Small Business Guide to Corporate Travel Planning

Audrey Fairbrother
March 14, 2023
Small Business Guide to Corporate Travel Planning

Running a small business is a juggling act. You have to maintain a balance between profit and costs — often with a small margin for error.

But if your business requires frequent travel, managing your costs can be especially difficult. If you’re not careful, flights, car rentals, lodging costs and per diems can monopolize too much of your budget.  

If that sounds like you, you might be looking for a better solution. You might be wondering whether it’s time to pay for a travel management company, or whether there’s some other way to get great deals and maintain a cost-effective travel program on your own.  

Well, we’re here to help.  

This guide will show you how to plan and maintain a cost-effective corporate travel program like a Fortune 500 business without the big-business travel management company price tag.

Table of Contents

1. Work Smarter, Not Harder
2. Know Your Goals (and Make Sure Your Staff Does, Too)
3. Budget Your Travel Expenses
4. Give Travelers a Checklist from Your Travel Policy
5. Be Open to Change

1. Work Smarter, Not Harder

Pinching pennies doesn’t have to mean skipping out on the trips. It just means you need to pack as much into one itinerary as possible to make it worth the cost.

For that to happen, corporate travel planners must be organized. The role requires macro-and micromanaging, delegating, short-term planning, and long-term planning.

How you handle time management and to-do lists can make a huge difference in your success (and your sanity).

Tips for Managing Your Travel Planning

So how do you juggle planning a trip for dozens (or hundreds) of staff on top of all your other tasks?

These tips can make the job a little easier for everyone.

Maximize Using Your CRM

Possibly the best thing you can do to streamline your business processes is to invest in customer relationship management (CRM) software. The right CRM software platform pays for itself with cost-effectiveness.

With a CRM, you can interact with everyone in real-time. As someone’s plans change, everyone who needs to know gets a notification.

Say, for example, an employee’s plane is delayed. They log it into the CRM, and whoever is responsible for picking them up at the airport knows instantly.

A CRM has a wealth of resources available for you to capitalize on, but each one is different. Getting training for yourself and your staff is a smart way to get the most of what you’ve already paid (or will be paying) for.

Let Go of (Some) Control

How willing are you to let go of control? Are you a helicopter delegator? Or are you happy handing the reins over to someone else who can do the job just as well?

It might sound counterintuitive, but delegating tasks to others is the fastest and most thorough way to work.

Once you have your organizational system in place, you can glance over everything and see which parts you can hand off to others.

For instance, everyone should have a copy of the travel policy. Keep the travel plans transparent and take the bulk of the work off your shoulders by giving your staff booking control within the policy’s structure.

Part of your policy could involve using a platform like Hotel Engine. In this system, the admin sets the filters and guidelines. Then, staff can reserve a room once they book flights and know their travel plans.

Giving flexibility and accountability where possible, like with travel booking, boosts employee morale and feelings of appreciation. And it frees you up to do other things that only you can do.

Consolidate Ahead

Consolidating is also helpful when trying to be cautious about your spending.

The travel industry is full of ways to get bulk discounts on airfare and hotels. The further ahead you can plan, the better the deals you’re likely to get. If you wait until the last minute, you risk the chance that your group gets spread out amongst multiple hotels, and your rates will be higher.

A booking tool like Hotel Engine can be a gold mine of savings and consolidation. Their experts do the work of getting discounts at the best hotels, so you don’t have to.

Individuals can book their rooms using your filters and add their travel plans simultaneously. You can monitor all details from the dashboard and pay for the rooms after everyone finishes their reservations instead of one at a time.

On top of that, Hotel Engine’s free layering discount program lets you use loyalty points from other hotels and the points you earn with their platform.

You’ll earn rewards for booking with your favorite hotel brand and for using Hotel Engine. Then, you can apply those discounts together in the future. They also have direct billing options that make managing expenses for multiple employees much more simple.

Of all the management tools you can use, this one turns consolidation into immediate savings.

See also: 5 Productivity Hacks for Corporate Travel Managers

2. Know Your Goals (and Make Sure Your Staff Does, Too)

Every aspect of successfully running a company hinges on following a goal. Business travel management might not be part of your “typical” day, but the ultimate aim is no different.

So what’s your objective for this business trip?

Why are you making these corporate travel plans?

Use the answer to those two questions to guide your plans.

For example, if you aren’t sending everyone, how will you choose who goes and who stays?

With your goals defined, you’ll be able to decide who is the most likely to benefit from the trip. Those people will, in turn, benefit your business.

Communication is Essential

If you didn’t communicate your goals with your staff, though, you could end up with some hard feelings.

There will be people who think they should have been picked to go. Others will be disappointed they were the ones chosen.

If everyone knows the objectives, they will understand why you did ordidn’t send them on this particular trip.

Don’t send your travelers out until you’ve clearly communicated the objectives in detail with them, too. Be sure they know each part of the travel plans and what you’re expecting of them.

Let them know when they’re “on the clock” and when they’ll have their own free time. It will help them understand what to expect, and they’ll appreciate the foresight.

You may also like: How to Use Incentive Travel to Motivate Your Team

3. Budget Your Travel Expenses

Once you design a comprehensive corporate travel policy, you’ll cut down on unexpected expenses.

In your first run-through, you’ll be adding little things here and there that you forgot or overlooked. After that, each trip will be pretty much the same in processes with unique details.

It also helps to have a consistent partnership with companies you use frequently. Both parties will know what to expect. They’ll know how to work within your budget, and you’ll have a direct line of contact to automate certain parts of your travel program.

What to Include in Your Travel Budget

A travel budget is a must-have, especially as a small business.

Now is your time to establish a framework for your finances while your staff is still limited enough to manage easily.

What you’ll include in your budget is specific to your business, but there are a few consistent items, like:

  • Travel costs for transportation (e.g., airfare, rideshares, car rentals, personal travel vehicles)
  • Parking costs in garages or on-site locations
  • Special vehicle parking for buses, bulldozers, and other oversized vehicles
  • Lodging costs

Be Specific With Your Limits

Within the sections of the budget, set spending rules and limits. It’s one thing to say something is approved, and another to keep it within the price range you were expecting.

Include a category for expenses like per diems, taxes, and gas reimbursement. These are already set out in IRS-specific frameworks, making it simple to use the government’s standards.

Other aspects are less clearly defined. Transportation planning rates will vary depending on many factors, such as the type of ride, destination, and point of origin.

Time of year plays a big part, too. Sending your crew into a tourist spot at the height of the busy season will be a lot pricier than an alternative date or city. If your timeline is flexible, choose the less popular times for the most cost savings.

Discounts and Streamlined Payments with Hotel Engine

Hotel Engine makes this easier for corporate travel planners, too. Their platform lets you set spending limits for your employees with adjustable filters on your travel profile.

You can glance at the average rate for the upcoming stay and let that help you decide what a reasonable budget is.

With Hotel Engine’s platform, approved staff can use your account to book the room. Then, you can pay for all the rooms at one time at the end of the billing cycle.

Hotel Engine has over 700,000 partners globally, making international travel more accessible, too.

You don’t have to worry about sending your staff to an unknown and unreputable lodging location. Hotel Engine crowdsources traveler reviews from across various platforms and shows them for each property, so you can get a sense for the hotel’s reputation before you book.

Discover: How to Create an Employee Travel Budget for Small Businesses

4. Give Travelers a Checklist from Your Travel Policy

Focused young african american businesswoman or student looking at laptop holding book learning, serious black woman working or studying with computer doing research or preparing for exam online

Have you created a corporate travel policy yet?

If not, you’ll want to follow this guide and do that before sending anyone off on a work trip.

Your travel policy should be easy to follow with minimal steps and a checklist for each traveler to use. Make sure to clarify what’s in a per diem, as most first-time users won’t know what it covers.

Per diems typically include lodging, certain meals, and travel. They don’t cover entertainment, and each included part caps at a certain amount.

All of this should be clearly stated in your travel policy. Even if you have given the policy out before, make it a point to reshare it with everyone traveling.

If you have a checklist of what employees need to do to get reimbursed and document the trip, go ahead and email it to them. The easier you make it for them, the more likely they’ll be to fill everything out without you chasing them down to get it.

Related: Per Diem and Taxes: Top 7 Frequently Asked Questions (With Answers)

5. Be Open to Change

Although it’s essential to have a set travel policy, it’s also necessary to be open to adapting it. If you’re not on the road yourself, communication from the people traveling is how you know when changes need to happen.

Keeping your policy adaptable and having open lines of communication is a big deal in a small company. Your employees need to feel valued, or you’ll deal with a hostile workplace or a lot of turnover.

Be open to listening to feedback.

What went well?

What could you change?

Your company policies affect each employee. Their input can drive innovation and productivity.

You’ll also need to stay up-to-date on government rules and regulations, and safety precautions. Your employees rely on you to send them places they’ll be safe. COVID made this obvious, but it should always be a standard part of every business’s procedures.

Speaking of safety precautions, here’s how to run a full trip risk assessment before sending your employees out on business travel.

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Your small business budget might not be flexible enough for your own full-time corporate travel agent. But with these tips, you can function successfully as your own in-house corporate travel planner.

There are lots of perks that make business travel a smart idea. And the return on your investment could more than pay for the initial expenses.

These tips make corporate travel planning an affordable part of any small business’s budget.

How well you organize your tasks and the resources you use, like Hotel Engine, will help you make your next trip a success.

Sign up for Hotel Engine’s free platform now and gain access to savings at over 700,000 hotels worldwide.

Article written by
Audrey Fairbrother

Audrey Fairbrother is the Content and SEO Manager at Hotel Engine. She spends her days writing about all things business travel, researching topics that are important to Hotel Engine's audience and cultivating the company's brand voice.

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