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Get 'First-Class' Travel, Without Being Taken for a Ride

One of the harsher realities of running a small business is that every time you travel, it’s on your dime. Just because you’re the one paying the piper, though, doesn’t mean you have to travel like a pauper on your business trips.

It’s possible to have a first-class experience on a steerage budget. But it takes a modicum of travel savvy, flexibility and advance planning. BusinessNewsDaily polled a number of road warriors to come up with these tips on how to make travel a pleasure rather than a pain and save a buck or two to boot.

Loyalty Has Its Rewards

Topping just about everybody’s punch list of ways to make a travel dollar go further is membership in airline and hotel loyalty programs. These programs can save you money and insulate you from the rougher edges of travel.

“Maintain elite status, even if it’s the lowest level in a program, said Ryan Lile, a travel consultant who runs savvytravel.net. “This typically gives access to exit row seating on planes, priority check-in and security lines and sometimes even the occasional upgrade. Spend the cash for a lounge membership. It’s a few hundred bucks annually — usually cheaper the higher level elite you are with the airline — but it pays for itself during your first multi-hour delay.”

Loyalty Has its Rewards II

If it’s possible, try to concentrate your business. It lets airlines and hotels know that you’re a valued customer.

“Stick with one airline,” said Scott Hardy, president of Top Class Actions, a clearinghouse for class-action lawsuits, and a frequent traveler. “Don’t switch. If you’re constantly switching airlines you will never get enough status to be upgraded to first class reliably. Stick with one hotel chain . Once again, switching hotels gets you nowhere.”

The Savings You Get Are Equal to the Savings You Make

It can take some effort and insider knowledge on your part, but it pays to research deals, especially with airlines.

“Watch out for special frequent flyer promotions in the third and fourth quarter of every year,”  Hardy said.  “Every airline does their own thing, but you need to get their e-mails and read them to participate.”

“Hunt for discounted first-class fares, often called ‘Q-up’ or ‘K-up’ Fares,” Lile recommended.  “These are economy fares that offer an instant, confirmed upgrade to first class. They were originally designed by the airlines to help circumvent corporate travel policy restrictions on booking first-class tickets, and are often significantly less than full-fare first class.”

It Pays to Ask

A savvy business traveler needn’t be held in thrall by the tyranny of the rack-rate, which is the list or brochure price for a hotel room.  These days, there is a lot of wiggle room for negotiation, especially at a hotel that’s not fully booked.

“Simply ask for a free upgrade in a polite, nonaggressive way,” said Susan Lawrence, president of Real Estate Strategies. “It takes some chutzpah but it remarkable effective — 50 percent of the time for me. Most desk personnel have the option of upgrading you, even if their first response is to tell you they do not. Make it easy for them.”

Dress for Success

Take a page from Public Relations 101 — put you best visual foot forward when asking to favors such as upgrades.

“Looking the part of a polished business executive is essential,” Lawrence said. “Traveling in sweats or T-shirts won’t work. If you look like someone who may become an important customer in the future, your chances of upgrades are greatly enhanced.”

Bidding Wars

If there is some flexibility in your travel plans, you can game the system and use a travel bidding site like Priceline. That tactic works for Sally Treadwell, communications director for PeopleClaim.com, an online dispute-resolution service.

“We use Priceline bidding almost exclusively for hotel rooms,” she told BusinessNewsDaily. “With a little bidding savvy plus a good understanding of the limitations of the service, there’s nothing like getting a four- or five-star hotel room for a two-star price. Once you understand the system, bidding goes about as fast as direct booking.”

It’s Not a Bus, It’s a Motor Coach

Business travelers in the busy Northeast corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., have long had convenient rail service as an alternative to air travel. Travelers there and elsewhere are now discovering another alternative that’s comparable in travel time, but less expensive and with far fewer travel hassles: intercity bus service.

These are not your grandfather’s Greyhounds. Many of these new bus lines such as Redcoach, which serves 12 cities in the Southeast, provide motor coaches that carry half as many passengers as regular buses, offer luxurious seating and amenities such as Wi-Fi and power outlets, so that travel time can be productive time as well and cost only a fraction of airline fares.

“Not only is it less expensive than air travel, but riding RedCoach is more convenient and more comfortable, with total travel time between cities very comparable,” said Kim Hinton a RedCoach spokeswoman.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.