll have to commit to paying for weekend days as well, but if the overall cost works out in your favor, it’s still a savings, and that makes it inherently valuable.

This won’t work all the time. But, even if the long-term rate works out to a breakeven proposition, it still may be worth accepting. Here are five reasons why:1. No more check-in lines
Checking in is a pain in the ass. Even if you have super-duper-elite status, the short line still takes time. You have to step up to the desk, leave your credit card and get the rundown on the hotel. Some of the introductory remarks may be curtailed when the front desk staff recognizes you, but it still takes time that you don’t want to spend – especially when you’ve just gotten off a plane or left the office. Book for the long run, and you’ll be able to go straight to your room.

2. Lighter load
Since you’ll have the same room every week, you can leave a lot of your stuff there. Run the numbers and see if it’s cheaper to use the hotel’s cleaning service because of the money you’re saving. You can have your clothes picked up the night before you leave and find them waiting for you when you arrive. If you’re working in a major city, you can always drop your clothes off at a wash-dry-fold service and pick them up when you’re back in town. You’ll only have to carry your laptop and books Kindle.

3. Predictability
Peak periods can sneak up on you, especially if you’re staying in the same location for months at a time. Rates can spike with little warning, putting you in a position to have to explain the increased cost to your boss or client. You can avoid this with a long-term reservation, which makes budgeting and forecasting much easier for those who have to do it.

4. No more wrong door
It happens to the best of us. You get to your hotel room, swipe your key and push – nothing happens. You try it again … with the same result. The third, fourth and fifth times, you get angry and finally march down to the front desk ready to raise hell. The polite, professional employee then reminds you of your room number, which isn’t the same as the one you just tried to enter. Embarrassed, you go to your room – the right room – to find that there’s nothing wrong with your key. If you have the same room every week, you won’t have a sheepish look on your face the next time you walk by the front desk.

5. Informal perks
The hotel staff will be told that you’re going to be around for a while. Everyone will know who you are and how valuable your business is to the property. Occasionally, you’ll get your bar tab comp’ed or find a bottle of wine in your room. From time to time, the general manager will keep an eye out for you and ask how your stay is (which the staff will notice). You can’t always quantify this, but you’ll definitely feel the difference.

Read more White Collar Travel here.

Crowne Plaza hotels help business travelers “switch off”

Crowne Plaza hotels in Africa, Europe and the Middle East have put together a service designed to help business travelers “switch off” at the end of a long day.

And no, the service does not involve forcing them to hand over their Blackberry – it is not much more than a polite reminder phone call at 7pm telling them that the time has come to put the PDA away and to close the laptop.

Crowne Plaza did some research on business travelers, and discovered that 60% of them struggle to turn their gear off before going to bed. According to the research, 27% of Brits actually take their gadgetry to bed – and will regularly check for messages during the night. Compare that to the Dutch, with just 8% and you’ll understand why 90 per cent of Dutch people claim to be completely relaxed before going to bed versus just 75 per cent across the UK, Germany and Belgium.

The “Switch Off” service is part of the Crowne Plaza SleepAdvantage program. The new sleep services will be introduced at 92 Crowne Plaza hotels in Europe, the Middle East and Africa including 24 across the UK and Ireland by the end of 2010. SleepAdvantage will offer guests luxurious bedding, dedicated quiet zones, a guaranteed wake-up call where you’ll get your call on time – or a full refund of your room price.