Having once worked for the federal government where the rules designed to keep airfare costs in check sometimes had the opposite effect, I learned quickly that one-size-fits-all rules can't be relied upon for travel budget savings. There need to be some rules to ward off abuse of the company's travel budget, of course, but flexibility is critical. Airline prices change frequently so it's important to keep up to date on happenings in the industry and use that information to advantage.
These tips will help small businesses save money on airfare.
Ask for company discounts
One of the easiest tips to overlook is to ask airlines for company discounts. A caveat is in order here, though. Company discounts, like many available discount programs, may not be the cheapest way to travel in many circumstances. That's what I learned from my extensive federal government travel as our contract carriers proved more expensive at times than sale prices offered to the public. Never lock yourself in to a particular airline or discount program. The key is to use a discount program when its prices are the most attractive available and to buy tickets outside the program when that will lead to savings.
Take advantage of company frequent flier accounts
Use company frequent flier accounts and take advantage of their benefits. These programs offer free tickets based on miles flown and those free tickets will save your company travel dollars. If you want to make sure those miles are used for free tickets for the company, ensure employees know of your policy. Require that all benefits on company-paid travel accrue to the company, and instruct employees not to use the miles for benefits such as seat upgrades unless you are intentionally providing this perk.
Travel on off-peak days
Whenever possible, schedule travel for off-peak days (usually mid-week) to ensure the best ticket prices. This tip alone is insufficient; it's equally important to make sure employees are aware that scheduling meetings out of town for midweek is preferred company policy. Otherwise, the travel will be scheduled to accommodate the meeting instead of the meeting being scheduled with the travel budget in mind.
If an employee wants to add personal travel onto business travel, ask for comparative costs of an immediate return versus a delayed return to accommodate personal travel. Note that in many cases, employees adding on personal travel would stay through a weekend, bringing their return trip into peak travel times; in that event, expect the employee to cover any excess cost.
Make sure employees understand baggage restrictions
Many airlines have adopted hefty baggage fees in the past year or two. Make it an employee responsibility to ascertain exactly how much baggage is permitted on the airline on which they're traveling to ensure the company isn't hit up for hundreds of dollars in unnecessary fees. This is important whether the baggage is company property or personal effects. The fees in some cases can be so onerous that a more expensive airfare might prove cheaper than a low fare plus fees.
Enroll in price protection programs
Price-protection programs may sometimes prove advantageous. These programs promise to refund the excess price paid for a ticket if ticket prices decrease before the travel takes place. These programs generally require membership and only work with specified airlines, so they may not represent the best bargains all around. What they do is offer notification of price drops so that the company may pursue a refund from the airline according to its generally-applicable refund policy. Sometimes the price drops have to be substantial before an airline offers a refund.
Being flexible and communicating travel policies clearly to employees are the most important tools for keeping small business travel costs in check.
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