Like most people, I need to travel for business. I don’t travel much, maybe 5-10 times a year. So I’m not like those hardcore travel warriors that are flying every week and have executive platinum status for everything. I honestly don’t know how those people do it. First, it must suck being away from family for so long (maybe that’s not such a bad thing when you have small children). I think some of them fly so often they know the flight attendants by name! But I do travel enough where it makes sense to take advantage of what I spend. Here are my tips on how to maximize your business travel spend.
1. Sign Up for Loyalty Programs
This is obviously the most important thing to do. You’re spending money at the hotel, and it’s not your money, so you might as well get the points from this spending.
Some people prefer to stay at one hotel chain to maximize points and status. I think for most of the rewards programs, you need 10 nights to go from basic to silver. From what I’ve seen, there’s not much benefit for moving up to Silver, so it has never been a focus for me. Instead, I focus on what’s convenient, and where I can maximize cash back and points (see below).
One program I will highlight though is Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). With SPG, you can earn hotel points AND airline points! If I’m indifferent to the hotel, I’ll usually default to a Starwood property.
From an airline perspective, I think it makes sense to fly with one carrier, ideally. It takes a lot of points to get a free flight. If you are flying with multiple airlines, it could takes years to earn a single free flight. Also, there’s a big benefit to getting status, like free upgrades, priority boarding, and free checked bags. This is why I’ll only fly with a single carrier, unless there are no flight options available. When you pick your carrier, make sure you’re flying with the one that uses your nearest airport as a hub. For example, United has a hub in San Francisco, Denver, Chicago, Newark, and Houston, among others. If you live in those cities, flying United will ensure you have the most flight options available.
2. Get a Travel Reward Card
Again, you’re spending the money and it’s not yours. Might as well earn points for this spending. Even if you’re not traveling, you should be using a credit to maximize points or cash back. With travel, it’s best to get a card to earn airline points, general travel spending, and restaurants. I don’t eat out that often, but I have to when I’m on the road. And since the company is paying, I’m eating at much nicer restaurants than I would ever consider if I’m spending my own money. I’m also drinking a lot more too!
A good card for those who travel is the Costco Visa card. You’ll get 3% off on travel and restaurants. Personally, I think spending $500 a night at a hotel is a bit much. If the company gave me a per diem, I’d stay at a Motel 6 and pocket the difference! But again, the company is paying for it. Staying at a hotel 10 times a year, with 2 nights per stay, I spend over $10,000 a year just for hotels. With the Costco Visa card, that’s $300 cash back! And that doesn’t even include the restaurants. Assuming $100 per night, that’s an additional $2,000 in spend, or $60 cash back. In total, that’s $360 in cash back per year for spending that I get reimbursed for.
3. Take the Toiletries
I always grab all the toiletries and stick them in my bag so the cleaning staff know to bring me more. Shampoo and soap aren’t super expensive items, so it’s not like I’m saving thousands of dollars here. But I haven’t had to buy any toiletries in years!
I don’t care what brand the shampoo is, but my wife does. She loves Aveda and Bulgari, so I’ll always bring home the nice ones for her and use the brands that she doesn’t like.
It’s also great to put in the guest room. We don’t have guests come over very often, so the small sizes are perfect when people stay to visit.
4. Cash Back Deals
If you book your travel yourself, you can earn cash back through Ebates. Hotels.com also offers rewards. Unfortunately, I need to book travel through a travel agent, so I cant’ take advantage of these offers. However, Bank of America has a cash back program through its credit cards. Every once in a while, I’ll get offers like 5% cash back or 10% cash back if I stay at a Hilton or Marriott property during a certain period. If I already have travel planned, I’ll move my hotel to take advantage of these deals. There are usually limits to the cash back, but 5% or 10% of a hotel bill can be pretty significant.
5. Special Offers
Be warned: when you sign up for rewards plans, you will get too many emails. I feel like every other week, somebody is emailing me to sign up for a hotel or airline rewards credit card. But every once in a while, a hotel will email about special offers. Like double points if I book somewhere. Or a free night if I make x number of stays during a certain period of time.
For somebody who doesn’t travel much, it usually doesn’t work out. But sometimes the stars align. If I have two trips in a month and I need two stays to earn a free night, it makes sense to book accordingly.
6. Take Advantage of the Amenities
Again, I really don’t take advantage of the hotels I stay at. I’m there to sleep and shower, and maybe go to the gym if I’m lucky. Most of the time, I’m at a conference, in meetings or out at dinners. That’s why it’s nice to bring my wife and/or whole family with me on some trips. While I’m working, they can take advantage of all the amenities! It’s also a great cheap vacation, since one flight and the hotel (usually the most expensive part of the trip) is free.
There are other little amenities I like to take advantage of. For example, the Ritz Carlton have complimentary shoe shining service. Not a big deal, but a nice touch. They also have these nice slippers you can take home with you. I personally don’t like slippers, but they’re great for when guests come to visit. They’re disposable so you can throw them away after your guests leave.