Remember the days when airport security lines were short, body scans didn’t exist, and meals were served in-flight? And remember when airfares and hotels were actually affordable?
Those days are long gone, and CPAs who travel face the modern-day hassles of business travel, from booking to packing to hopping on and off planes, trains, and automobiles.
“Revenue management on the airline and hotel side has improved dramatically,” said Ted Perlstein, vice president for sales and marketing for AmTrav Corporate Travel. “That’s good news for the airlines and hotels—but bad news for the cost-conscious, inflexible traveler.”
So what’s a CPA (or CPA firm) to do? How can accountants with busy schedules navigate the complex process of business travel and get the biggest bang for their buck? These expert sources offer the following tips:
Enroll in TSA Precheck or Global Entry. TSA Precheck is a program offered by the Transportation Security Administration that allows travelers departing from the United States an expedited security screening process. If you are approved by TSA Precheck, you won’t have to remove your belt, shoes, or light jacket, or take your laptop out of its case when you go through domestic security.
Similarly, Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows for expedited clearance for preapproved travelers arriving in the United States. Instead of standing in airport security or customs lines, Global Entry members can simply go to a kiosk to present their passport, place their fingerprint on a scanner, and complete the typical customs declaration.
According to Jennifer Hand, CPA, founder of travel agency Jennifer Hand Travel Pro, Global Entry can save travelers “around two hours, depending on the airport, date of arrival, and time of arrival.”
Both Global Entry and TSA Precheck have fees and somewhat involved application processes, but they may be worthwhile investments for frequent travelers.
Take advantage of loyalty programs. Align yourself with one or two airlines to gain loyalty points through frequent flier programs and achieve “elite” status. By being “loyal,” you can get a free checked bag, free upgrades, or other perks. (Check airlines’ websites for details on how to qualify for these perks.)
“Work travel in general is no fun, but by maximizing your loyalty and getting in on the bonuses, you then can take an amazing seven-day vacation for free,” said Brian Kelly, an avid world traveler and founder and CEO of ThePointsGuy.com, a media content provider that focuses on points, miles, and travel.
“Everyone has miles and points, and nobody knows how to use them,” he noted. “You could have a ton of money sitting under your nose.” Miles can act as an insurance policy in the event you need to take a last-minute flight.
Business travelers should also consider applying for airline-sponsored credit cards, which can offer free priority boarding or a free checked bag.
CPAs should also sign up for hotel loyalty programs. “Sticking to a single brand—i.e., Hilton, Marriott, Starwood—helps you build points that are a tax-free form of compensation, since you can use these for personal travel,” Hand said.
Research technology options and prepare. When traveling, make sure your destination hotel has free Wi-Fi. When going abroad, check with your provider about voice and data rates, make sure all electronics are fully charged, and bring a backup battery for long flights, Perlstein said. Services like Skype and Google Voice can also help shrink costs by preventing you from having to make expensive long-distance calls while you’re traveling.
If you travel abroad frequently, investigate global cellphone plans. You may also find it cheaper to buy a local SIM card if you’re going to be in one place awhile, said Adam Weissenberg, CPA, partner, chief client experience officer, and global leader of the Travel, Hospitality and Leisure sector at Deloitte. Also, make sure you have the proper converters and wall plugs for your destination.
Know the rules for global travel. Ensure that your credit card has no transaction fees abroad—otherwise you or your firm could end up paying more than necessary. Also, make sure you have a passport that won’t expire for at least six months, and make copies of your passport on your phone and/or printer, both to keep and send to someone back home. Some countries require visas or vaccines, so do your homework.
Be organized. Use travel portals or apps like TripCase and TripIt to keep your personal information, such as frequent flier numbers and other trip details, organized in one location, said Jay Ellenby, president and CEO of Safe Harbors Travel Group. TripIt offers both a free basic service and an upgraded, paid service that automatically sends alerts and notifications to subscribers and keeps tracks of mileage points. It also has a “TripIt for Teams” option. TripCase features a mobile application for its users to download.
Consider using a travel management company. Accountants who need more than airfare may want to consider hiring a travel agency. “Travel agents can get good rates and perks at hotels and with rental companies and are super helpful to traveling CPAs who might need to make on-the-fly changes, get extensions, change dates, and so on,” Hand said. Companies usually pay travel agencies a monthly fee, and often pay them per air, car, and hotel reservation.
CPA firms that pay at least $50,000 annually for travel should definitely consider hiring a travel management company, Ellenby said.
Travel management agents are also adept at handling the logistics of corporate travel. “Time is money,” Perlstein said. “So the less time CPAs spend managing their own travel, the more money they save for themselves and their clients.”
Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer.