Making your way in the world today…

One of the most unusual things about my current job, other than not having to explain what my company does (at least in general and 4/5 of the specifics), is getting to travel for business.

Having come to the point where the waiters and front desk staff at one hotel in Las Vegas recognize me, I thought I’d share some suggestions and insights for lower grade business travel.

Some of my professional friends, like Stephen Foskett, travel a lot more than I do. Stephen has some useful recommendations on frequent flyer programs, worth a look.

But here are some thoughts from my measly dozen flights in the last year and change. Oh, and some Amazon links (not all of them), in case you want to help with my upcoming personal travel accessories.

Loyalty Programs

Sign up for them. You will probably see benefits on your first stay.

I learned this about 12 years ago when I joined Wyndham’s hotel rewards program. My first stay, thanks to that membership (obtained a few days before I made my reservation) got me a deep discount and every 5th night free on a two week stay in a Key West resort with an indirect ocean view. So about $100/night for a room that I later saw going for $400+ a night. You won’t always get so lucky though.

Check with your company’s travel group, or administrative assistant, and see if you have corporate discount agreements. Sometimes it’s that your admin’s wife works for the local branch of a car rental company, or maybe your company puts enough butts in car seats to get a discount.

Failing that, figure out who you like for air, car, and hotel, and sign up for their plans. If you travel as uncreatively as I do, you can get by with one of each, but as Stephen says, try to get balance/coverage.

Watch for points expiration. Some airlines (Delta, Southwest) don’t expire their points. Others may have 12, 18, or 24 month expiration. Generate some activity once a year and you’re probably going to be okay. Sometimes you can move points between air and hotel, or get points for airport shuttles and car rentals, so make the most of it.

If you change your airline preferences, don’t throw your points away. Most points programs will let you spend the points on certain retail purchases (flowers, magazines, gift certificates) which is better than throwing them out. For example, my fiancee’s V-day flowers used up my about-to-expire United miles last week, so we both win.

If you’re going to Vegas or another resort destination, you can sign up for the resort chain’s rewards program and get bonuses for dining, attractions, and hotel stays. They’re geared toward rewarding high rollers in the casinos, but you can get discounts and benefits on less expensive pursuits as well.

It’s also worth looking into a rewards credit card, if you want to supplement your personal travel with expensed travel charges. Check the fine print and consult a tax professional just to be safe though–bonus points/miles/rewards may be taxable in some jurisdictions and situations.

Packing to Go

Everyone has their little quirks to packing for travel. I’m  usually still jamming stuff into a suitcase an hour before I leave. But do as I say, not as I do.

Get change for a twenty and stuff it in your wallet or purse. You’ll see why later.

Keep a spare set of chargers/cables in your travel bag. Consider a portable battery as well–I have a iSound 16,000 mAh 5-port usb charger because my phone and ipad take a lot of juice. But you can get much smaller ones for a single device, for those times when you forget your charger at the hotel or can’t find an open outlet at the airport.

Plug in whenever you can. NaNoWriMo taught me this one, when I lost the third battery in my D830 about 20 minutes before the deadline. Battery indicators are infamously capricious, and you shouldn’t count on Office’s auto-save to save your butt. Keep your backup battery charged too. And remember that the larger batteries must be carried on.

I carry my own coffee gear wherever I go. Some hotels have good single serve so I just bring extra pods and raw sugar. Others have disastrous coffee options (I’m looking at you, Seattle financial district) so I bring a Clever Coffee Dripper or Aeropress and some fresh ground coffee.

And one of the best choices I’ve made recently was to get a lay-flat checkpoint-friendly laptop bag. No more pulling the laptop out and taking up a third plastic bin. Targus has a few that are pretty good, especially if you have a big laptop (mine’s 16.4″ diag and thick too), but it’s worth checking local thrift stores if you’re on a budget. The bag I bought was about $12.95 at Goodwill, new with tags, and somewhat resembles the Mobile Elite in size/form factor.

Once You Get There

I recommend checking for the nearest grocery, drug store, and electronics shop to your hotel or work destination. You’ll probably forget something, or find a need for something unexpected while you’re there. And it might save you a couple thousand on room service bills as well.

Something to keep in mind if you need something predictably and affordably but realize it too late to shop before you leave… Amazon will ship to a third party address (i.e. a hotel), and with Prime shipping, you can easily decide on Tuesday afternoon that you need, say, that iSound battery, order it, and have it waiting for you at the hotel on Thursday. You could probably do this with clothes and snacks as well. Check in advance to see the vendor’s policy on non-credit-card-billing-address shipping addresses. Newegg can be a challenge on this, although you can get another address added as an alternate shipping address by calling your credit card company a few days in advance.

And here’s where that change for a twenty comes in.

Housekeeping at a hotel is a thankless job, for the most part. You may have a rough day now and then, but if you’re traveling for business, you probably haven’t had to clean up bio spills as part of your job, for at least a few months. Leave a buck or two a night for the cleaning folks and you’ll probably make their day a little bit brighter. Do it each night, rather than the last night, since crews may change from day to day. If everyone left $2 a night for the housekeeping staff, in most hotels they’d probably make as much as most of the guests. And if you have to vomit, find a trash bin or the toilet, not the curtains or the carpet.

Coming Home

The last time I went to Disney World, I realized I was going to be getting tee shirts and souvenirs with my cast member discount, and didn’t really want to check two bags coming back. So I set myself up to ship the souvenirs home separately. Get a flat rate box or two from the post office, print out flat rate postage labels at usps.com, and put them at the bottom of your suitcase. When you’re packing up to come home, fill up the boxes, stick the labels on, and ask the front desk to give your packages to the mailman. If you don’t end up using the labels, you can file an e-refund and shred them when you get home. Cheaper than over-weight baggage fees as well.

Now it’s your turn

What suggestions do you have for streamlining business travel? What makes your stay away from  home more comfortable and convenient? What have I forgotten to mention? Chime in the comments.

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