When It Comes to Business Travel, When to Scrimp vs. When to Spend

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4 min read

This story appears in the October 2014 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

When Fan Bi was launching Blank Label, his Boston-based luxury menswear company, he traveled often to New York City and Washington, D.C. "Once I went for the low-budget option and booked a hostel without entirely realizing I would share a room with nine others," he recalls. Making matters worse, the facility's Wi-Fi, already unreliable, was available only in the lobby.

Lesson learned: While it's important to guard your company's bottom line when you travel, you have to strike a balance that protects your productivity. You have to determine where to scrimp and where to spend. You have to determine where to scrimp and where to spend. 


Bi's mistake notwithstanding, lodging may be a good place to economize, as there's infinite variety in terms of pricing. "Every couple of dollars up the price scale, there's a lodging concept. Don't buy more hotel than you need," advises Joe Brancatelli, editor and publisher of JoeSentMe.com, a website for business travelers. For example, you might try Hilton's Hampton Inns if comfort and free breakfast are your priorities. But Hilton loyalist Tissa Richards, CEO of Network Kinetix in Austin, prefers to go a few brand notches up. "We frequently meet customers at the hotel, so it's important it be a nice, business-friendly hotel with a decent restaurant and bar," she says.

If you're attending a conference or other industry event, your lodging priorities may shift. While you can scrimp by staying off-site, it pays to stay where the action is, says Teresa Mears, publisher of deal site Miami on the Cheap. "I'm going to conferences to network, and I don't want to miss opportunities to join a group in the bar or run into people in the lobby," she points out.


Scrimping on flights can come at a cost. Any chance your schedule will change? It's worth spending more upfront to avoid high change fees.

And consider the value of your time spent in the air. Joshua Dziabiak, COO of Austin-based car-insurance comparison site The Zebra, prioritizes direct flights, legroom and internet access. "This often means a slightly higher premium in airfare but typically decreases the amount of time spent disconnected from work--and that might easily be worth more than the difference," he says.

Unless you are able to take some downtime when you arrive, give red-eyes the heave-ho. You won't hit the ground running so much as reeling with jet lag, Brancatelli says. Even if it costs more, it can be better to arrive later, get a good night's sleep and get to business the next day with your wits about you.


At the time suck that is the airport, the best way to determine if a splurge is in order is to consider how much it may save you in terms of productivity. For example, an annual membership or day pass to an airport lounge with a business center may well be worth the price.

New York City-based money coach Ashley Feinstein says her wisest travel purchases have been memberships to TSA Precheck and the Global Online Enrollment System. "For $100, for the next five years I don't have to wait in lines at the airport, and I don't have to take off my shoes or take out my laptop when going through security," she says.

One airport area that's a great place to scrimp is car rental. Since most agencies have the same vehicles and types of plans, it's easy to comparison shop by price.


People who work for themselves tend to eat frugally when they're on their own. But don't assume you have to spend big when entertaining clients. "Your client may not be interested in the Michelin-star stuff but may love ethnic food--a great Indian restaurant or a little Italian place," Brancatelli says.

Sometimes, though, you have to live a little. Bri Crum, president of Dallas-based Plan B PR, is fine with eating on the cheap for breakfast and lunch, but after work, she makes the occasional splurge. "Dinner and cocktails, now that is important to me!" she says. "That is my time to enjoy the city I traveled to, catch up with friends and colleagues and use the business trip as part of my life experience."


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