Business trips represent exciting opportunities for a small business owner to meet new partners, get face time with clients, or grow brand awareness—or maybe all at once. In fact, every dollar spent on business travel has been shown to lead to $9 in increased revenue and $2.90 in new profits.1 With that kind of return on investment, small businesses in the right stage of development should certainly be considering the potential represented by traveling to other markets for conferences, meetings, expos, and more.
Though only 17% of the 450 million business trips Americans take each year require getting on a plane, when necessary, flying for business introduces a new layer of possible complications, concerns, and anxieties.2 If you’re preparing for business air travel, you need to know these cost-savings strategies and air travel tips before lift-off.
Evaluating Airline and Hotel Loyalty
Every national airline offers a rewards points program for businesses, and many international air carriers do as well.3 A seasoned business traveler might just have an account at every one. But how do you know which programs will bring you the biggest reward? U.S. News ranked the nation’s top 10 airline rewards programs, and gave highest marks to airlines that still award miles based on distance traveled, not dollars spent.4 Features like the ability to pool points between flyers,5 extra points for upgrades, and no blackout dates6 are among other prime features business owners should look for when deciding between two airlines to book a flight. When everything else is equal, earning points from more flexible carriers simply means more usability in the future. However, that also may depend on geographic area. It’s carriers like Alaska Airlines and JetBlue that offer the top-ranked programs, probably due in part to their limited region of service.7 National carriers like Southwest and Delta are also highly ranked thanks to low redemption requirements and wide availability.
Many of today’s planes are Wi-Fi enabled once they reach cruising altitude, and savvy business travelers can save money by paying for access in advance.
U.S. News also ranked the nation’s top hotel loyalty programs based on factors like how long it took to earn a free stay, member benefits, and the ease of earning rewards.8 Some hotel chains have the benefit of guests being able to earn rewards from the parent company of many affiliated chains, like Marriott or Wyndham, the two top ranked.9 Features like being able to use accumulated points to register for TSA pre-check are certainly nice perks, but make sure to look at details like how long the points are good for, whether taxes and fees are covered when the points are used to book a room, and even if it’s possible to link airline and hotel rewards accounts for more points.10
Keep a Budget
A data analysis by SaaS provider Concur revealed that small businesses spend 24% more on business travel than their big business counterparts. Dining was one of the biggest discrepancies, with small business travelers spending an average of $340 a quarter to eat out 10 times while travelling, while big business travelers only spend $289 to dine out seven times.11 That $22 burger might seem like a great option while you’re waiting at the gate, but remember you’re probably paying 18% extra or more for your pre-flight nosh.12
Plan for Connectivity
The flexibility and geographic reach of travel partners like hotels and airlines are important to consider when taking advantage of loyalty programs.
For those looking to get work done on the go, it’s getting easier all the time to stay connected during a flight. While in the air, passengers are still required to activate airplane mode on their devices. That said, many of today’s planes are Wi-Fi enabled once they reach cruising altitude. However, buying this Wi-Fi access once you’re on the flight means you’re required to pay whatever the airline demands. If you know your plane has in-flight Wi-Fi, do some research in advance to find out who the provider is. If it’s industry-leader Gogo, you can go to their website in advance and buy an hour of time or an all-day pass at a discounted rate. Otherwise, you can also do any necessary research or download files in advance to avoid having to pay high inflight Wi-Fi costs. If you’re anxious about others looking over your shoulder, consider getting a privacy filter for your laptop screen. Lastly, make sure your important devices are fully charged before you board—nothing kills productivity faster than a dead battery.13
Seasoned travelers know that no two trips are alike. The reasons for in-flight frustration and anxiety can run the gamut, from a chatty seatmate, to a line for the bathroom, to turbulence and bad weather. Psychologist Elisha Goldstein tells Conde Nast Traveler that in such scenarios, acknowledging your frustration can help alleviate it. “The ‘bumming out’ is a combination of thoughts, emotions, and reactions,” says Goldstein. “You don't need to be enslaved by that.”14 If you know in advance that certain common scenarios really press your buttons, try to prepare by getting noise-cancelling headphones, taking melatonin as a sleep aid, or getting a seat near the front to avoid a long wait to de-plane.
Traveling for business creates opportunity to get your product or services in front of new consumers and learn more about your industry. Excitement about the opportunity ahead can lead some to overspending on these trips, though rewards programs and other incentives often bring long-term returns on these expenses. It’s easy to see the flight as a necessary time sink, but advanced planning can make high altitude more enjoyable and productive. Keep these tips in mind next time you fly for business and see for yourself.