There is nothing more frustrating than knowing that you are supposed to be in another city for a meeting, and knowing also that there is no way you’ll make it. According to a survey conducted in 2004, business travel was the top stressor for 76% of business associates. “It’s like investigating a strange noise in an old house at night,” a colleague once told me. “You just know it’s going to have a terrible ending.”
Unfortunately, problems with business travel are not completely avoidable. You can have a minute-by-minute itinerary, confirmation from all connecting flights, rental cars and hotels booked, and you still might not make it to the 9:00 conference. That’s simply a fact of life. After 9/11, airports are even crazier than they were in years past, and there are so many people traveling that mistakes are bound to be made.
Thankfully, however, there are a few things that you can do to make business travel run more smoothly. It won’t guarantee you a perfect business trip, but it will at least partially eliminate some of the major concerns.
1. Choose your airline carefully
Businesses are notorious for trying to save a few extra bucks where they can – including their employees’ travel arrangements. If a business thinks that they can save by booking you on a smaller airline, then they will probably do it, leaving you to pay the price.
There is nothing wrong with smaller airlines, but they tend to go bankrupt much more quickly than the larger companies. For example, in March of 2005, a Canadian budget airline called Jetsgo suddenly liquidated, leaving 18,000 passengers without tickets to their destinations. This happens all the time – especially in the last three years – and it can cause quite a bit of confusion and panic for business associates who have to be somewhere. Encourage your employer to go the extra mile and buy plane tickets from major airlines.
2. Pay with a credit card.
It is fairly widely known that credit cards are the smartest way to secure airline tickets, but this is even more true now. If you pay with a credit card and something happens to your flight, you are usually protected. You will be granted your right to “alternate carriage” or the amount paid will be credited back to your card. Also, credit cards provide a tangible paper trail for purchases, whereas cash or checks will not.
Paying with a credit card has added benefits: if your credit card allows you to collect reward points, you can save on future flights using the same card or begin to collect frequent flier miles. If your business operates through a travel agency for business flights, ask for a copy of the credit card or at least for a photocopy in case of a problem with the airline.
3. Weigh your options.
Driving may be the last thing you want to do before a meeting or business trip, but choose the most cost-effective mode of travel. If you are traveling in-state, it might be less of a hassle to drive than to fly, considering the amount of time spent parking, waiting for your flight to leave, checking baggage, retrieving baggage and risking lost luggage.
To determine the cost difference between flying and driving, use the following formula:
Flying – Ticket + Parking + Rental Card (if applicable) = TOTAL
Driving – Gas + Food = TOTAL
Whichever comes out to be the lesser amount should be your choice.
4. Book in packages.
Through your travel agency, it might be easier and more cost-effective to book business travel as a package. You can usually receive discounts for book airfare, hotel and rental cars together rather than reserving them separately. This also greatly reduces your chances of encountering a mix-up in reservations. When you book all of your arrangements together, things will flow more smoothly, and you can more easily adapt to any problems that might occur.
This also gives you the added bonus of easy access to all of your reservations. If something goes wrong with the airline, you can call one number and have everything for the entire trip accessed at once, rather than making lots of different phone calls and trying to coordinate your reservations.
5. Plan ahead for TSA.
Airport security is a fact of life, and as annoying as it might be to have to remove your shoes in line, it is certainly better than being dead on a plane.
Know the rules before you arrive at the airport, and pack accordingly. Taking the time for TSA to go through your luggage might be the difference between catching a flight and missing it, so it is certainly better to be prepared. Here are most of the major rules and tips:
– Laptops must be removed from cases.
– Lighters and matches are not permitted through security.
– Sporting goods (such as golf clubs) are not permitted on the plane, and must be checked.
– Knives and scissors must be checked.
– Flammables and explosives are not allowed on board.
– Do not overpack carry-on luggage, as you will spend lots of time reorganizing if TSA goes through it.
– Try not to stack rectangular objects on top of one another, as they will trip the screeners.
– Empty your pockets of excessive change before getting into the security line.
6. Obtain an American Express Card.
If you frequently travel internationally, you might want to get an American Express card for dining and activities overseas. Foreign establishments are often more solicitous to customers with American Express cards. American Express also benefits you when needing to make currency exchanges or to cash personal checks – AmEx offices will usually cash checks up to $1000.
7. Play to the Benefits
If your job requires more than 30% travel, you know that you will be flying often, so start signing up for frequent flyer programs. Since you never know which airline you will be flying, it helps to accumulate miles on every flight you travel, rather than hoping to be placed on one specific airline.
In addition to frequent flyer programs, collect coupons and discounts at various hotels and with rental car companies. For their frequent guests, these establishments will often give major discounts and options for upgrading, and you should take advantage wherever possible.
8. Dress Appropriately
If you wear a business suit or dress on your flight, you will not be comfortable, and your clothes will be wrinkled. It is better to wear comfortable clothes on the flight, and change into professional attire when you arrive at your destination.
I advise, however, that you carry at least one suit in your carry-on luggage. If your bags are lost during the flight, you don’t want to have to go out and buy new clothes for meetings and conferences.
9. Buy Luggage with Wheels
Airports are getting bigger every year, and when you can’t find a cart headed in the right direction, you will have to walk. Carrying large bags across three terminals will not be easy on your arms, legs or back. Save yourself the frustration and buy luggage with wheels. You can even buy bags that have attachments for purses, laptop computers and additional baggage so you don’t have anything extra to carry.
10. Keep All Paperwork in Order
Even if you’re on the flight home, don’t throw anything away. Keep all of your travel information, receipts, bills and other information until you are sure you will never need them again. You will need most of it to file an expense report with your business, and it always helps to have proof of everything in case something goes wrong. Make copies of anything you can’t easily replace and keep them in secured folders in your carry-on luggage. It may seem like an extraneous effort, but you will thank yourself in the event that anything goes wrong.