Small Business: Establish smart habits to save on travel

Although data shows business travel spending is expected

Although data shows business travel spending is expected to rice this year, experts advise being savvy about travel spending, including online meetings, before putting an employee in an airline seat. (Credit: iStock)

Jamie Herzlich

Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

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Pack your bags.

Business travel spending is on the rise and expected to jump 6.6 percent to $289.8 billion in 2014, according to the Global Business Travel Association.

While trip volume is also expected to increase, businesses since the recession have grown savvier in doling out their travel dollars, say experts.

"Companies realize that there's probably never -- or not any time in the near future -- where we'll return to the wild and free spending days we saw in the late '90s and early part of this century," said Joe Bates, vice president of research at the Alexandria, Va.- based GBTA, a trade group for corporate travel managers.

Now companies are "more savvy with respect to monitoring and tracking the amount of money their travelers are spending," he noted.

To be sure, strength within the private sector helped boost travel spending last year.

At the close of 2013, annual U.S. business travel spending is estimated by GBTA to have grown 3.8 percent to $272 billion, even with a slight 0.3 percent decline in trip volume to 453.3 million trips, due in part to a decline in government spending.

This year, total trip volume is expected to increase 1.7 percent to 461 million trips for the year, according to the GBTA. Outbound international business travel is expected to be particularly strong.

"The private sector of the economy continues to get stronger," said Bates.

But that doesn't mean companies aren't keeping a careful eye on spending.

CAUTION REIGNS

"I don't think companies are committing to a big travel expenditure right now," said Jeffrey Austin, senior vice president for Long Island at Protravel International in Syosset. "They're still taking more of a wait-and-see attitude."

Last year started off slow but gradually improved, Austin said, adding that increased spending also reflects higher ticket prices.

The average "spend per trip" in 2013 in the United States was $600 per person, up from $576 per person in 2012, noted Bates.

CHEAPER OPTIONS

Still, companies are holding the line on spending for business-class flights, opting for coach in many cases, which can be 50 percent cheaper, said Austin. They're also booking in advance, he said, adding that booking at least seven days in advance can result in cost savings.

He recommended companies establish a strong travel policy that directs employees to the "right behaviors and programs," including such things as booking in advance and being open to taking connector flights.

Glenn Goldberg, chief executive at Parallel Communications Group, a Baldwin-based high- tech-focused PR firm, utilizes such tactics to help contain travel costs, his firm's second biggest expense outside of staff.

The firm, which has clients all over the country and in Europe, spends more than $40,000 annually on travel, estimated Goldberg.

CONNECTOR FLIGHTS

He tries to book at least two weeks in advance and take connector flights. If he's heading, say, to the Bay Area, Los Angeles or Phoenix, instead of taking a nonstop flight he may take a connector flight from Las Vegas, Austin or Denver. That alone could save $150 or more, he notes.

"You have to be very flexible," said Goldberg, who also uses his AAA discount when booking hotels and car rentals. "You want to shop smart."

Also don't discount the use of technology (video conferencing, video calls via Skype, etc.) to help pare down costs.

SKYPE INSTEAD

Ron Wood, president of Ron Wood Public Relations in Calverton, uses Skype with some clients and has found it resulted in both time and cost savings. He has a few national clients including a Southern Florida-based costume designer that he'll video Skype with about twice a month between visits. "It's virtually instant," said Wood.