5 MONEY-SAVING TIPS FOR THE SUMMER
By Joe Brancatelli
May 29, 2013 --Now that we've made the metaphorical turn into the unofficial start of summer, business travelers can concentrate on a growing problem: the rising cost of being on the road.
Estimates vary, of course, but the upward creep of airfares, hotel rates and car-rental charges may be as high as 5 percent so far this year. Your experience may vary, too—travel prices are rising much faster in places like New York and San Francisco than in smaller, Midwest and Southern destinations—but very few travelers I speak to report that their costs are going down. And after several years of relative stability (if nothing else, Great Recessions tend to keep a lid on travel costs), even smaller price bumps are noticeable.
The solution? A renewed focus on keeping your costs down and making sure that you are not overpaying for what you need on the road. Here are five tips that might save you a few shekels this summer.
Chase down car-rental codes
Rental costs are rising, but only a business traveler who's forgotten his or her corporate or other discount codes is being quoted such stratospheric rates. In a dozen recent test rentals, I found that daily rates can vary by as much as 65 percent based on whether I entered an appropriate discount code. So-called "open" or full-retail rates for rentals has always been inflated to make room for the discounts that car firms negotiate with corporations, affinity groups such as the AAA and AARP or other organizations, but the gap between the prices has clearly widened.
If you work for an organization of any size, make sure to check for its corporate discount before renting. If you run your own firm, call a few car-rental firms and discuss arranging your own discount plan. Google "car rental discount codes." You'll be surprised how many apply to you. Use a fare-compare site like Kayak.com to see side-by-side quotes from competing firms for a particular trip. The price range is dramatic. And if you don't care which rental chain you use, try Priceline and Hotwire. Their blind-booking options can cut your rental costs by 55 percent compared to published prices.
The (mini) bar is now open
The now-empty minibars offer a cost-saving opportunity for cost-conscious business travelers. To avoid the high price of room service—or succumbing to those $6 bottles of water that hotels now ostentatiously place in your room "for your convenience"—stock the bars yourself. Go to a nearby market or convenience store, pick up beverages and snacks you prefer and stash them in the empty minibar during your stay. The money you save—and the expense account you don't wreck—is your own.
Bring your own Wi-Fi
One solution: Bring your own Wi-Fi access. As major mobile operators roll out super-fast 4G networks nationwide, they also sell plans that allow you to turn your smartphones into Wi-Fi hotspots. Like Verizon Wireless, they also sell mobile routers and other devices that create personal Wi-Fi bubbles. Even given the higher prices that the phone companies now charge for data access, bringing your own Wi-Fi is cheaper over a monthly basis than a hotel may charge for daily access. Another potential solution: Five major cable-TV providers have linked Wi-Fi networks under the admittedly uninventive rubric CableWiFi that allows you to access the Wi-Fi hotspots of a local cable company for free, just as if you're using your own cable Internet at home or in the office. (Look for the system called CableWiFi when your device is searching available networks.)
Sidestep the change fees
There are three ways to sidestep the fees:
Do a card check
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright © 2013 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2013 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.