Rod Jones doesn't consider himself a true road warrior, but with 25 to 30 trips a year as executive director of the Ontario Aerospace Council, he certainly qualifies as a frequent traveller.
Like many small or mid-sized businesses, his association does not have a corporate travel department to negotiate prices in bulk. So Mr. Jones finds himself booking his own flights and hotels, and he's learned a few money-saving secrets along the way.
Book business travel early
The best time to book a flight and hotel is as soon as your plans are firm, Mr. Jones says. "Booking ahead is by far the single most efficient thing you can do in terms of savings, in my experience," he says. "You'd think that hotels and flights are a perishable commodity, but I've found that prices frequently go up, not down, a few days before travelling."
This is probably because the true business traveller - one who travels round trip Mondays and Fridays - becomes more committed to making their trip on a particular schedule as the departure date approaches, and airlines and hotels can take advantage of this.
Brian Simpson, operations manager for the website Travelocity.ca, concurs. "If you book air only, the carriers will cut back on their discounted fares seven to 14 days in advance. If you can firm up your dates sooner rather than later that's the best time to book - especially to cities where there are liable to be conventions and such."
On the other hand, the more flexible you can be about your travel dates, the more options become available to you. Mr. Simpson notes that Travelocity has a flexible-dates calendar tool. If you're not sure of your dates, the calendar will show you the average nightly rates in the city where you're going.
"In one city I'm looking at right now, one week in June shows an average hotel rate of $154, but the next week it drops to $130, that sort of thing," Mr. Simpson says.
Play around before committing
Both Mr. Jones and Mr. Simpson agree that using Web tools or spreadsheets to experiment with travel options can yield real savings.
"Monday morning flights to New York are expensive, Tuesday afternoon may not be," Mr. Simpson says. "Play around with a flight and hotel package offer. Take the lowest price airline ticket and then add the various hotels to it. Change out the hotel and try one which might allow you to use or add frequent flier points on your preferred carrier card."
Put the hotel to work for you
"You can find quite significant savings just by going to different chains' sites directly," Mr. Jones says. "Check the major chains and you'll usually find one that's got some kind of promotion going on."
If you're not familiar with a city or its hotels, Mr. Simpson suggests checking the users' reviews on a travel website but filtering them for comments by business travellers. "What appeals to a family travelling with two children is not the same thing that's useful for a businessman," he says.
"Whether or not the hotel includes free Internet is important to me," Mr. Jones adds. "Otherwise it's another $12 to $15 a day into my costs."
Mr. Jones also takes a cautious view of name-your-price websites that book a room for you. "No, no, no thank you very much," he says. "I need to know a bit more about what I'm getting with that. Taking risks with my business activities is probably not the smart thing to do."
Bundle up, maybe
Mr. Jones and Mr. Simpson diverge in their opinion of the possible cost savings in buying a package of flight, hotel and perhaps car rental.
"It's absolutely better to bundle," Mr. Simpson says. "Right now, for Vancouver to Los Angeles for two weekdays, the airfare alone was $285, but I searched for the same days including a four-star hotel and I got the flight with hotel for $542, which pretty much saves the cost of one night's hotel stay."
On the other hand, Mr. Jones says, "there's also a balance between the amount of money you save and the time and effort you burn up in doing it.
"I'm not searching for the last penny, I'm searching for the deal that's going to save me $200 on a $400 or $600 ticket - that's worthwhile, but to save $40 on a ticket [with hours of searching] I don't much care."
If you travel frequently, joining an association that offers its members hotel and travel discounts can mean significant savings, Mr. Jones says. "Using a CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) card can often net me a 20-per-cent savings on my hotel."
He also suggests joining the Sales and Marketing Executives International Association (www.smei.org/index.cfm) to access its travel discounts.