Ways to Save on Small-Biz Travel

These 10 tips -- plus a bonus one -- will get you and your business more miles for your money.
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As major airline carriers continue to raise ticket prices due to heightened demand and rising fuel costs, small-business owners are learning to deal with price increases in domestic and international airfare.

As

American Express'

(AXP) - Get Report

recently released 2006 Business Travel Monitor report finds, travel prices are rising, so it has become even more important for businesses to find ways to curb costs.

Here, then, are my 10 ways to stretch your dollar farther when you're doing business on the road.

1. Set a Travel Policy

Make sure each employee has a written copy of company travel policy, so they understand what the expense regulations are and what the consequences are for abusing the rules. This will help avoid staffers from expensing unnecessary costs. After all, if your workers don't have any guidelines to follow, how will they know what is acceptable and what is not?

2. Fly vs. Drive

Although it might seem cheaper to drive shorter distances for business travel, this isn't always the case. With gas prices soaring, plane ticket prices can be the better deal. In fact, recently I spotted two $98 round-trip tickets: one from New York City to Boston on

Delta

(DALRQ)

and the other from New York to Washington, D.C., on

JetBlue

(JBLU) - Get Report

. Not too bad when you consider that the cost of driving in a midsized car to Washington, D.C., or Boston from Manhattan (gas, tolls and parking expenses) would set back a business traveler more than $120 for the trip -- assuming the employee has and uses his or her own car.

3. Match Up Different Airlines

Shopping for the best deal possible means sometimes using one airline to get to your destination and another to get back.

ITA Software mixes and matches various carriers, allowing travelers to find the cheapest options available. While you cannot book flights on ITA, the site offers a "flight details" feature, enabling you to find out information about the flight and book it directly yourself -- which will also save you from paying unnecessary booking fees.

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

4. The Right Time for Tickets

Surf the Web for your ticket at night or on the weekend, when online traffic and demand can be less. Also check airline and travel sites frequently, as prices tend to oscillate without any rhyme or reason during the day. If you can't dedicate the time, then sign up at

Airfare Watchdog, a site that tracks prices and alerts you when the ticket you're looking for is near its low.

5. Plan Ahead

It's well known that as the date of departure approaches and seat availability decreases, prices go up. To avoid paying excessive costs, encourage employees to make a habit of purchasing their airline tickets at least three weeks in advance. If you can't help but plan a last-minute business trip, though, shop around. You might get lucky and be able to score one of the low-priced tickets airlines usually discount when there are still unreserved seats remaining with three days or less before the flight.

6. Schedule Off-Season Trips

If possible, try to coordinate your trip during the off season, when fares are the cheapest. For predictions, check out

Farecast and plan your trip around that. Farecast uses algorithms to predict (with 70% to 75% accuracy) whether the desired fare's lowest price is set to drop or rise.

7. Take Advantage of Conference Benefits

Often, during business conventions, discounted fare, car rental and hotel rooms are made available, but on a limited basis. Once you know you are going to be attending a conference, book your transportation and room accommodations quickly so that the discounts are still available.

8. Recognize an Agent's Worth

Rather than have your employees be in charge of their own bookings, it might be more time- and cost-efficient to have one person dealing with all your company's business travel. Also, often travel agents have access to prime, specially negotiated deals, not to mention the expertise of scouring places for the best offers.

9. Enroll in Travel Clubs

To further take advantage of discounted tickets, hotel rooms and car rentals and to gain rewards for your travels, join a small-business travel club. For example, American Express'

Open Savings card includes discounts on JetBlue, Delta,

Hertz

(HTZ) - Get Report

car rentals and Hyatt hotels.

10. Consider Alternatives

With high-tech options such as video or Web conferencing readily available, sometimes it's unnecessary to travel to meet with clients or conduct meetings in person. While investing in the technology might seem expensive at first, you will soon see its worth, especially when you factor in the absence of traveling, lodging and food costs.

Bonus

: Take a look at Orbitz' new business-related travel site,

Road Warrior. It's complete with business travel news, links, solutions and services specifically targeting small businesses.

Going through these steps may require some time, but saving money always involves a little extra work and research. In the end, when you see the savings start to pile up, you'll be happy you took on the extra effort.

If you have your own travel cost-saving method, please email for possible inclusion in future articles.