What to know before you start a job with significant business travel
No one starts out as an experienced business traveler. If you are about to start a job or are changing to a new position that will have a significant amount of business travel, here are the things that I wish I knew when I started out. Welcome to Business Travel 101.
1. Sign up for all rewards programs
Regardless of which airlines, hotels, and rental car companies you think you will be using, I recommend signing up for all major rewards programs from the start. You never know when you will have a last minute trip where you have to use a different brand and without an account, you could miss out on valuable benefits for that trip or in the future. If your company uses a travel agency to book your travel, make sure they know all of your account numbers so that they can book your trips with your info.
2. Pick an airline, hotel chain, and rental car brand and stick to it
If at all possible, you should use the same airline, hotel chain, and rental car company for every single trip. Switching back and forth between airlines or hotels, both limits how fast you can achieve Elite Statuses and spreads your rewards points across different companies so that you have to wait longer to redeem them.
Which brand to choose?
If you don’t know which company to pick, research where you will be traveling to to see what airline has the best routes from where you live to your work location, see what hotels are in the vicinity of where you will be working, and look at rental car prices for different companies for that airport. That info should give you a pretty good starting point.
3. Stay healthy
One of the easiest things to do when you start traveling for work is to let your health slip, either by eating too much or not having an exercise routine. Check out this post for more info on how to stay healthy on the road.
4. Maximize your rewards points (using credit cards)
This topic deserves an entire series of posts (which you can find here: Business Travel Credit Card Strategy to Maximize Your Travel Rewards – Part 1) but something that I regret not doing when I started traveling was maximizing my rewards points. For the first few years that I traveled, I only used one credit card for all of my expenses over all of my trips. It was a Hotel-branded card that gave bonus points for the hotel chain that I usually stayed at which was okay but I definitely left thousands of dollars worth of free travel on the table by not having a strategy to maximize my points.
5. Add on personal travel as much as possible
If your company lets you, and you have nothing that requires you to be home when you aren’t onsite (family pets, etc), I would add on personal travel to as many trips as you want. For example, if you are traveling from Chicago to LA and wanted to see some friends in San Francisco for the weekend, you could book the Chicago-LA-SF-Chicago trip for often the same cost (OR even LESS!) that just the cost of the Chicago-LA-Chicago ticket. Or maybe you have back to back trips to LA and instead of traveling home for the weekend, you could stay the weekend in LA and potentially have your company cover your rental car and hotel those days since they only have to pay for one flight.
6. Limit your expenses at home
Although this is not really part of business travel, depending on how much you will be traveling for your position, you should consider what you are spending money on at home and reconsider many of those things if you won’t be there to enjoy them. For example, if you are traveling 20 days every month but also spending $2,500/month on a fancy apartment at home, downsizing or moving to a different area could save you tons of money over the course of your career. Same goes for cable, internet, a car, and many other items.
7. Make money on your travel expenses
There are so many ways today to make some extra money from business travel. Check out this post for many ideas. Had I done some of these things from when I started traveling, I would have made many thousands of dollars on top of my salary, tax free.
Summary – Business Travel 101
If I could go back and do it all over again, doing these things from the start would have made me a lot of money, and given me a lot of free travel. Hopefully you can learn from me and my Business Travel 101 and avoid the same mistakes that I made.