How can I save money on business travel?
It doesn’t matter if you’re an executive at a large corporation or a small-business owner. It’s likely you sometimes have to travel for work.
Business travel is also becoming more common. According to Statista, worldwide business travel spending has more than doubled since 2000. While spending has recently declined due to the COVID-19 pandemic, traveling for work is still a reality for some and should eventually recover.
Business travel often involves international travel or significant domestic travel. Trade shows, conferences, networking events, and meeting new clients can require you to hop on a flight to do business in a new city or country. With airfare, hotel costs, transportation, and general travel expenses, costs rack up quickly.
If you want to save money on business travel, you’re in luck. There are numerous ways to reduce travel expenses beyond just booking economy.
Saving Money on Business Airfare
Of all business travel expenses, airfare is often the costliest. Booking flights in advance and sticking with economy are the two most straightforward ways to cut travel costs. But there are other ways to find cheap flights and reduce airfare costs.
1. Book Cheap & Discounted Flights
If you’re trying to save on business travel, booking flights early is the best way to find deals. Last-minute flights are usually expensive, and the more time you have to shop around, the better.
But that’s not the only trick you can use to find cheap flight options.
- Book flights with layovers, provided the savings are worth the extra travel time.
- Use airline search engines like Expedia, Travelocity, and CheapOair to find low-cost airfare.
- Try alternate airports to your closest airport if they have lower prices.
- Book directly through an airline carrier since some airlines don’t appear on airline search engines.
- Take a red-eye (overnight) flight.
You can also take travel planning a step further and possibly score free flights or serious discounts. One popular strategy is to buy airline miles during a promotion, which is essentially buying a future flight at a discount. You can also earn airline miles without a credit card by opening a Bask Bank account or even participating in focus groups.
As long as you browse travel sites for deals and remain flexible, there’s no reason your next business flight should be full price.
2. Avoid Airline Fees
Finding cheap airline tickets is an effective way to reduce travel costs. However, if you aren’t careful, unnecessary airline fees can turn an otherwise frugal trip into a significant business expense.
The best way to avoid airline fees is to read the fine print carefully and stick with the right carrier. Some airlines, like Southwest and United, are generally lenient with checked bag fees and carry-on luggage, and you can sometimes avoid paying for these conveniences altogether.
If your airline charges for checked baggage, consider traveling light and just bringing a carry-on. If you need a suitcase to pack business attire, use a luggage scale to weigh your bag at home to avoid paying for overweight baggage.
Finally, resist paying for airline fees like early boarding or picking your seat if you aren’t picky about getting the aisle or window seat. These sound like luxuries, but these expenses add up quickly and don’t necessarily improve the quality of your flight.
3. Skip Airport Parking
Another common airport travel expense is parking. If you’re traveling for a week or longer, the daily cost of airport parking adds up. For example, at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, 24 hours of parking is $18 in the economy lot, meaning seven days of parking is an additional $126.
Thankfully, you can avoid parking fees entirely. One method is to take an Uber or Lyft to the airport. Alternatively, having a co-worker or family member drop you off is your next best bet. Public transportation is also worth the extra time if it saves you from expensive daily parking fees.
4. Book Through Rewards Websites
Booking your flight and hotel through a rewards website helps you save money on vacation and personal trips. But the right website can also cut business travel expenses.
Rakuten lets you earn cash back for shopping at thousands of partners. Creating an account is free, and once you shop at an eligible partner, you earn cash back in your account. You get paid quarterly as long as your account has $5, which is easy to do if you score cash back on a flight or hotel stay.
Rakuten has numerous travel partners, including:
- Holiday Inn
- Extended Stay America
Rakuten also has non-travel partners you can use to save even more money. For example, it lets you earn up to 5% cash back at thousands of restaurants, which helps you save if you eat out or take clients out for meals. Additionally, Rakuten partners with office supply companies, print shops, and electronics retailers, so you can save on a variety of business-related expenses.
It might seem strange to use a rewards website for business expenses. But if you’re trying to cut costs, every bit of savings counts.
Read our Rakuten review for more information.
5. Always Use a Travel Rewards Credit Card
If you’re a frequent business traveler, you need a travel rewards credit card. Typically, these cards let you earn points for travel-related expenses like flights and in-flight purchases alongside everyday spending.
You can often redeem points for discounted flights and even free airfare if you stack enough points. Plus, many travel rewards credit cards offer additional perks like hotel discounts, priority boarding, and airport lounge access.
Popular travel rewards credit cards include:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve Card: Earn a $750 travel bonus for spending $4,000 in your first three months; $300 annual travel credit; triple points on travel and dining; perks like lost luggage and trip cancellation coverage; $550 annual fee
- American Express Platinum Card: Earn a $750 bonus for spending $5,000 in your first three months; $200 annual airline fee credit; quintuple points on flights and prepaid hotels; $200 annual savings on Uber rides and food delivery; various hotel upgrades and discounts; $550 annual fee
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Earn 60,000 Ultimate Reward points for spending $4,000 in your first three months; $95 annual fee
There are other travel credit card options, including lucrative cash-back credit cards. If you’re a business owner, you can also look at small-business credit cards like the Chase Ink Business Preferred credit card. This card has numerous travel perks and an impressive $1,250 account opening bonus if you spend at least $15,000 within the first three months of becoming a cardholder.
Ideally, your credit card should offer enough travel perks and other rewards to help you save money even with the annual fee.
Saving Money on Accommodations
Finding a pleasant hotel or rental can help foster a successful business trip. Ideally, the location is close to clients or any event you need to attend and has ample access to restaurants for client meetings. Ultimately, you want to strike a balance among comfort, convenience, and affordability.
That can be difficult to get right. The worst-case scenario is that employee performance suffers because of location or simply being too cheap when booking. On the flip side, always sticking with 5-star luxury suites isn’t cost-effective.
As with airfare, there are several tips you can use to reduce how much you spend on accommodations.
6. Negotiate With Hotels
As an independent traveler, calling a hotel and negotiating room prices isn’t always feasible. But business travelers have a slight advantage, especially when traveling in larger groups.
Hotel chains want to incentivize visits from business travelers because it’s reliable, repeat business. If you’re heading out of town for a conference or meeting, take time to call nearby hotels to see what they can offer.
If it’s a frequent trip and you plan to return regularly, let the hotel know. You might find the manager is willing to drop your room price or at least give a free upgrade to keep you happy.
7. Try Dosh Travel
Dosh is a popular cash-back reward app that pays you for shopping at hundreds of partners. Once you link a credit or debit card to Dosh, you automatically earn for shopping at eligible retailers. That’s different from apps like Ibotta that require you to preselect offers before shopping.
Dosh works with dozens of companies, including:
- Pizza Hut
- Old Navy
Currently, you can earn with Dosh at over 100,000 stores across the United States. However, Dosh is also a way to save money on your next business trip.
With Dosh Travel, you can earn up to 40% cash back for booking a hotel through the app. Dosh works with more than 600,000 hotels globally, so there’s no shortage of choice.
You need at least $25 to withdraw your balance, but a single hotel stay can easily earn this amount. Additionally, Dosh partners with local restaurants and Uber Eats, so you can save money taking clients out and feeding your employees. With partners like Walmart and Office Depot, you can also earn cash back for buying office supplies, which can help you reach $25 faster.
Read our Dosh app review to learn more.
8. Consider Airbnb
If your company is traveling with multiple employees, it’s likely everyone needs their own room. Ultimately, that means a substantial hotel bill, even if you negotiate prices or find a deal.
Before you spend thousands of dollars on multiple hotel rooms, search Airbnb’s business accommodations. The platform has grown beyond vacation rentals, and you can find top-rated homes and boutique hotels that also have collaborative workspaces. Plus, Airbnb listings also mention nearby activities and attractions you can use for team building.
Airbnb isn’t always cheaper than hotels, but large groups are likely to save money. Even when you factor in cleaning charges and service fees, Airbnb has some remarkably low nightly prices. Plus, you can negotiate with hosts to get a lower price, and your amenities are likely better than a single hotel room.
If you want to save money and increase your comfort, using Airbnb for your next business trip is certainly worth it.
Saving Money on Food
It’s standard practice for employers to pay for employee meals during business trips. And taking clients and potential customers out for food and drinks is common during business travel. But expenses like client dinners and catering for your team add up quickly unless you implement some money-saving tips for food costs.
9. Schedule Breakfast & Lunchtime Meetings
The practice of wining and dining exists for good reason. For existing relationships, taking clients out shows them you appreciate their business. Similarly, taking a prospect out for food and drinks helps establish a more personal relationship and lets you discuss business in a less formal environment.
However, dinner is almost always more expensive than breakfast or lunch. If you treat a client to a nice dinner with a main course and drinks, you could easily spend $100 or more for the meal, depending on where you go and how many diners you have.
For example, at Scarpetta, a popular Italian restaurant in New York City, most dinner entrees range from $30 to $45. If you add two drinks and an appetizer, that’s another $50 or so for your bill. With an 18% tip, you’re paying around $140 for dinner for just you and one client. When you multiply that by several dinners over a business trip, expenses rack up quickly.
To save money on client meals, schedule breakfast or lunch meetings instead. The brunch menu at Scarpetta, which runs until 3pm, is noticeably cheaper than the dinner menu, with most entrees costing $18. Even with drinks, brunch or lunchtime dining likely brings your bill down to around $80, saving you over 40% on your meal with a client.
For breakfast, you can also find trendy restaurants and cafes suitable for client meetings, like La Parisienne, where a breakfast meeting for two costs around $40 to $50.
You don’t have to go to fast-food restaurants to save money on taking clients out. Instead, research several restaurants with affordable lunch and breakfast menus in the city you’re traveling to so you have some options.
10. Use Corporate Meal-Delivery Services
You may also need to feed your team on business trips. For that, you can save even more using corporate food-delivery services instead of catering companies, time-consuming reimbursement, or cash per-diem allowances.
For example, if you’re running a team event, try using DoorDash for Work to order everyone’s food. Perks of DoorDash for Work include:
- No delivery fees
- Lower service fees
- Easy-to-create group orders
- Spending limits and reimbursement options to let employees expense their meals
Uber Eats also has a corporate option that lets team members place group orders. As an employer, you can create rules like stipends and hours during which you cover employees’ expenses.
11. Scout Ahead for Cheap Food Joints
Often, if you book accommodations in a city’s downtown business district, you’ll find yourself surrounded by expensive restaurants and bars. But if you’re a mile or more out of downtown, you can probably find cheaper restaurants that are still suitable for client meetings and employee dining.
When booking accommodations, scout the area for affordable restaurants and nearby grocery stores. You should also search for quick and cheap restaurants or even food trucks that are nearby. That’s especially handy if you’re attending trade shows or events and only have time for a quick bite during a lull in the day.
12. Book Cooking-Friendly Accommodations
You don’t need a hotel with a complete kitchen for business travel. But having a microwave and small stovetop means you and your employees can cook some meals rather than relying on hotel food services and eating out constantly (a boon for those on special diets or with food allergies or restrictions).
The savings can add up quickly. For example, if you book a room with a stovetop, you can make a quick breakfast of eggs and toast rather than eating out each morning. That means you’re spending $1 to $2 at most for breakfast instead of $10 to $20 going out. However, if the cost of the room is significantly more expensive than a room without a kitchen, the savings likely aren’t worth it, so consider how impactful potential food savings is when booking accommodations.
For long business trips, companies like Extended Stay America have rooms with a full kitchen and let you save up to 31% on nightly rates if you book for 30 nights or longer. Booking an Airbnb is also ideal for saving on food since you typically have access to a full kitchen.
Saving Money on Transportation
While transportation usually doesn’t cost as much as airfare or accommodations, getting around a new city can still be a significant business travel expense. If you want to cut costs, there are several tricks you can try.
13. Use Rideshare Apps
As a business traveler, your first instinct might be to use an airport car rental service or even a higher-end rental company like Silvercar. However, when you consider car rental upsells and various hidden fees, it can be challenging to find a cheap car rental option.
Plus, if your trip consists of meetings and conferences, you won’t spend much time behind the wheel, making your rental car a near waste. In that case, you’re better off using rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft to travel.
Uber and Lyft also simplify corporate travel budgeting. For example, companies can set travel stipends and track ride history to ensure employees are only expensing business rides rather than personal.
If you’re responsible for approving reimbursement requests, you can quickly check the time, pickup, and drop-off location of every ride an employee expenses. If a ride seems like it wasn’t for business purposes, ask for clarification so your company doesn’t accidentally pay or attempt to take a tax deduction for personal employee expenses.
14. Book Accommodations in the Right Location
In an ideal world, you can skip renting a car or using rideshare apps altogether by booking accommodations within walking distance to wherever you need to go for your business trip.
If you’re attending a trade show or conference, check to see if they have arrangements with nearby hotels to offer special prices for attendees. Alternatively, book your own accommodations within walking distance. Even if you pay slightly more per night, the savings on a rental car or rideshare apps is probably worth it.
15. Save Money on Gas
For some business trips, renting a car or driving your own vehicle is more economical than taking a flight or using rideshare apps. But if you’re driving, anything you can do to save money on gas helps make your trip cheaper.
For starters, use a gas credit card to earn rewards for refueling. Popular gas credit cards include:
- CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard: Earn 65,000 bonus miles for spending $4,000 within your first four months; earn 2 AAdvantage miles for every $1 you spend at gas stations and car rental companies; earn unlimited 1 mile per $1 you spend on other categories; $99 annual fee that’s waived for your first year
- Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi: Earn 4% cash back on gas for the first $7,000 per year and then 1% thereafter; 3% cash back on restaurants and travel purchases; 2% cash back on Costco and Costco.com purchases; 1 cash back everywhere else; no annual fee
- Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card: Earn a $200 bonus for spending $1,000 in your first three months; earn unlimited 3% cash back on gas, restaurants, rideshares, transit, flights, hotels, and car rentals; earn 1% cash back everywhere else; no annual fee
To complement your gas credit card, use apps that help you find cheap gas stations, like GasBuddy. With GasBuddy, you can also get up to $0.25 off per gallon by signing up for Pay With GasBuddy, a free fuel rewards card you use like a debit card to pay at the pump and save.
Finally, when driving, use an app like Waze to avoid traffic and find the most efficient route possible. That’s especially important in an unfamiliar city where you don’t know your way around very well. Driving more efficiently helps reduce fuel consumption, ultimately saving more money.
It’s essential to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of driving versus flying and using rideshare apps or a rental car. But if the savings point toward driving, there’s no reason to pay full price at the pump.
Other Tips to Save on Business Travel
If you can cut down on airfare, accommodation, and transportation costs, you’re already on track to keep business travel more affordable. But there are other tips you can use to save money and keep trip planning simple.
16. Have a Trip-Approval Process
If you want to cut business costs, you need to understand your annual expenses to identify areas of wasteful spending. Therefore, every business budget should have a designated portion for business travel expenses and an approval process for trips.
You don’t need an extensive corporate travel policy to take a client out for lunch or drive across town for a meeting. But for out-of-town trips, it’s worth getting management involved. Ideally, employees should submit a trip summary that includes:
- The purpose and length of a trip
- The employees who are attending
- A rough estimate of cost
The summary should then pass to human resources or management for approval.
While this might seem redundant, this process is useful for tracking costs and whether trips result in business development. Plus, as a business owner, you might find that you can skip certain trips or involve fewer employees after reviewing the details more closely.
17. Create a Travel Stipend
A trip approval process helps an organization budget for business travel expenses and forces teams to put more thought into deciding to travel in the first place.
But your business travel policy should also outline a daily employee stipend.
Creating a travel stipend for business travel benefits everyone. For employers, a travel stipend makes budgeting simpler. For employees, a stipend helps clarify limits and ensures there aren’t any awkward post-trip conversations about expensive restaurant or bar tabs.
You should also decide on a reimbursement method. One option is to open a business credit card for traveling employees. For example, Ramp lets you create unlimited virtual and physical cards for employees and pays 1.5% cash back. Plus, there’s no annual fee, and Ramp also collects and stores receipts automatically to help track spending.
Alternatively, you can let your employees spend with their own cards and submit expenses for reimbursement. However, ensure your employees know they need to provide receipts.
But weigh the pros and cons of leaving it in your employees’ hands. Making employees pay for expenses means they have to front significant costs like hotels and flights. That could put employees having financial issues in a tight spot they’d rather not discuss with their employer. And it also means they get to leverage their own credit card rewards that otherwise would have gone to the business.
18. Look for a Corporate Travel Agency
If you’re booking a simple business trip, working with a travel agency probably isn’t worth it. Travel agents used to be incredibly helpful because they could find exclusive deals and would book your trip for you. These days, booking travel plans online is straightforward, and you can find travel deals with a few searches.
But if you’re planning a complicated business trip with multiple employees and hotel bookings, a corporate travel agency could be worth it. Agencies charge a fee to ensure a smooth journey, but it could pay for itself if it prevents one of your employees from taking time out of their day to plan an entire trip.
19. Always Keep Receipts
Another simple way to save on business travel is to keep receipts for tax season. There are numerous tax deductions for self-employed individuals and small-business owners, but you need to track expenses to claim them accurately.
Business travel expenses are also deductible. Examples of deductible expenses include:
- Travel by train, airplane, bus, or car between your home and business destination
- Shipping baggage or business products to other work locations
- Using your car for business purposes
- Accommodations and business-related meals
- Tolls, parking fees, and rental car usage for business purposes
- Dry cleaning
- Taxis and shuttle services
20. Plan Ahead
If you leave trip planning until the last minute, it’s almost impossible to find low prices or deals. That means paying more for flights, hotels, and transportation. Plus, feeling rushed is a surefire way to have a worse trip and potentially forget a critical part of planning.
Give your organization more time to plan trips whenever possible. Ideally, your company should have a calendar of upcoming trips throughout the year to help budget and plan business travel.
That responsibility can fall to department heads or relevant employees, but it needs to be prioritized if employees regularly travel for work.
21. Prioritize Impactful Savings
One of the worst ways to reduce business travel spending is to save money in a way that hurts your business’s image. For example, if you take a client out for lunch, choose a decent restaurant instead of a fast-food joint and cover the bill.
Similarly, there’s little point in nickel-and-diming your way toward a cheaper travel budget. If you spend hours agonizing over rental car prices to save $15, that’s hardly worth your time as an employee.
Ultimately, you should focus on efficient trip planning and tackling major expenses. Find cheap airfare and accommodations, consider sending fewer employees on trips, and always maximize rewards with the right business credit card.
Business travel can be a significant expense. But as long as you plan and budget accordingly, there’s no reason for business trips to hurt your bottom line. In fact, business trips are an excellent way to increase business revenue if they create new opportunities.
Just remember to factor upcoming trips into your annual budget and create a trip-approval process and travel stipend. You can also conduct a yearly business checkup to review whether business travel costs have paid for themselves with new opportunities.