Even with all the headaches it entails, I still enjoy traveling. But it’s expensive, and I don’t have a lot of money.
Fortunately, this year at work we had enough money in the budget for me to do some business travel. As you read this, I’m in Las Vegas, at a conference, and the company is paying for it. This isn’t the first time I’ve traveled for business, but it’s the longest trip I’ve taken. And it’s been pretty good.
With that in mind, here are six of the best things about business travel.
6. Free rewards. — In the past couple of years, airlines have made it much harder to get enough rewards points to purchase an actual ticket (except for Southwest, which to my knowledge hasn’t changed that much). I used to fly on Delta a lot, and I used my Delta miles to get a $200 round-trip ticket to New Mexico in 2013, but nowadays there’s just no point because it takes so long (and you have to spend so much money) to rack up your rewards points.
But if you’re traveling for business… When I went to New York for work in 2013, I put everything on my Delta Amex card and got a ton of rewards points, and then all the money was reimbursed. This time, the trip’s total cost is about $3000 (including per diems and incidentals), and I don’t have that much to spare. My boss put the trip on his credit card, but I put in my number for the Southwest airline miles. Either way, I get rewards points that I don’t have to pay for, and if I use my Southwest card on the trip, I get reimbursed for that too — but I get to keep the points.
5. Staying connected. — Have you seen the cost of in-flight internet these days? Unless you’re flying JetBlue (which doesn’t go to Atlanta, where I live), you have to pay between $12 and $20 for wi-fi on each leg of your trip. That’s ridiculous, especially given how crappy the service is. The first time I used in-flight wi-fi, it was a flight in December and eBay (I think) gave everyone who had an eBay account a free wi-fi pass. It was a cool novelty, but I didn’t get much out of it because it wasn’t fast enough to do anything.
But if you’re traveling for business… When I went to New York in 2013, it was pretty much a last-minute trip — I got approved for it on a Monday, bought my tickets on a Tuesday, and flew out on Wednesday. I needed to stay connected and answer e-mails and such, so I bought the wi-fi and expensed it. On the way home I mostly played Words with Friends and chatted with people, but I still had the pass so I figured I might as well use it. When I travel for personal reasons, I never shell out for the wi-fi, because I don’t need it. I can just read. Still, it’s nice to have if I don’t have to pay for it.
4. Convenience over cost. — I like to think I’m a pretty savvy “travel agent” for myself. I obsessively research flights and rental cars until I find the one that is the perfect balance between price and time. Sometimes — as with my honeymoon — that means I have to pay a little more to get an intangible benefit, like spending more time at the resort or not having to get up before the crack of dawn. Sometimes that means driving all the way to the airport to return my rental car instead of just getting one from Enterprise and dropping it off by my house (there’s a location less than a mile away). But either way, the number one thing I have to worry about is how much things will cost, because I can’t afford to pay more than I have to.
But if you’re traveling for business… For the trip I’m on right now, I did actually get the lowest airfare, but I didn’t have to. I needed to arrive and depart at the same time as the rest of the Atlanta contingent, but since I was buying my tickets at a different time than them, the flight options were different. If I’d had to pay more to get somewhere at a certain time, then I would have done it. If I had to go to Seattle or Tulsa or Pittsburgh for work, I wouldn’t be able to figure out the cheapest days to fly; I’d just go and come back on the days I needed to. It’s much more convenient than trying to find the cheapest option, and the company will pay it because if the travel wasn’t a necessity for the business then I just wouldn’t be going.
3. Getting the good stuff. — My fiancee is going to a convention in Las Vegas in June, and my parents happen to have a timeshare there, so they’ve offered it to her for the week she’ll be in Nevada. Otherwise, our research indicated that the best option for her would be to stay at the Excalibur, which isn’t the best hotel on the strip for us. It’s not a bad hotel by any means, but if I was going on vacation, I probably would look for a place that interested me more (the Excalibur doesn’t have entertainment options that mesh with my interests). As for her — it’s a bit of a walk from where she needs to be (The Venetian), whereas the timeshare is literally around the corner. If we were traveling just for the sake of traveling — to, let’s say, New Mexico — we’d probably scour the internet for the best-rated hotel in our price range that was also somewhat convenient, or just get an Airbnb.
But if you’re traveling for business… The most important thing about business travel is being close to the place where you need to go, or at least close enough that there’s a hotel shuttle. Often that means getting a better hotel simply because the best ones are closest to your office. The hotels around my office are all pretty nice (IHG is headquartered less than two miles away), and when people travel here for business, they don’t have to worry about scouring Priceline or Hotels.com for the best deal; they just pick the closest hotel that we have a relationship with on our internal travel site and stay there. For this trip, we happened to have a deal on our internal site with the Mandalay Bay, which also happens to be the hotel where my conference is occurring. My coworkers were planning to stay at the Venetian (the nicest place in our work price range, even if it meant having to take a bus or rent a car) until they found that. It’s even a cheaper rate than the conference is offering for the same hotel, by $75 — and everyone gets his or her own room. No sharing required. And the Mandalay Bay is really nice. I call that good stuff.
2. Last leg. — The last leg of travel is often a difficult one, especially if you’re going somewhere for personal reasons. You have to rent a car, get a ride, find a shuttle, or request an Uber/Lyft, and you have to pay for all of those things (though some shuttles are free). When I went to New York in 2003, I flew into JFK, then had to pay for the shuttle to LGA (an hour to go across a narrow island), and then got a free shuttle from LGA to my hotel. In New Mexico, I rented a car to get from ABQ to the Airbnb where I stayed. When I visit my parents, they have to rearrange their schedules to pick me up from the airport.
But if you’re traveling for business… My New York trip in 2013 required me to use a taxi to get to and from the conference. It was about a $90 round-trip, and I expensed it. It was extremely convenient, too; in NYC, taxis are everywhere, and are clearly marked. Just raise your arm when one is coming. Folks who come to my office on business trips rent cars and expense them. For this trip, I had to take a cab, and it’s about $20 each way. I’ll be expensing it. Companies will almost always pay for the last leg.
1. Per diem. — Even on visits to family, buying food can add up. Airport food, the ride to/from the airport, going out to dinner, doing stuff… it’s a lot more than you think. And then there’s actual vacations, where the food options cost a lot more specifically because they’re… well… vacations. Disney is one of the worst for this in terms of cost (but at least the food is good). Still, paying for food while on vacation is something that a lot of people forget to budget for, and it comes back and bites them in the ass.
But if you’re traveling for business… “Per diem” is a magical thing for business travel. It’s a specific amount of money you are allotted each day to buy food, and it’s usually reasonable. When I came to Atlanta in 2003 for three weeks, my coworker and I had a room with a kitchen, and a $25 per diem. We bought a bunch of food at Publix and cooked most of our dinners; the rest was easy. Even when we went to Taco Mac and demolished a plate of 100 wings and two beers apiece, we still kept within budget. You may not get the best food out there, but per diem is usually enough to go somewhere with good reviews and good choices. It beats trying to find the nearest Olive Garden so you can steal all the breadsticks.
Today happens to be my birthday. I’m actually quite glad I’m traveling for it. As you may recall from last May, I don’t like celebrating my birthday. It’s gotten to the point where I almost had an anxiety attack just e-mailing my boss to ask him not to observe it, and to pass that information around to the other managers on our team. I turn off my Facebook wall because the last thing I need is everyone on my friends list clicking “send happy birthday greetings” when they literally haven’t spoken to me other than to send said greetings in years. My family members call me, and it’s nice to hear from them, but I never really know what to say.
But because I’m on a business trip today, I have a built-in reason for not answering the phone. I’ll be in panels all day, and tonight is the “goodbye” party. (The conference continues for two more days, but only focused on development, which is a much smaller group of people.) I’ll go, have a couple of drinks and some food, and then probably go back to my room and watch Netflix — or, if my coworkers make good on their threat, join them downstairs to play a little Blackjack. Maybe I’ll even win. That would be a nice birthday present to myself.
Ultimately I think it goes back to my self-deprecating nature and the fact that I’m terrible at accepting praise. I just feel silly, like “why are you saying I did a good job? I know I did a good job.” But if I don’t get praised, I feel like “why aren’t you praising me? Didn’t I do a good job?”
My brain is a strange place. You should probably not travel there on business.
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