Bleisure: It's not a pretty word, but it's the one we seem to have landed on for the moment to describe the increasingly popular practice of turning business trips into leisure trips.
And it's about time it had its day.
For those of us who travel for business, it has been standard practice for generations to separate often dull, responsibility- and meeting-laden business trips from the more soul-soothing vacation trips we take with friends and loved ones. But as the internet, smartphones, telecommuting and hot desks all conspire to blur traditional life-work boundaries, allowing us to finish up bits of work over the barbecue and keep up with the evolution of the reaction to what Gisele Bundchen told her kids after the Super Bowl at the office, it makes increasingly good sense to hybridize our travel as well.
Millennials have already figured it out. According to online travel company Hipmunk, 38 per cent of them have already hopped on the bleisure bandwagon, as opposed to just 8 per cent of baby boomers. But even that's shifting. Skift, a company specializing in "global travel industry intelligence," says that six out of 10 business travellers say they're more likely to take a bleisure trip than they were five years ago, and 78 per cent say adding leisure days to business trips adds value to work assignments.
In fact, it's looking increasingly silly that we haven't been doing it all along. After all, no matter how busy, dull or stressful our business travel may be, the fact is it takes us places. We've flown, on the company's dime, to Kansas City or Calgary or Cupertino or Marseilles. Doesn't it make sense, once the meetings are done and the PowerPoints put away, to take a look around, have a little fun and maybe even invite someone along for the ride?
So, the next time work takes you out of town, here are a few tips to leverage the various ingredients of business travel into some mini-break bonuses.
Get your employer to foot the bill for higher return fares
In December of last year, the Canadian unemployment rate hit a 40-year low. This means that we're living in an employees' market, and employee retention – the stuff employers do to make sure we're happy – is of increasing importance. Why not try to take advantage? According to Abacus, the Google spinoff employee-expense app company, "In today's arms race to provide perks, a policy that explicitly permits bleisure is a nearly free way to communicate that your company values employees' work-life balance. Your company has to pay for round-trip transportation regardless, so for the price of slightly more expensive weekend airfare, you get to officially underwrite an employee's ability to decompress."
Talk to your travel manager
Back in the dark ages of old-school business travel, travel managers were the enemy. They were the ones who set the rules, told you what you could and could not expense, made sure you only flew economy. But these days, a big part of their job is actually making you happy. According to the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, "Travel managers are responding to the needs of modern business travellers by adjusting policies and restocking the corporate travel toolbox to keep pace." In practice, this means they're more open to individual requests. Want to stay in a cool Airbnb? In 2016, only 9 per cent of managers were likely to say yes. In 2017, that had risen to 22 per cent. According to Philip Haxne, regional director EMEA – Global Business Consulting for American Express Global Business Travel, "Strong programs that contribute to employee happiness and productivity underscore the travel manager's valuable role to the business as a whole." Tell them you want to tack on some days, and even that you'd like to invite your partner along. Get them to put that new corporate travel toolbox to work.
Conferences are easy picking
Conferences are huge for hotels, and with bleisure putting dollar signs in everyone's eyes, hotels are increasingly enthusiastic about getting those hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of conference guests to book an extra night (or two or three). So if you're booked for a conference, ask for a deal. You could extend any special conference rate, or even ask for a free night if you're staying over an extra weekend. Any hotel that books conference guests is almost certain to play ball.
Business travel is big business, and hotels know it
Even if you're not travelling for a conference, business travel is a big part of most hotel chains' bottom line. You're important to them, so ask for stuff. According to Expedia's senior director of owner services, Sue Spinney, the magic words are "extend your stay." Ask whether your hotel has extend-your-stay packages. Ask for a free spa treatment for you and your companion. If breakfast is not included, ask for it to be. Ditto parking, or a free sundowner cocktail. Say you're thinking of bringing in a special someone, and a room upgrade would really be appreciated. Extra fee for an extra guest? Get them to waive it. Ask whether they can offer you any extra "amenity," which is hotel-speak for a free bottle of wine or Champagne or plate of fruit or chocolates in your room. If you're a business traveller, especially if you're a frequent customer of a certain chain, you've got pull, and you should use it.
Don't hoard your points
All business travellers know that points you earn on work trips are to be collected for that big special trip with the family. But why wait? Use the points to fly your loved one out to join you. Points go a lot further when it's not holiday season, and little spur-of-the-moment meet-ups can be just as romantic as that big Hawaiian points blowout once every five years.