5 Ways to Save Money on a Business Trip

July 3, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

You may not have a healthy travel budget for your business trip, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat fast food and stay at a cheap budget hotel in a dangerous neighborhood. We’ve compiled a list of tips for saving money that will still provide you with a pleasant, productive, and safe experience that will make you the hero with your finance department.

First, think outside the hotel box. We’re not suggesting you hit up friends for their spare bed or sleep at a hostel, but Airbnb might be a better option than the expensive conference hotel downtown because it can provide you some cost-saving amenities. Sometimes you can rent an entire house or apartment with Airbnb for the price of a luxury hotel in the heart of the business district. If you’re traveling with several colleagues, a multi-bedroom apartment or house might cut the accommodations line item down to a fraction of the cost of everyone having their own hotel room.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara California. This would be a nice place for a business trip.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, California

These properties often not only have spaces for lounging or working, most come equipped with a kitchen, which leads us to tip number 2. A kitchen will allow you to stock up on some grocery basics and eat in for breakfast and maybe even dinner a few nights. Conducting a business meeting at the property might also provide the right private atmosphere for a day of negotiations, and you could have food delivered and eat without wasting time going out.

If an Airbnb property isn’t an option, consider booking a suite at a hotel. The price of a suite might be $50 more per night, but by using the in-room mini fridge or small kitchenette with a two-burner stovetop, you’ll be ahead in the long run when you add up the savings to your food per diem because you dine in for breakfast and/or dinner. A home-cooked meal might not be as glamorous as a nice restaurant, but knowing you’ve saved time and money will allow you to relax and unwind after a long day. (And you can always spend your per diem dollars on other things, like a bottle of wine and a whole pint of ice cream.)

When you’re searching for airfares, be flexible with your departure and arrival dates. Compare the cost of flying in on a Saturday or flying home on a Sunday to regular Monday through Friday travel. Traveling outside the normal work week will often net you significant savings. Flying the red eye going home might be worth it if you can negotiate some comp time to sleep in. (But don’t sacrifice your health and well-being for the sake of saving a few dollars.)

Finally, see if there’s a way to avoid renting a car during your trip. Not only is car rental $50 a day or more, you’ll pay upwards of $30 or more every time you park, especially in big cities such as Chicago, Miami, and New York. Uber and Lyft might seem expensive, but they could end up being cost effective when you do the math — you could get to your conference and back for $40, as compared to car rental, day parking, and hotel overnight parking.

You might even find you can walk to a meeting or dinner with clients, which is a good way to get some exercise while you’re traveling.

How do you save money on a business trip? Where can you cut costs without sacrificing comfort? Leave us a comment or share your ideas on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter page.

Photo credit: Scott Cutler, an Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, CA (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Chain Hotels vs B&Bs vs Airbnb

June 7, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When considering your lodging accommodation options, what’s most important to you? Do you want a standard cookie cutter room that will be the same(ish) wherever you go? Or do you want to experience something new and unique each time you travel?

If you’ve only ever stayed in hotels, why? If you’re a fan of Airbnb or independent bed and breakfast operations, what appeals to you about them? Or if you love to stay in cozy little B&Bs, what draws you to them?

These are some good questions to ask yourself as you think through your itinerary each trip. There are some good reasons to stay at any of these three options, and a few downsides as well.

Hotel room in the Renaissance Columbus, OHHotels provide a consistent experience, they’re located close to major attractions or downtown business districts, and you can count on them being clean and maintained for you during your stay. You’re also rewarded with loyalty points and other benefits like upgrades for frequent stays.

Of course, if you’re looking for an individual, unique experience, hotels won’t give that to you. They’re there for convenience and/or price. It’s a place to sleep, or to be pampered if you’re staying at a luxury vacation hotel, but you’re still just one of hundreds of guests.

If you want to investigate a specific part of a city, live like the locals, have more room to relax, and cook some of your own meals, Airbnb offers many options.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara California; they have a new tool for business travelers.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, California

Typically, you have a more personal experience, possibly interacting with the owner of the property who may also live nearby. You’re often nestled in a residential neighborhood, and you can discover local finds that are off the beaten path from the heavily frequented tourist areas. You can also save money on your trip by eating in. In order to compete with chain hotels, Airbnb is now rewarding loyalty as well.

On the downside, you don’t always get as much privacy, as some Airbnb rooms are just a bedroom in someone’s house or apartment. That’s fine if you’re going to be out for most of the day, and if you don’t mind bunking with a stranger, but some people don’t like the idea. (If that’s you, keep in mind that you can specify a private house or private apartment on the website; you won’t be surprised with a roommate when you book your Airbnb.)

Long before Airbnb, independent bed and breakfasts provided a similar experience for travelers seeking something unique.

When you book your stay at a bed and breakfast, you may have all the benefits of a hotel—clean, maintained rooms—but you also get the chance to interact with a smaller group of guests and the owner/operator, who may be cooking your meals and can provide expert knowledge about the area’s sites and history. In fact, if you love history, a B&B may be your best bet, as many of them are originally historic homes that have been converted into a place to visit and relax.

But on the downside, it’s like staying in a small hotel. You may have your own bathroom or you may end up sharing one with other guests. If you need your privacy and space, be sure to check out the B&B’s website and room type before you commit.

What’s your lodging preference when you travel? What makes it your favorite? What option do you like the least? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: David Jensen (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
Scott Cutler, an Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, CA (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Mysterious Hotel Fees Explained

May 22, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When checking out of a hotel, do you ever really examine the bill that’s slipped under your door before you actually leave the premises? If not, you could be paying more than you expected for your room, thanks to some hidden fees that were tacked on to your bill but didn’t show up on the website when you booked it.

The use of fees isn’t uncommon in the hotel industry. It allows them a certain “sleight of hand” in advertising, claiming a certain room price and not disclosing what will be tacked on when you check out. This isn’t illegal so much as one of those unspoken things that just sort of happen but no one talks about.

So let’s talk about it! Here are some explanations for commonly added fees.

Let’s start with the resort fee. Basically, this allows a hotel to charge travelers for specific amenities that are part of the hotel’s property. It might include access to the business center, the fitness center, or newspaper delivery. It can vary from property to property, with some charging a flat fee while others tack on a percentage based on your room rate. Another little-known fee can be added for lawn maintenance called a groundskeeping fee. You value that there aren’t any weeds in the grass and that the lawn is edged, don’t you? Well, someone’s got to pay for that.

Some Fees are Negotiable

According to the LA Times, these fees aren’t mandated by law, nor have they been “levied by a legitimate taxing organization.” That’s good news for you because it means you can contest them before you ever check in and negotiate your way to a rate you can live with.

However, this is easier said than done.

Hotel lobby. This is the place to negotiate your hotel fees *before* you check inOne strategy for getting out of a resort fee is to know what your benefits are as a member of that hotel’s loyalty program. For example, a hotel can’t charge you for wifi if it’s included as an amenity in your loyalty membership. According to The Points Guy, Nick Ewen, fees of this nature can be waived at certain properties in the Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Starwood chains.

If the hotel you’re staying at doesn’t have a loyalty program, you can try to negotiate the resort fee by telling them you don’t want to pay for amenities, such as the pool or the gym, you don’t plan to use. If you don’t do this at check-in, though, you’re going to have a hard time getting waived when you check out.

And don’t try to be tricky: Don’t negotiate and then surreptitiously use them anyway. (That doesn’t work with the pet fee, and it won’t work in this case. Hotels have eyes everywhere.)

Another strange, annoying fee is the occupancy tax. This one is harder to dispute because local municipalities and some state governments have legislated these for the benefit of their city and state. Don’t confuse these with state and local taxes; they’re different. And, on top of both of these, some states and cities charge a bed tax, also known as a hotel unit fee.

For example, in New York City, the New York State Department of Taxation requires hotels in the Big Apple to charge $1.50 per day as a hotel unit fee. Houston charges 17 percent, Palm Springs charges 13.5 percent, and in San Francisco, the charge is 14 percent plus and additional 1 to 1.5 percent in certain tourism improvement districts.

Don’t let late-night snacking at the mini bar end up as an additional charge on your bill. On top of the overpriced item you bought on a whim, you may be charged a restocking fee Ask ahead of time if you plan to “take advantage” of this particular amenity, or stock up on snacks at a local convenience store and save yourself the remorse. (And don’t try to replace it on your own. Many of these minibars have sensors to tell if an item has been moved, and that’s how they know to charge you.)

Be aware that some hotels may charge what they call a “service charge” that ensures the staff are appropriately tipped for making your bed, vacuuming, and leaving you clean towels. If you plan to tip the staff yourself, discuss this with management, not the front desk staff, upon your arrival, but don’t be surprised if the explanation of this fee is frustratingly vague. After all, the housekeeping staff don’t make a lot of money to begin with, so shorting them on tips is kind of selfish and uncool.

Keep in mind that some hotels have taken their cue from the airlines and have begun charging for those little “extras” you may consider complimentary, such as:

  • Extra towels
  • Local phone calls
  • Late checkout
  • Choosing your own room

One last piece of advice about these fees: don’t get caught being charged a cancellation fee if you have to cancel your reservation. You may not be aware that some hotels charge you for the night if you cancel less than 72 or 48 hours in advance.

What kinds of hotel fees have you encountered on your travels? Have you been able to negotiate them off your bill or been surprised to find them? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Radesigns (Pixabay.com, Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

Bots Poised to Take Over Travel Industry

May 15, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s not just other people who know you these days. Thanks to machine learning, artificial intelligence has evolved to the point that your personal preferences for nearly everything are not only being cataloged, they can assist an AI system in helping you complete everything from a hotel booking to a dinner reservation.

The process is so seamless that sometimes you may not even be aware you’re being helped by a computer instead of a real person. Chatbots are ubiquitous on online travel sites and airline reservation systems, as well as some financial institutions, software help centers, and ecommerce websites. They allow human agents to work on more complex issues, and they facilitate faster processing and confirmation of orders and reservations.

Delta Airlines' machine for biometric boarding passes. The travel industry is moving more toward this kind of technology.

Delta Airlines’ machine for biometric boarding passes

AI’s use in the travel industry is the result of traveler feedback about desired efficiency and convenience. For example, if you don’t want to make any decisions, Google Trips can plan a complete itinerary based on what it has learned from your past travel experiences. Just tell the app where you want to go, and everything is kept in one location and can be adapted if your plans change en route.

The hotel industry is also partnering with technology innovators, like IBM, to provide their guests with “personalized” attention from a robotic concierge, 24/7. Connie, the result of a partnership between Hilton and IBM, provides details about the hotel, its amenities, and local attractions. Its software allows it to continually enhance users’ experiences because it is able to learn from interactions and apply that knowledge in future conversations.

AI is also being used to enhance security at airports. While all of us are aware of the body scanners used in the security screening process, one airport is testing the use of hidden facial recognition cameras to identify who is moving through security areas. Dubai International Airport is testing its facial recognition in real time through the implementation of a virtual aquarium, where cameras track and catalog who moves through the tunnel.

With all this data collection, the next concern for this technology is the potential that exists for breaches of privacy and security, as well as misuse by the organizations storing our data. Do travelers have the right to know if they’re being scanned, photographed, and their data stored somewhere? As we continue to crave efficiency and convenience, this issue will have to be addressed.

What are your thoughts? Are you ready to welcome our robot overlords, or are you a little hesitant to turn your information over to a machine? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Delta Airlines

Hilton Guests Control Preferences with Smartphones

April 10, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As if we weren’t already using our smartphones for everything, including as an automated assistant and running our smart homes, Hilton is now offering a “smart room” for its hotels nationwide. This will provide their guests the ability to manage their preferences without putting down their beloved devices.

According to a story on TravelMarketReport.com, the hotel chain plans to make some of its rooms “mobile-centric” this year, allowing guests to change the thermostat, operate the light switches, and sync their streaming service to the room’s television through the Hilton Honors app. And making the hotel room feel more like home will be possible by uploading personal images to the room’s digital frames. Then, you can take photos of your loved ones with you without actually packing any photos in your suitcase.

“Hey Hilton”

Hilton guests will be able to select their rooms and open their doors with their smartphones.This move is the first in the hotel’s ultimate goal of providing guests the ability to use voice commands to control these features. If you already have an Amazon Echo or Google Home device, you’re already familiar with how they work. A simple “Alexa” or “Okay Google” will let you activate one of its different commands, like turning on smart lights, changing the channel on your TV, or even ordering more coffee from Amazon Pantry.

Hilton is currently testing the system in one of their hotels, but said they plan to “scale rapidly” in the US this year.

Hilton expects to adapt the connected room based on the feedback it receives from its users. Hilton Honors app users already have the ability to check in, make their room selection, and open the door with a digital key, thus skipping any check-in lines if you’re at a conference. According to the company, four million keys have been downloaded since the program’s inception.

Marriott International is also vying for guests interested in utilizing mobile-centric amenities. It’s testing a voice-controlled shower and a yoga class video that can be viewed on the room’s full-length mirror.

Have you had a chance to use the new Hilton Honors app or smart room? Do you use a similar device at home? Will this make you more likely to stay at a Hilton? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Hilton Hotels (Used with permission)

How to Find a Cheap Hotel Room

February 6, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

According to Nomadic Matt (no, not me), former cubicle dweller and 9-to-5-er turned full-time traveler, finding a cheap hotel room isn’t as much about database results as it is about knowing what you want.

Having traveled the world full time since 2006 and authoring How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, he qualifies as an expert about how to do worldwide travel on the cheap. While he typically stays in hostels and books through Airbnb, he knows that there comes a time when those options aren’t available or may not be preferred by other travelers.

So he did a little experiment. He created an itinerary and plotted it on the major hotel booking sites, Agoda, Booking.com, HotWire, Orbitz, and Travelocity. What he found surprised him.

Hotel pricing is a lot more set than airline pricing and tends to fluctuate less. I wouldn’t spend hours searching hotel websites or days tracking prices like people do with airline prices. I’d spend, at the most, 30 minutes on booking a hotel. I found that the variation between sites isn’t enough to justify more time.

Hotel room in the Renaissance Columbus, OHHe did find that there were two clear winners in this site war experiment: Booking.com and Agoda.com. While they didn’t aggregate the largest number of places to compare, each provided him with the best selection of cheap establishments.

His opinion of Orbitz and Travelocity were mixed because both are owned by Expedia and therefore pull from the same databases for their results. He also found that they tended to provide results toward higher end of what he was requesting.

While he felt Priceline and Hotwire gave him excellent results, he didn’t like not knowing what hotel he was choosing until after he’d paid for his irrevocable reservation.

Based on his research, here are Matt’s suggestions for booking a cheap hotel.

Look at hotel websites directly. They often offer deals and will match whatever price you find on another website. Booking directly allows you to accrue loyalty points, which translate into free nights in the future, but you can only rack up points if you book direct.

About loyalty programs—sign up. “The best way to stay cheap is to stay for free,” Matt says. There are other ways to earn points besides stays, such as using credit cards that tie to the hotel chain you like, and shopping portals.

Bartering may work. If you want a better rate, you won’t know if they can give you one unless you ask. The best times to ask are mid-week and during non-peak travel times when the hotel may have empty rooms it’s trying to fill.

Membership has its privileges, and members of AAA and AARP get discount rates. Something you may not know is that AARP is open to anyone, not just people who are in their 50s!

Another little known way to earn loyalty points and increase your status is to purchase discount hotel gift cards. They allow you to book hotel rooms at discounted rates too. Giftcardgranny.com is just one example of such a site.

Lastly, take advantage of someone else’s reservation. Their cancelled reservation, to be exact. If someone cancels a reservation at a hotel, rather than being stuck holding the bathrobe, hotels often put these rooms on sites such as Roomer.com at discounted rates so that they can recoup a portion of the cost. Someone else’s loss could be your gain, so check it out if you’re looking for a room a day or two before you need it.

How do you shop for hotel rooms? Do you have any tips or tricks for finding cheaper hotel rooms, especially without sacrificing comfort? Leave your ideas for us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: David Jensen (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Should You Let Business Travelers Book on their Own?

January 16, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

What kind of trouble could business travelers get in if you cut out the corporate travel arranger at your company and booked your own business travel? Is it encouraged, or are you required to use the corporate travel office at all costs? The ubiquitous nature of apps and websites for locating budget hotels, ride-sharing options, and flights make it easy for people to take charge of their own travel logistics.

This is something corporate accountants and managers are having to choose whether to accommodate or penalize, and the problem is only growing.

While having someone else attend to your travel arrangements used to be a luxury, a bigger issue is that those doing the booking may know nothing about the city, the proximity of the airport to the client, and the logistics required to get from the client to the hotel they’ve booked. The person who makes that kind of trip on a regular basis is by far the more knowledgeable authority on the subject, which makes him or her the logical choice to make the arrangements.

Business travelers walking through an airport. You can still fly even if you're trimming your travel budget.But companies are concerned that letting business travelers book their own travel arrangements may give them less leverage when negotiating corporate rates for hotels and car rentals if they can’t show that their personnel is using them.

However, according to research by Egencia, the corporate travel management subsidiary of Expedia, business travelers often book outside their company’s stated travel policy, especially when procuring lodging, because they need to be closer to their client or because they found a better price than their company’s corporate rate and can pocket the per diem difference.

Road warriors need freedom to orchestrate their own itineraries in order to maximize their time out of the office. Giving them this latitude would reduce staff overhead, eliminate confusion, and utilize the business traveler’s knowledge of the cities and the accommodations in each. Why should a travel manager who doesn’t travel tell the employee where to stay and what time to get there? There are times that road warrior may end up cooling their heels for several hours in an unfamiliar airport because the corporate travel agent wanted to save $30 or make sure their traveler used the right airline.

For those who have control over the details of their travel budget, TravelBank has produced an app that helps estimate trip costs and customize their trip to anticipate and respond to upcoming expenses. TravelBank even rewards users when their trips come in under budget. For example, when a user’s bottom line comes in $500 under the budget, they receive $250 in credit to use with its partners in the travel industry with whom they’ve negotiated rates that rival those that corporations procure for their employees.

At Travelpro, we have the best of both worlds. I investigate my own schedule — optimal flight times and finding the hotel that’s closest to the client — and then communicating that to our travel manager and asking that they make every effort to book what I’ve requested. So far, it’s worked out great, and I’ve been very happy with the arrangement.

As long as business travelers know and comply with the company’s travel policy, allowing them to secure their own reservations only makes sense. But it also makes sense to let your road warrior experts blaze their own trail, as it were, because they already know what they’re doing.

Business travelers, o you book your own travel or do you have a corporate travel agent doing it for you? What has been the most efficient use for you? Share your ideas with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: MauriceBMueller (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

How Much Should You Tip at Hotels?

August 22, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

In this country, tipping is a combination of good manners and best practices. Whether you agree with it or not almost doesn’t matter, because this is how the travel and service industries operate. You tip at restaurants, you tip your cab driver, you tip at hotels — it’s a part of travel etiquette.

But there are a lot of questions about who you should actually tip at hotels, so we’ve found some different resources on the subject and here’s what you should do if you want to become a champion of etiquette. Here’s just a short list of the most visible staff you need to consider tipping:

The lobby of the Bellagio Hotel. Staying at a place like expects that you tip at hotels.

The Bellagio Hotel – Definitely a tipping environment.

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Delta SkyMiles Members Earn Miles with Airbnb

January 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Delta has just added another way its SkyMiles members can accrue points toward reward travel, and you can get them just by sleeping on your next trip. Besides booking flights and making purchases with a Delta credit card, now members can earn points when they choose Airbnb as their lodging. Members must book lodging through deltaairbnb.com, and earn one mile for every dollar they spend.

We’ve been fans of Airbnb for a

while,

and recently talked about how Airbnb is returning to its roots and working to attract business travelers.
Staying at an Airbnb can earn you Delta SkyMiles
The arrangement has benefits for new Airbnb members too who are looking to “Fly Global, Live Local,” with $25 credit earned toward any stay totaling $75 or more if they book via the Delta dedicated site within 60 days of opening a new Airbnb account. In addition to the flat mile per dollar deal, those whose stay totals $75 will earn an extra 500 miles, and those whose stay totals $150 or more will earn 1000 extra miles.

The benefits aren’t just one-sided. New Airbnb hosts can incent their potential customers by advertising the partnership and can accumulate miles with Delta in the following increments:
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Airbnb Goes Back to Its Roots

December 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Business travelers, wouldn’t it be great if you could break out of the hotel routine, even if it’s just for a couple days? Wouldn’t you enjoy eating in local restaurants and exploring the local scenery? What about saving as much as 20 – 30% over your normal hotel costs?

With its new, “Don’t go there. Live there.” campaign, Airbnb is trying to reach business travelers who are tired of hotels, or just want to experience more that a city has to offer.

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara California

An Airbnb house in Santa Barbara, California

With its push to garner a share of the business travel accommodations marketshare, Airbnb is actually returning to its roots. The company was started in August 2008 in San Francisco as a way to provide conference attendees alternative housing options that were considerably cheaper than the area’s hotels.

Since making a concerted effort to market its services to business travelers, business bookings have tripled since July 2015. Airbnb reports that 14,000 companies are signing up weekly, due to the company’s integration with major management systems, such as American Express Global Business Travel and BCD Travel. The company says the savings can be as much as 20 to 30 percent when compared to hotel accommodation costs.
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