This year was the 3rd year I’ve been a consultant. I travel for work on occassion and I received some advice very early on that has really been valueable to me. I want to share this here as well. Most of the following article is written in generalities based on reimbursable business travel in the US and what offers are available at the time of writing this article. Disclaimer: The links I provide are specific to my accounts and will give me a bonus. Feel free to use or not.
- Use a separate credit card (or 2) for work travel and expenses.
- Pick a brand and loyalty/rewards program and use it as often as possible.
Credit Cards and Loyalty Programs
I believe that you should use separate business credit cards for travel. This is going to make it easier to track expenses, reimbursements, and come in handy as emergency backup ledger in case you lose that receipt that accounting requires. There are many credit cards you can sign up for. Some are brand specific and some are generic travel credit cards. Often they have a yearly fee (which if you use them even for 1 trip often gives enough rewards that cover the fee). I will share the 3 that I have and my reasoning behind my choices.
My recommendation is to first look at your local airport and figure out which airline has most destinations. This may not always be the right answer if you know you need to travel to a certain destination regularly that isn’t serviced by an airine, but generally it will work for most cases. For my local airport, there are 3 airlines to choose from, Southwest, United, and Delta. In most airports in the US, this will hold true. Choose the airline you are likely to use the most, and go investigate the credit cards that are specific to that airline. Many times, there is a sign up bonus of you spend $X then you get a giant heap of points. This is generally the best option at the time. Offers come and go and the number of points and the required $X to spend does fluctuate.
I ended up going with a Chase Southwest Rewards Card and use it for all of my flights. I chose Southwest because they have the best, most direct, and most frequent destinations for Kansas City. Southwest benefits gets you a perk that other loyalty programs don’t (last I looked). Each year I have been able to earn enough to get Companion Pass. This allows me to assign one person as my Companion and they can fly with me for free. I usually use this in the summer to get a free ticket for one of my kids for those family trips or distant summer camps. I also can change that person 2 times a year, so I rotate kids out, or my husband when it makes sense for those personal travel flights. This is a huge bonus in my opinion!
Now go pick your loyalty/rewards program and sign up! Be sure to tie that number to your credit card. Once you have your credit card number, go back into your reward program and set it up as your default card for airline purchases. Those double and triple points make a huge difference.
If you are going to fly 1-2 times a year, that is all you need. But if you travel more often, I highly recommend TSA Precheck. It has a fee, but you will get through the lines without having to take out your laptop, liquids, and take off your shoes. The other people in the Precheck lane also know the process, so you don’t have to wait on TSA employees explaining to people that they must dump out the liquids in the trash, no you can’t have more than 3oz of your lotion, yes pocket change, phones, earbud do need to come out of your pockets and put in a bin. If you will travel internationally, get yourself Global Entry and save yourself time in coming back through US customs!
When you get cleared (after an interview and waiting), you will get a Known Traveling Number. Don’t forget to go add that to your airline rewards program so your boarding tickets will show PreCheck on them!
When you travel for work, you’ll also likely be staying overnight most of the time. Again pick a brand and stick with it. The two biggest chains are Marriott and Hilton. Very often you will find both within a small radius of any destination. Pick one. I can’t tell you which is better, only that I started with a smaller chain and quickly learned I needed to switch to one of these two.
I have the Chase Marriott Rewards Card and use it for all of my hotels. I switched to Marriott when I realized the brand I was using wasn’t as common and I was struggling to find hotels close to my clients.
Now go pick your loyalty/rewards program and sign up! Be sure to tie that number to your credit card. Once you have your credit card number, go back into your reward program and set it up as your default card for hotel purchases. Those double and triple points make a huge difference.
For the other use cases
Maybe you don’t get to choose a single brand, or book your own flights and hotels. If you don’t have a company provided card, then I recommend a general points card that plays nicest with whichever loyalty program you are using most often.
I have a Chase Sapphire Preferred card and it is my catch all of travel expenses that don’t get double/triple points on the other cards. I chose this one because it transferred 1-1 or better for all of my loyalty programs. Do a bit of reading to see if this is a good fit for you using the below link.
If you are traveling for the week or less, I highly recommend getting a carry-on suitcase and a very comfortable laptop bag. The carry-on is because checked baggage takes extra time before and after flight. Also it can slightly increase the chance of lost baggage and stress. I’m still using the same carry-on that I bought in January 2015.
The hunt for the right laptop bag has been an ongoing trial for me. It is a very personal thing and what works for one person (big, has built in chargers, all the pockets) doesn’t work for another (lightweight, minimal, sits higher on the back). I’ve gone through 5 laptop backpacks and I’m still not 100% happy, but have this Belkin slim one.
I am always using my phone as my internet and needing to charge. I highly recommend getting the following power bank portable charger. It is very very quick, charges multiple devices multiple times, and has been a lifesaver for me. Do not buy those small chargers in the airport if you can avoid it. Also don’t buy headphones or gadgets in the airport. The markup in airports is insane.
If you also get cranky about cost markup, get yourself a refillable waterbottle (just remember not to fill it until after you’ve gone through security).
Don’t use the hotel, airport, or airline WiFi and expect it to be private. Feel free to use it in a pinch or to connect to a work or client VPN. But don’t connect and then sign into anything, especially your bank or email. A couple of quick tips I recommend. Find a cheap VPN service. Also you can use your phone as a hotspot.
Don’t leave your carry-on or laptop bag even for a moment while in the airport. Keep an eye on that person who bumps into you. Get into the habit of keeping your wallet, phone, etc in your front pocket of your pants or an inside zipper pocket inside your laptop bag for reducing ease of pick pocketing. Also I have an RFID blocking wallet to prevent the chance of those higher tech pick pockets.
Car Rentals vs Taxi vs UBER/Lyft
I have to say the one area I’ve been really inconsistent is Cars. I rent from all of the car rentals. And recently I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t like to even rent a car and just end up going with Lyft instead. I decided a year ago to vote with my dollars and use Lyft instead of UBER because of bad practices I was hearing. I’ve grabbed the occassional taxi, but in general find the ride services cheaper. Check google maps and you can often see current rates for UBER/Lyft. So if you want a quick $10 bonus for Lyft, there is even a referral link for that.
Sit back and enjoy!
One last tip is to treat every service person (hotel cleaner, flight attendant, front desk, waitstaff, airport airline customer service) as if everything they do is golden and a huge deal. Because when you are treating them well, they are often way more likely to go above and beyond for you. There can be a time when something goes wrong (missing something, late, unexpected problem, etc.) and those same people can make a huge difference in the outcome. Make friendly with the front desk and flight attendant. Be overly nice and ask their opinions for dinner spots, sights to see, experiences. You might find that hole in the wall local diner that is the best food you’ve ever had!
I believe rewards points matter almost not at all for the regular person who doesn’t travel often. For those of us that do, whether for work or pleasure, it is really pretty easy to get higher loyalty status and bonus points without much effort as long as you stick to a brand. Both my airline and hotel cards have given me enough points to completely cover airfare and hotel for my family of 5 to Disney 2 times, and a weeklong trip to Scotland. Your mileage may vary, but I bet you find yourself with more points than you know what to do with within a year.