Maximizing Your Travel Dollars

The cost of travel may be up, but business fliers can find ways to save

Returning from a business trip, gary bolden found himself delayed at Little Rock National Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas. His flight back to Los Angeles for another meeting had been “There was a later flight, but it would have arrived at 10 p.m. instead of 4 p.m., making me late for an appointment,” says golden, president of the Los Angeles-based Bolden One Records and principal in Dynasty Inc., a family-run construction firm in Little Rock. As he usually does when a flight is delayed or cancelled, Bolden called his company’s travel agent, Jesse Fulton, a manager at Lawyer’s Travel in Washington, D.C., to handle the problem. “He immediately booked me on a flight with another carrier, something I was told couldn’t be done by the reservationist at the airport.”

Like other business travelers, Bolden runs into these kinds of last- minute flight changes. But because he’s a frequent flier with a knowledgeable agent, he was able to rebook his flight without the hassle or the extra cost of penalties.

Now that traveling is becoming more costly, that kind of privilege is essential as businesses try to hold down the bottom line. Airfares for business travelers jumped from an average round-trip cost of $442 in May 1992 to $820 in January 1997, according to American Express Travel. Just last year alone, fares rose 25%, and this past March most carriers upped fares an average of 4% as a result of the reinstatement of the ticket tax.

Fortunately for business travelers like golden, the ways of saving and earning free trips have also increased. Finding these deals can be tedious for travelers, but having frequent travel club memberships and taking advantage of membership tie-ins to other travel-related services can cost you and your company less.

LET THE POINTS ADD UP
One of the best ways for individual travelers to make dollars stretch, says Nancy Dunnan, editor of Travel Smart newsletter, is to use frequent flier tie-ins. These days, you can earn miles not only by flying, but by dining out, making long distance phone calls, renting cars, booking cruises, even buying flowers. And a few airlines are giving mileage for mortgage payments, the principal on a home purchase and deposits in mutual funds. With these tie-ins, says Dunnan, the travel companies want to gain loyal customers by offering discounts and possible free trips, rentals and/or stays. Savvy travelers are taking advantage of these deals. Americans are earning about as many miles from credit card use and other purchases from partnered companies with airlines as from actual air miles, says Randy Petersen of Inside Flyer.

“Nowadays, it takes a great deal of miles to earn a free ticket domestically (25,000-60,000 miles, depending on the class), and even more for an international ticket (50,000-100,000 miles),” notes Barbara Johnson, owner of KH Grand Travel Agency in Los Angeles.

That’s why Bolden, who travels an average of twice a month, explores all avenues of savings and tries to stick to one carrier, although he’s a member in more than one frequent-flier program.

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