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5 Ways to Stretch Your Travel Budget With Freebies and Discounts

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Whether they’re attending conferences, meeting with clients or trying to land investment dollars, traveling is a way of life for many professionals. Many growing businesses have limited travel budgets that make it a burden to hop on a plane every time the need arises. Even if you only travel when you’re confident it will bring a substantial ROI, you can still find yourself spending too much on airline tickets, rental cars and hotel rooms.

There are a few time-tested tricks you can use to make the trips you need without blowing your operating budget. Over time, you may find that these lead you to even more freebies that you wouldn’t have otherwise known about.

1. Free hotel breakfast.

Most hotels offer free breakfast as part of your reservation. At one time, this may have been a small selection of muffins and cereals, but free breakfasts have improved in recent years. Many provide a waffle maker, as well as items like scrambled eggs, bacon or even biscuits and gravy. As busy as you may be, you can save money by getting up a half an hour early and eating a big breakfast. Make yourself an extra plate and save it for lunch. If you need to, you can even skip through lunch and work until dinnertime, saving even more money.

Related: 10 Ways to Get Free Wi-Fi Wherever You Go

2. Happy hour appetizers.

Many restaurants offer free or discounted appetizers during happy hour. Belly up to the bar, order a drink of your choice, then take advantage of the discounted food. You can either fill up on appetizers or order a lighter dinner after you’ve partly filled up on the appetizers. On weeknights, some restaurants have special prices on meals, so be sure to keep an eye out for those deals. Ask the concierge about nearby restaurants that have early bird specials, which are always more reasonably priced.

3. Discount coupons.

Even before you’ve landed in a town, you can often find discount coupons for everything from meals to attractions to rental cars. Stock up on those coupons and use them as often as possible. Once you arrive at the hotel, you’ll likely find a display in the lobby filled with brochures for local businesses. Those brochures are set up to appeal to tourists, but traveling professionals can find great deals on local restaurants in those printed materials. Again, the concierge can give you the scoop on great ways to save money locally.

Related: Why This Entrepreneur Travels With Lock Picks

4. Join rewards programs.

From your first trip, you should be gaining rewards points for every dollar you spend. For best results, choose your favorite airline, hotel chain and rental car reservation company and always travel through those services. You should can quickly amass points toward future travel opportunities. If you choose, you can save the points to use on much-needed personal vacations. Sign up for a business credit card that earns points toward travel for every dollar you spend on everyday expenses.

5. Ask.

When in doubt, ask for a discount. Hotel reservation clerks and rental car companies will sometimes work with customers to offer special rates. This is especially true if you use the same services each time you travel. Start by asking for any special deals they have going at the time and, if that rate is higher than your budget allows, ask if they can further discount that rate. As you develop relationships with specific locations, you may find they start to see you as a loyal customer and will grant you a discount because of that.

Business travel can severely zap a business’s budget and stretch its resources. Avoiding travel due to cost can hurt a professional’s ability to get ahead in his career. But with a little creativity, professionals can save money and put that savings toward traveling more often.

Related: 7 Tips for International Business Travel From a Multi-Million Miler

John Boitnott

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John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.