Planning Ahead Helps to Reduce Travel Costs

When you travel, it's important to remember that the same level of careful planning you put into your practice should be dedicated to maximizing your travel dollars. After all, it's the nickels and dimes that kill you.

Want to get away? Who doesn’t; everyone needs a vacation from time to time. And when you travel, it’s important to remember that the same level of careful planning you put into your practice should be dedicated to maximizing your travel dollars, whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure. Otherwise, you could easily blow that travel budget out of the water.

“If you go to a conference in San Diego and tack on a tour of the city, a visit to the marina, take in some theater, it’s another $100 here and there, and it doesn’t seem like such a big deal,” says Alan Lysaght, a strategic planning consultant and co-author of The ABCs of Making Money (Prentice Hall 2003). “But if you have a plan, then you know that you can’t be as much of a spendthrift.”

That plan takes into account both business and personal travel.

Taking care of business

Lysaght strongly recommends physicians sign up for rewards points with airline carriers and hotel chains. If you travel frequently, being a member can result in substantial savings. For example, if you’re going to a conference in San Diego in February and you live in Chicago, you might decide to take your spouse along and tack on some vacation time at the end of the conference. Through the airline rewards program, your spouse might be able to travel for free.

If you are a member of any hotel rewards programs, Lysaght suggests frequenting one chain as often as possible. Doing so will place you in the program’s gold membership tier and bring about two benefits. An upgrade to a better room, and a free breakfast—and the savings from the latter should not be minimized. “It’s the nickels and dimes that kill you,” Lysaght says. “You may pay $89 for a room and think you’re doing alright, and then the next morning they ding you for $20 apiece for breakfast. That’s $40 out the window.”

Lysaght also suggests that physicians shop around when attending a conference. In other words, just because the conference is being held at the Marriott, doesn’t mean you can’t get a better deal from the Hilton across the street. “Often there are competitive hotels within a block or two,” he points out. “They may say that they can’t do any better on the price, but they might offer you an upgrade, or throw in a free breakfast. You just have to ask.”

Getting personal

Travel expert Gaylene Ore, president of Granby, Colorado-based Ore Communications, offers the following suggestions when planning vacation trips.

- Take a single-destination trip. When it comes to personal travel, instead of a driving trip incorporating several stops, head for one destination. Cities where attractions are accessible by foot or public transportation can help cut costs, and stress.

- Consider going all-inclusive. Staying at one resort that offers a multitude of services, amenities, and activities can mean significant savings. For families with children who like to try their hand at many activities, and then get tired or bored, it can be especially helpful. Dude ranches are increasingly popular all-inclusive options for singles, couples, and families, and can range from rustic adventures on working ranches to true world-class resorts.

- Bypass the rental car. Whether for business or pleasure travel, if you won't absolutely need a car when you arrive at your destination, use public transportation to get there when possible. Airport shuttles, buses, and trains offer good alternatives. If you're in an area where you'd be using taxis frequently, however, compare costs to determine if a rental car would be more economical.

- Get out of the car. Wherever you go and however you get there, think about constructing a trip that includes at least some hiking, bicycling, skiing, snowshoeing, swimming or horseback riding. Many people opt for full-activity vacations (e.g., a week-long cycling tour or multi-day hut-to-hut Nordic skiing trip), but on any type of trip, it's possible to structure in some activity and outdoor time. Even making a daily walk a priority on a business trip helps.

- Don't) follow the crowd. Off-season doesn't have to mean July in Texas. Many U.S. destinations—including virtually all ski resorts—offer plenty of off-peak and shoulder-season rates in late spring, early summer, and late summer, and these rates are typically the lowest offered all year long. And no matter where or when you travel, be sure to ask about any discounts. More lodging properties, restaurants, and attractions than ever are offering discounts this year thanks to a sluggish economy.

- Think outside the (lodging) box. Bed and breakfast inns, historic inns, and rentals of condos, townhomes and houses all can offer interesting, value-priced accommodations. In many areas, hostels are no longer just for the college crowd. Home exchanges are becoming popular vacation options, and some Web sites listing exchanges also list homes in which the owners are open to renting part of their homes without an exchange.