Time away can be quite costly for a startup business owner, so be sure to weigh the needs and benefits of travel. Is a face-to-face meeting necessary? Are you likely to close that distant prospect? If the answer is yes, make those trips brief, infrequent and inexpensive.
If you plan the trip yourself, start with the Internet; sites like Travelocity and Expedia can help you comparison-shop for the lowest fares, make reservations and purchase tickets. Or try calling your favorite airline. Ask for the lowest fare available, then ask if you can save by connecting through the airline's hub. Can you save by using alternate airports? Staying over on a Saturday night? Flying specific days of the week? Policies and airfares differ from airline to airline, so shop competing airlines.
The key to keeping costs down is advance planning. The best deals on airline tickets usually are those purchased seven to 21 days in advance. Even some hotels offer lower rates when booked early. If you're too busy to hunt down low prices, "have a travel agent make your arrangements," advises Carol Thorp of the Automobile Club of Southern California. "Agents can usually find better deals-they'll put together packages that include airfare, lodging and car rental. They can save business travelers time and money."
In any event, schedule your appointments only after you have made your travel arrangements. At the same time, get hotel recommendations from people you'll be visiting. Call hotels directly (don't use a chain's toll-free number), and ask for the lowest room rate. Then ask if they offer commercial rates or other discounts. Another option is visiting a hotel broker, who often gets the volume discounts enjoyed by major corporations and can save you the cost of calling hotels to compare rates.
Finally, sign up for frequent-flier programs if you haven't already. Each time you fly, show your card at the ticket counter and ask for a free upgrade. When you check into a hotel, ask for a better room and try to negotiate for free local calls, meals and airport transportation. It can't hurt to ask.
is a former staff reporter for Journal of Commerce and American Banker.