10 Ways to Cut Hotel Costs

Here's how to save on lodging for your business travel no matter where you're headed.
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Although people generally tend to be more concerned about airline costs when traveling, the fact of the matter is that average year-over-year prices for hotel rooms have also gone up, according to American Express' (AXP) - Get Report 2006 Business Travel Monitor.

Hotel-room expenses account for a big chunk of the total costs incurred during a business trip, which is why it's increasingly important to find methods of controlling these expenditures.

So here are 10 ideas business owners can use to keep their workers' hotel room costs low:

1. Motivate Saving

Establish an incentive system: If employees spend under a certain amount, reward them with a half-day off work or a dinner certificate. Offering your staff extras will motivate and help keep them aware of how they spend the company's money when away for business.

2. Dial Wisely

Advise your workers never to use their hotel room phone to make a call, no matter what -- rates can be astronomical. Rather, tell them to use their cell phone or BlackBerry. Another option is supplying them with prepaid calling cards to use while on the road. (But be aware, even when using a calling card with a toll-free number from a room phone, most hotels will still charge a connection fee.)

3. Hands Off the Minibar

Another rip-off hotels usually try to pull on customers is at the minibar. Warn your employees that they will be responsible for their own minibar bills, and ask your travel agent to make sure the hotel supplies a list of prices to your employees. Once they see that tiny bottle of Coke and the bag of M&Ms are 10 times the normal price, they'll realize it's not worth the cost.

4. Consider Alternatives

Let employees know that when possible, you stay at a friend's house while on business. Suggest they do the same if they can, and offer a reward for doing so -- such as a dinner out for the employee and the host. It will cost you far less than several nights' worth of hotel charges.

To view Alix Steel's video take of today's segment, click here.

5. Tipping Point

Sometimes it's easy to fall prey to the tipping nightmare, especially when one person is opening the door to the car, two more opening entrance doors and another taking bags up to the room. But before employees take out their wallets, recommend they ask the front desk whether gratuities are included in the hotel room bill -- often, at high-end hotels and resorts, they are.

6. Day Trip

If your staff doesn't need to stay overnight for their business travels, let them know they don't have to. Discuss taking an early flight in and a late flight out to avoid hotel room costs altogether. Savvy travelers will know how to

stay fresh while on the go.

7. Stay Together

When more than two business associates are traveling, it is usually a good idea to check a hotel's corporate suite rate -- often, a suite will cost less than booking two separate rooms and should still offer both employees ample privacy and comfort.

8. Compare Rates

Different areas of a city have different rates. Ask your employees to find out where their business event or convention is planned and to do some research to determine whether it would be cheaper to stay at a hotel farther from or closer to it. Tell them that, while deciding which option is more cost beneficial, they should also weigh in transportation rates.

9. Avoid Room Service

Just like with minibars and phones, more often than not, hotels tend to overcharge customers who call in room service. A better bet is for employees to scope out nearby restaurants or pizzerias and order in delivery. It will not only save them money but also offer a wider selection of meal choices.

10. Hidden-Cost Recon

Advise employees that when paying for their hotel room bill at the end of their stay they should take a close look at their bill, not just sign off on it. Occasionally, hotels will tack on incorrect costs without customers even realizing it. For example, at some hotels the minibars have sensors that enable automatic charging even if you move an item but don't consume it. Employees should question charges they're not sure of.

Finally, always keep in mind that the rack rate, or the maximum a hotel will charge for a particular room, can generally be avoided by shopping around on the Internet. Check more than one site and compare prices.

And once you find a hotel you like, call the hotel directly and ask if they can offer you any further discount, such as a corporate, AAA membership or frequent visitor rate. After all, it never hurts to bargain!

Most important, business owners need to act as examples themselves. If you want your employees to use cost-saving methods, act as a good role model and follow the rules you establish.