Ten Cost-Saving Tips for Business Travelers

Business travel is often a casualty in an economic downturn, as corporations tighten spending. This makes it all the more important to stretch your travel dollars as much as possible. Fortunately, many travel suppliers are offering incentives to entice consumers and compete for a larger slice of the shrinking business travel pie. In this buyer's market, it's a great time to renegotiate corporate travel contracts and search for deals. Here are my top ten suggestions to business travelers for weathering the recession.

1. Waiting may pay. In normal times, purchasing travel as early as possible is the best way to lock in the lowest rates. Travel suppliers generally raise prices as unsold inventory depletes. But in an economic crisis, suppliers are more likely to be forced to eat unsold inventory and may offer the best bargains at the last minute as they desperately try to fill unoccupied rooms, seats or vehicles. Hotels and rental cars are most vulnerable, as they cannot easily eliminate capacity to match demand as airlines can by simply grounding flights.

2. Consider booking directly with the supplier. If you aren't locked into a corporate travel program with a specific travel agency, booking directly on supplier websites can often be a cost saver. Many discount airlines like Southwest in the USA, WestJet in Canada, or Ryanair or easyJet in Europe don't sell their seats through all travel agencies or third party websites. You may have to book with these airlines directly. In addition, many hoteliers offer their best rates on their own websites.

3. Re-check prices after purchase. Prices can often drop after you've purchased or locked in a rate. These days it pays to re-check prices numerous times after booking and before your trip. Many suppliers will allow you to rebook at the lower rate if the price drops after booking. Most corporate travel agencies monitor price fluctuations constantly to determine if their clients are eligible for a credit.

Many online travel retailers offer a "best price" guarantee alerting customers when prices fall. Some automatically reclaim refunds or credits on behalf of their customers. Some airlines charge change or rebooking fees, but many do not. With no change fees on Southwest Airlines, I often book flights immediately and then monitor fares on both Southwest and other airlines. If a lower fare appears, it is easy to cancel and rebook at the lower rate. If another airline offers that lower fare, I book it, knowing the funds from the original Southwest ticket may be applied to a future Southwest flight booked within a year of the original purchase.

4. Traditional booking rules may not apply. Airlines have trained travelers to stay over a Saturday night or fly all segments on the same trip on a single airline for the lowest price, but these rules may no longer apply. Many discount airlines, like Southwest, price all flights as one-way segments with no incentive for round-trip purchase. In many cases, other airlines will follow those rules to remain competitive. Booking two one-way tickets on different airlines may allow you to obtain the lowest price (or optimal scheduling) on each segment and split your ticket among multiple airlines if necessary.

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