THE BLOG

Business Travel on a Budget

14/07/2014 14:45 BST | Updated 13/09/2014 10:59 BST

I look back fondly to the days when I flew from country to country, continent to continent, racking up business class air miles. While I didn't enjoy the need to travel, at least I could do it in comfort, and with a bit of style. After all, my big multi-national employer was paying for it

When you run your own business, but still need to travel thousands or even tens of thousands of miles a month, you start to look at budget before anything else.

But what is the point of the large comfy seats and posh hotel rooms? Is it vanity, or a real business necessity?

Intelligent Voice Office in New York

The new Intelligent Voice office in New York

Well, not many people travel on business because they love it. You're there to do a job, dislocated often from home, friends and co-workers. And frankly, you don't want to feel more stressed and exhausted than you have to, so there has to be a balance between thrift and bloody minded penny pinching (those of my staff who travel for me will no doubt throw this back in my face soon!)

So, a few tips on how to achieve some sort of balance:

Premium Economy

I am in New York at the moment, having flown over with Virgin in Premium Economy. I started my flying career about 20 years ago, and back then the Virgin Upper Class seats were roughly the same as today's Premium Economy. Ok, so you don't get the limo and the backrub like you used to, but the price differential is insane.

An example: About 6 months ago, I got the cheapest bucket shop deal I could for a flight to New York. Something like £500. At the airport, I asked for an upgrade (NB, unless you're on a list, Virgin don't comp upgrades, you pay for it!). To Premium? £250. To Upper? Over £2000.

So I gambled on there being some space in Premium, got to the airport three hours early, and got a good seat, and saved a ton of cash.

Air Miles

Not earning them, spending them.

I'll stick with Virgin, because it's an airline I know well (I fly with them about once a month). Virgin allows you to buy 100,000 miles a year, and to have someone else gift you another 100,000.

From time to time, they even have a sale, where you get 20% extra free, and even the reward flights are 20% off.

At any given time, the "cost" of a reward return in Premium is between 45,000 and 55,000 miles, plus about £450 in taxes. That means you can get across the pond, in Premium, guaranteed, for about £1,000. If you try to buy the same flights, even from a business class specialist, that cost is more than double.

Of course, that only works about 4 times a year, but if you're willing to book economy on other flights and upgrade at the airport, you earn more miles in any event

Staying There

Many travel sites like Expedia offer bundle deals, where you can get a flight and hotel for a significantly reduced price. You need to shop around, and be quick when you see the deal. This only works if you are travelling economy (but see above about upgrades). Recently, I got a return flight to NY for one of our consultants, plus 4 nights in a 5* hotel, for £1,350. That was cheaper than putting him in a 3* hotel near the airport for the time. But it took some searching to find it.

Priceline is another great way to do it. Often better hotels have overcapacity, and start to sell rooms off cheap closer to the time of the stay. The absolute best way to do it? Pick one of the Mystery Deals (many sites do it) - You can usually work out which hotel it is through the clues, and the savings are immense sometimes. Budget price buys you luxury hotel.

Getting around? I'm using Uber, enemy of the taxi driver, a lot at the moment. Why? The fares are good value, the cars are well maintained, and generally they know where they are going. It's fantastic in New York, where the cabs are shocking, but even in London, I paid £16 for a ride from Heathrow, which costs in excess of £25 in a black cab, and I didn't get earache about the fact mine was a "short" journey. In central London, though, the combination of Hailo, a credit card and a black cab is unbeatable - it's a shame that they have recently taken on minicabs as well, driving black cabs away from the service (Look for the "Failo" stickers popping up in cabs at the moment)

Jet Lag

Everyone has their own cure, from semi-legal melatonin pills to staying up all night before you travel.

My particular favourites for the US are day flights and not changing your time clock.

Usually, I will book a flight that leaves the US in the morning, and arrives back at night. I will stay the night before at the airport and sleep in an actual bed (so no need for that expensive flat bed seat), and be more refreshed when I get home. For the extra hundred quid or so, it's worth it. I stay at the new Embassy Suites at Newark whenever I can.

Even on those occasions you do get to "sleep" in flat beds in business class, the experience on a short-hop NY to London is still one of interrupted rest and scratchy eyes on arrival - only when coming in from the West Coast do you get a long enough flight time for something approaching a night's sleep.

Keeping your time zone the same has the advantage that you avoid jet lag when you get home - it has the disadvantage that you end up getting up at 4 in the morning, which can make getting a cup of coffee a stretch.

Wednesday Morning 4am

Wednesday Morning, 4am

And if you get invited out for dinner, falling asleep into your main course is considered most rude. Fortunately, many Americans eat at 6, so you might just scrape through to pudding.

Web Conference?

Surely the alternative is to sleep in your own bed, and video conference?

That might work for some people, but as a concept, it leaves me cold. I don't think I have ever had any real follow-up to a web meeting, unless I have followed it up with a trip. People buy from people, and you only get that level of interaction if you sit in the same room. People don't sit and do their email when you're in the same room (or if they do, you can rest assured they will one day be consigned to one of the very inner rings of Hell), but they certainly do if you are not there.

Email, telephone and web conferencing all have their place in the sales cycle, but if you want to sell your product, your company and yourself, physical presence is the only way. Even if they think you are an idiot in person, you would probably have seemed even more stupid on the phone.