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(TOBIAS SCHWARZ/REUTERS)
(TOBIAS SCHWARZ/REUTERS)

ENTREPRENEURS ON THE GO

Reward programs can cut business-travel costs – but choose wisely Add to ...

We’ve come to rely on the Web for much of life’s business, but it pays to avoid booking hotels online and pick up the phone instead.

Just ask Kristen Jooste, executive assistant to the chief executive officer and chief operating officer at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, who books about 100 business trips a year for the Vancouver-based company.

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Only a few months ago, she reserved rooms at a Hyatt in Chicago. After seeing the online rate of $219, she promptly phoned the hotel’s toll-free loyalty program number.

“When I called and said who we were – even though our company had never booked that specific hotel before – she still gave me rooms for $145. This is pretty significant,” she said.

It sure is, especially if the company is a small- or medium-sized business looking for ways to make travel more affordable. As Ms. Jooste has discovered, racking up travel rewards and joining loyalty programs offered by hotels, airlines, car rental companies and credit card issuers can mean substantial savings.

Especially for newer companies or in the startup phase, getting face time with possible clients can mean the difference between taking the business to the next level or not. “Making travel affordable gets employees out on the road as much as possible. There’s nothing like being hands-on,” she said.

While it’s easy to ascertain why hotels, airlines and the like offer rewards programs – think customer retention and standing out in an increasingly competitive marketplace – finding the right travel credit card isn’t always so simple. In fact, it can be a bit of a slog.

So many options are available, and not all are created equal or are right for small businesses, either. In truth, even a travel credit card created specifically for small businesses isn’t always the best choice for the entrepreneurial set, said Patrick Sojka, the Calgary-based founder of Rewards Canada, a company that gives readers the scoop on travel rewards programs.

Do you want to give your sales staff their own cards so you can track individual spending on trips each month? Then perhaps the TD Business Travel Visa Card is the best bet.

Want to keep your own business and personal card purchases separate? Then Royal Bank of Canada’s Visa Business Platinum Avion Card could be the way to go.

Fly Air Canada a lot? Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s Aerogold Visa for Business is the ticket if your company has fewer than 18 employees and your annual revenue is between $35,000 and $5-million.

“There is no one best card out there. There are a few that shine, but it really depends on the person, their spending habits and how they want to be rewarded,” Mr. Sojka said.

One card, which Mr. Sojka happily refers to as “a good beast,” is the newly revamped American Express Platinum Card. It’s expensive though, costing $700 annually just to keep it in your wallet. Still, he maintains that if an entrepreneur travels often, it could be a godsend.

Its benefits and rewards list: Complimentary airport lounge service at most major Canadian cities, regardless of the airline booked. A $200 annual travel credit, discounted flights for companions, complimentary seat and car upgrades, platinum membership at hotel chains, flight delay insurance and a lot more.

Airline programs are also available, of course. For instance, Air Canada offers its Air Canada Rewards for Small Business program. Companies can track travel expenses, manage profiles online and employees can share itineraries.

And there are flight discounts, too. Other flight programs such as those from American Airlines, Delta and British Airways allow both the high-flying employees and their companies to earn points.

Hotel and car companies? They offer rewards programs for small businesses, too. Starwood’s revamped Preferred Guest program sets itself apart from the overcrowded upgrade-to-a-nicer-room multitude. Sign up and take advantage of the industry’s first “Your24” program that lets travellers check in any time they want. Housecleaning might shudder at the thought, but for travellers with 7 a.m. arrival flight times, there’s nothing more convenient.

It’s the details that really make or break a good hotel reward program, said Sharon Cohen, executive director of loyalty marketing for Fairmont Raffles Hotels International Inc., in Toronto. Fairmont’s President’s Club complimentary loyalty program gives you free local calls, no service charges on toll-free numbers and free in-room Internet service, which would normally set you back about $15 a day. Chump change, sure, but these expenses add up over time.

Members can even work up a sweat in the hotel’s workout clothes, and shoes from Reebok.

For his part, Mr. Sojka is a firm believer in car-rental loyalty programs. Quick pick-ups and drop-offs make it easier to arrive at meetings on time and avoid missing flights. He belongs to both National’s Emerald Club and the Hertz Gold Plus Rewards program, which he signed up for when on vacation in Maui earlier this year, after he found himself standing in a 40-minute line with squirmy kids.

 

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