Smart business travel

It’s official. Air, hotel, car and meeting costs are on the rise. How can SMEs best benefit from the heated market? By EMILY ROSS.

By Emily Ross

Business travel bargains

It’s official. Air, hotel, car and meeting costs are on the rise. How can SMEs best benefit from the heated market? We track down ways to find the best possible rate for your next business trip (psst… and how your business can benefit from the airline wars).


Last Thursday, American Express Business Travel released the Global Business Travel Forecast that should have business travellers rethinking their 2008 budgets.  

Business travellers can expect domestic trips (including airfare, car and hotel) to increase by 8% (despite the cheap air tickets), adding an estimated $99 to a total average cost of $1293 per trip; international trips are forecast to rise 5%, or $197, to bring the average cost to $3990.

It’s time to get vigilant about finding the best possible rates for your next business trip.


While low-cost carriers slog it out, pocket the savings

The battle of the low-cost carriers is heating up as Singapore Airlines offshoot Tiger Airways  starts flights from 23 November 2007 to 11 Australian destinations from its base at no-frills Terminal 4 of Melbourne Airport. (Sorry folks you have to walk across the tarmac to your aeroplane; rain, hail or shine.)

Travellers wanting those Tiger Airways fares cannot use any other flight booking sites such as Flight Centre or Webjet as Tiger Airways is not interested in getting involved with online third-party operators. “It would be a bit like Coles letting Woolworths have a section of their store,” says Tiger Airways Australian head of corporate affairs, Matthew Hobbs.

Jetstar is going to “compete vigorously”, says Jetstar’s general manager of corporate relations Simon Westaway, adding that the airline will increase seat capacity by 40% in the next 18 months. He also tips another wave of airfare deals before Tiger Airways’ Australian launch on 23 November.

Virgin Blue will keep up the deep discounting, continuing to offer its $1 fares, two-for-one deals and daily happy hour specials.


Sign up to the best web travel e-newsletters

Shock horror, these e-newsletters are far from spam. They give your business the heads-up on airfare sales and bargains such as Jetstar’s “Take a Friend for $3”. Frequency varies from weekly to fortnightly so the e-newsletters won’t jam your in-box. If you’re not on these subscriber lists, chances are the best tickets will be sold out by the time you hear about them. (Webjet, Virgin Blue and Jetstar have 800,000 on their lists already.)

If you don’t want the e-newsletters yourself, have your travel booker subscribe. Best e-newsletter bets: Tiger Airways, Virgin Blue, Webjet and Jetstar.

Get smart about finding airfare deals

It’s hard to beat English-based search engine It quickly shows daily best flight prices over a week or month or even a year in chart form. Once the cheapest flight is found, bookings are then made directly with the airline.

Alternatively, Webjet chief executive Richard Noon’s favourite web tool is the Webjet Deal Finder. For an executive wanting to fly to London in the next eight weeks, it can compare all the flights on all the departure dates for the whole period on one screen. “If you are flexible on the days you want to go, you can save $500,” says Noon.

Prices are colour coded, so it is easy to identify the highest and lowest prices. Users can even look at the Deal Finder results in a grid or chart form. (I love the chart form, which displays the cheapest flight for each day of the travel period, making it easy to see why smart travellers try and fly on Tuesdays to save a fortune.)

Be warned: airfares and hotel costs are on the rise

There might be some $19 flights from Melbourne to Perth, or a cheap ticket to the Gold Coast, however classic corporate routes at peak times are not going to be affected by the low cost carrier wars.

The following table is a reminder of airfare cost rises to come. You have been warned, especially the growing number of Australian business travellers who have a tantrum if they are not booked on Qantas!


Global – 2008 forecast increases (from American Express Business Travel)


Published airfares

Published hotel rates

Domestic /
short-haul (economy class)

International /
long-haul (business class)



North America

1% to 5%

5% to 10%


4% to 7%


5% to 8%


2% to 5%

6% to 10%

12% to 14%

12% to 14%


1% to 3%

3% to 6%

18% to 22%

18% to 22%


1% to 4%

5% to 8%

11% to 14%

11% to 14%














Be vigilant about hotel choices

With expected hotel rate rises of more than 10%, someone in your office needs to become an online hotel booking genius or else hammer out a deal with preferred suppliers.

Work out the price you can afford and stick to it (making sure it includes breakfast). Make sure the hotel is close to where you will be working and start enforcing the travel policy.

There’s no point in making an issue of spending after the company’s money is spent. Make friends with Wotif,, and for excellent last-minute hotel rates, up to 75% off. Try a Wotif Wot Hotel secret hotel.

You choose the location, agree to the price and find out the hotel name once you’ve paid. Five-star hotels for around $170 in the CBD for example.


Watch out for headline rates

Sounds petty, but make sure you read the fine print on those too-good-to-be true airfares and hotel deals. Ensure that all taxes and charges are included.



Look for business class deals

Those Neil Perry shiitake wontons in Qantas Business Class are all very nice, but surely a business that can afford (and justify the cost of) business class travel should be looking for any way to cut costs.

Webjet has an e-newsletter specifically for business and first-class passengers that has several thousand subscribers. RSS feeds are also available. First Class and Fare Saver also have a regular stream of discounted business class fares and functional search engines. This could save your business thousands.

Virgin Blue is entering the business class arena in April 2008 with three rows of premium economy in its fleet. The pitch includes red Recaro leather seats, 2 x 2 configuration, Foxtel screen, complimentary lounge access and a 32-kilogram luggage allowance.


Beware false economy

A cheap hotel on the wrong side of town with $40 daily broadband fees, a red eye flight that takes three times as long to get there, or an inflexible flight that might need to be changed at the last minute are not bargains. These deals kill productivity, waste time and make staff feel like absolute crap!


Other web travel tips

  • Virgin Blue’s revamped website launched this week sensibly allows users to change the font size of the page, brilliant for those who struggle to read all the fine print.
  • Take advantage of the clever online seat selectors when you book airfares online – even Jetstar offers this service.
  • Tiger Airways charges $5 to choose your own seat and a $25 for extra legroom.
  • If you haven’t done online check-in, you’re mad – especially on international flights. Singapore Airlines in particular offers this service. By checking in online and printing out your boarding pass, you can avoid the main economy class queue, go to a designated online check-in counter with your printed boarding pass, hand over your luggage and off you go. Jetstar will offer the service at some airports from November 2007.
  • Watch out for Virgin Blue’s mobile phone check-in coming soon.
  • Travelling with excess baggage on Tiger Airways flights? Pay $50 for an extra 15 kilograms. Easy.
  • Tick the box when booking to make your flight carbon neutral, it only costs a few dollars. Better still get with the trend of making your next meeting/conference carbon neutral. Put it on your company’s permanent agenda.


Emily Ross is the former travel editor of BRW magazine. She is the author of 50 Great e-Businesses and the Minds Behind Them, Random House, September 2007.



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