Did you know, on average, small business travelers buy almost 37% more airline tickets per quarter than big business travelers, and spend almost 24% more when on the road.
So when Visa Business asked me if I’d write about how I save money while traveling for business (and pleasure), and how you can too, I jumped at the chance to offer up my best travel tips and share my well-gleaned knowledge and insights from 4 years of living out of a suitcase and running an online business.
Before we dive in and just so you know, I detail all of my favorite travel tools, services and accessories in one handy page right here.
How to Save Money on Airline Tickets
Unlike most travel hackers out there (people who work the system to pick up cheap or even free airline travel), I still prefer to book my own tickets on my airline of choice, for the dates and times I want, and I’m prepared to pay a little more for it.
When I talk to my travel hacking friends, they often tell me how they picked up a flight for just $50 using a combination of credit card points, air miles and savvy booking, which is pretty impressive.
Then they tell me it took just 5-10 hours of research, phoning airlines and playing with points to do it…. and I think how expensive that flight just became. If they value their time and were charging by the hour, they just missed out on some serious revenue that outweighed the bargain deal they’d worked hard to get!
Or they do it pretty easily and almost for free, but end up on a flight journey that takes three times as long as a direct flight with numerous airport stopovers and a really ineffective route.
Since I value my time and my sense of well-being, I tend to use the following tools and services to get great deals, as well as using or earning travel or points where applicable.
Tools to book your flights
There are endless websites and services to book your travel. But if you really want to get savvy, then choose from the three options below depending on your needs.
1. DIY option:
My go-to tool of choice to book a flight is Skyscanner.net, which is a great DIY aggregator of all the flight options across hundreds of airlines. Rather than opening up several browsers to search multiple travel sites, you just get one search result. What I like most is its accuracy.
While I always advise you to check the local airlines in the country you’re in to see if they have a better deal, nine times out of ten Skyscanner has found this for you. It then allows you to choose which site you want to go off and book it on.
I also like the ‘Everywhere’ option if you want to see where you can fly to – anywhere in the world. They also have a mobile app where you can save your favorite searches. Two other options are Hipmunk and Airfarewatchdog.
2. Outsourcing option:
If you really don’t have much time or inclination to search through results and book everything yourself, then outsourcing to flight search engine Flightfox is going to be right up your alley.
You pay a fee, starting at US$49, and experts track down cheap flights for you. That may seem like a lot to you, but if you’re going on long haul travel with multiple destinations, it’s a small price to pay for the massive savings you’ll make.
To get the best prices, you should do a quick search on Skyscanner first so that the Flightfox agents have a price to beat. My friend and travel photographer Dustin Mann, who’s a pretty last minute type of flier and savvy when it comes to finding flights, used this service. As I profiled in my Suitcase Entrepreneur bestseller, he says he saved himself almost $600.
“I started a contest at Flightfox, where freelance “flight hackers” find you the best and cheapest flights. While travel agents have no incentive to search out the best deals for you, the experts at Flightfox compete to find the lowest price for you. I gave them 72 hours to find the best deal and itinerary for me. Within hours, I was being sent itineraries that would already save me hundreds of dollars. In the end I had 4 choices given to me. I went with an itinerary that cost me $571, saving myself a cool $578 over Kayak.” ~Dustin Main
3. Old fashioned option:
I still think booking through a travel agent is a great option, particularly if you have a more complex itinerary in mind. They can do all the leg work for you, especially on round-the-world trip tickets and packages, and you can sit down and ask them a ridiculous amount of annoying questions.
Their fee is usually built in, and if you compare the price to your hourly charge, it’s most likely worth the money. Flight Centre is renowned for being an international travel agent with a great reputation.
At a pinch, call the airline direct, as the few agents that are still employed are seasoned veterans with a wealth of information and often have tricks that save you money. They have access to all inventories and often can work their magic to make the impossible possible.
If you prefer to watch me tell you most of this, then check out my video on how to find cheap travel here on YouTube or simply click play below (watch for the blooper moment too)
How to Save Money on Accommodation
I often get asked where I actually stay, considering I’m always on the move. These days it’s a combination of booking hotels for short stays, staying in AirBnB places for 5 days or longer or renting longer-term apartments from Craigslist-type services or from referrals from friends.
Where possible, I’m keen to do more house and pet sitting, especially for several weeks or months (when I actually stay somewhere that long) and of course I have dear friends around the world who are happy to have me come stay from time to time (and I get to return the favor when I rent a place and invite them to stay).
Before you do anything, I suggest you open up a tab on your browser for TripAdvisor, which, in my opinion, is the most useful tool for any traveler because it gives you fantastic information about cities, countries, hotels, food, accommodation and activities.
You can use this to cross-reference any accommodation you’re thinking of booking into, against the ratings and reviews of thousands of travelers, before you make your decision.
1. Budget Option: Couchsurfing
If you’re on a budget or are young and carefree, then Couchsurfing is a great option for you. This service allows you to stay with hosts around the world for free.
In return for staying with them, all that’s usually required is to buy them a drink, a meal or to offer to clean up.
With more than 1 million users in 70,000 cities, this service is big, and the word on the street is that, unless you’re a regular user with lots of positive reviews, it is getting harder to be able to find a couch, as hosts are getting picky.
Just so you know, I have never actually couchsurfed, although I did sign up to the service 2 years ago. I reached out to a few hosts but never heard back, so I booked my own accommodation. Here’s a word from Agness Walewinder from etramping.com:
“Couchsurfing is a great way of exploring places on a budget without spending a lot of money on accommodation. Moreover, you can meet amazing people who can look after you and show you around the city.
It’s a great alternative for solo travellers not to feel lonely or for those who are looking for new friendship and fun. For me, Couchsurfing offers a chance to see the places from a local’s perspective. I often ask my hosts to show me areas seldom visited by tourists, tell me some stories about their city and make me feel at home.”
2. Strategic Budget Friendly Option: House sitting
House sitting is essentially free accommodation, whereby you offer to look after a person’s house while they go away.
Sometimes you are required to maintain the place (like the garden) or even look after their pets. This can be for just a week, several months, or even a year or more. Here’s an example listing on Mindmyhouse.
I’m tending towards this great option more and more, especially as I want to spend more time in fewer places (housesitting assignments are often several weeks or months) and actually spend time in a real home so I feel settled and less transient .
Plus, as a single female with an online business who can work from anywhere, who loves dogs and cats and is house proud, I’m like the perfect candidate to house sit!
By the way I’m looking to do this in Sydney in September if you have an option in mind….just saying!
You do usually need to register on a reputable site for a small annual fee and have some references to show you’re trustworthy. While there are many people looking to have house sitters, it’s a longer process to be accepted and make the arrangements, so this option does require some planning.
I recently found an amazing offer in Guatemala to live in a lovely house with incredible views over a volcanic lake, right next to a yoga retreat and looking after two cats who just needed cuddles at night. You could only get there by boat access, and could hire a private Spanish tutor for $5 per hour; plus, it had super fast internet. Pretty perfect to me!
3. Affordable Option: AirBnB
AirBnB came from travelers not wanting to stay in hotels when visiting new destinations, or pay hotel prices but still stay in some pretty lovely places.
For people with their own houses or apartments, or renters, it allows them to put up a listing and earn money for having people stay – either for a night or two or longer term.
If you sign up to the service you can choose to book a whole place, or a room or even share a room. You can also post your own listing(s). AirBnB take their fee and this is usually included in the price.
It’s spawned a whole new ecosystem of mini businesses, as some people do this full time now by receiving a constant stream of revenue from people staying. Plus, the system is ever improving to provide solid and real reviews from people who’ve stayed where you’re looking at booking. Those listing provide photos, descriptions and maps plus availability.
So far I’ve had nothing but great experiences, including a great apartment in NYC for around $100 per night, one in London for a similar price and a whole house to sleep 6 entrepreneurs for an upcoming trip to Portland.
Not only that, but you get people listing boats, tree houses and even former planes that have been turned into accommodation.
4. Discounted Platforms: Agoda and Booking
While there are a ton of services that help you find accommodation at hotels, motels and hostels for less than going direct, I prefer Agoda.com and Booking.com as aggregators (much like Skyscanner.net) of all your options by price, location and availability.
You often get some great deals and heavy discounts if you’re prepared to shop around or book in advance. Agoda is actually owned by Priceline, which is the site where you can get great last minute deals.
I recently booked at the Hyatt in Hiroshima, Japan for around $100 per night for a 5 star twin room which was worth a lot more than that; but that was the price Agoda quoted and I booked at the right time.
These sites also allow you to start earning points that you can apply to future bookings, as does Expedia. The more often you book through them, the more rewards points you earn that will turn into a free night or two at some point.
Make sure you use your rewards-based credit card to accrue points for every dollar you spend. My favorite is Chase Sapphire, largely quoted as one of the best cards for business travel and travel hacking. You get 40,000 bonus points (worth around $500) if you spend up to $3,000 in the first 3 months. I put all my expenses on this card as you get double points for all travel-related expenses.
5. Rewards Programs
Many hotels and accommodation chains offer up their own rewards systems like Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriot Rewards. Just by booking in and showing loyalty to them, you earn points that turn into free accommodation, upgrades or perks like wine on arrival, breakfasts and business lounge access.
Of course, there are always so many options to choose from to save money when traveling for business (or pleasure) but my suggestions and recommendations above should save you time and money figuring it out yourself.
6. Strategic Option: Home Exchange
If you own a property, who says you have to actually stay in it? Why not use it as leverage to swap properties with other homeowners and live in different cities and areas around the world.
As Hannah Alford over at loveplaywork.com says:
“Home exchanging allows us to stay in other people’s homes all round the world for free. We would be paying our mortgage on our apartment anyway, so this system lets us ‘trade up’ for weeks or months at a time without paying extra costs. Most times you can also exchange cars so you don’t even have to pay car hire either.
“It works best for us to stay in homes because it’s easier to run our business like this rather than staying in hotels. There are so many listings to choose from that we also always end up staying in amazing places: riverside lodges, high rise luxury apartments, beach side cottages, pool villas, ski resorts!”
Find a system and solution that works for you and know that you have flexibility and a wide range of options from budget to premium depending on your needs and finances.
It’s all an adventure and one you should enjoy no matter what!
I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit https://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit https://visa.com/business.