Corporate Flight Booking Hacks for Better Deals
Business trips bring on a whirlwind of emotions, including the excitement of exploring a new place and advancing your career.
But one part of business travel may bring on a sense of dread:
Booking corporate flights.
Saving money often means settling for cheap red-eye flights, 3 A.M. lift-offs, or tickets with ridiculous change fees attached.
These 15 tips will guarantee the most affordable and convenient air travel for your next business trip.
1. Negotiate Corporate Flight Discount Packages
Most business travelers book flights based on the current ticket price.
But did you know that your company can negotiate corporate flight bookings to secure discounted rates on plane seats?
Big-name corporations who book flights regularly may be able to sweet-talk discounted travel costs with a particular airline.
It could be a 5–10% discount on all business flights or a per-ticket cap.
However, keep in mind that travelers fly for business every single day. So if your company wants to secure a special discounted package, you’ll need to prove how often your employees travel and your loyalty to the carrier.
2. Look for Loyalty Programs and Travel Perks
Airline loyalty programs are available at both the corporate and personal travel levels.
Let’s talk about each of these and how they pertain to business travel.
Frequent Flier Miles or Points
Many airlines offer free loyalty programs for passengers who prefer their flights (i.e., Delta SkyMiles). For every flight you book, you also earn “miles” that you can use toward future flights.
Of course, siphoning miles out of your personal account could complicate trip reimbursement. Your company may not have to reimburse you for any “points” or miles you use toward your business flight.
Corporate Loyalty Programs
On the other hand, corporate loyalty programs are partnerships between specific airlines and businesses.
A company administrator will add employees to the program and collect “points” for each flight booked (i.e., one point for every $5 spent on tickets).
3. Search for Flights With Incognito Mode
This one sounds more like a tinfoil hat theory than a tip, but it’s worth considering.
For years now, travelers have noticed that when they browse for flights online, the prices increase with each search.
The theory is that travel sites use your device’s cookies to gauge your interest in a particular flight. The site then manipulates the price to entice you into buying the ticket … or else.
Most travel experts insist this isn’t true and claim any increases between searches is due to fewer seats being available.
However, to play it on the safe side, either clear your browser’s cookies or search in incognito mode.
4. Book Flights About 70 Days Before the Trip
One of the biggest myths in the airline industry is that carriers drop their prices in the countdown to take-off. Surely the airlines would prefer to depart with a full flight than one with empty seats, right?
That’s not necessarily true.
In fact, tickets tend to get more expensive for those who prefer to book last minute. The latest data from CheapAir shows that you’ll find the best flight deals about 70 days from departure.
About two months in advance is typically a safe bet.
5. Be Flexible With Trip Dates
Your boss may send you on a last-minute redeye to meet with potential investors. Or plan for an entire department to fly across the country for a two-week trip “sometime in December.”
If you have some date flexibility, take advantage of it.
This point is even more important if you’re traveling around the holidays — the last thing you want is for your business trip to overlap with one of the busiest travel days of the year, like the days before and after July 4th and Thanksgiving.
For some cost perspective, in 2019, median airfare spiked to $588 per ticket on the Saturday before Christmas. That same ticket might cost $100 or $200 in the early weeks of December.
6. Enroll in TSA’s PreCheck
One of the biggest slowdowns in air travel is getting through TSA before your flight is wheels-up.
Data from Upgraded Points shows that it could take as few as a single minute to pass through TSA at Washington Dulles International (mid-week between 10 and 11 PM). Or a much-longer 28 minutes on a Friday between 9 and 10 AM.
TSA PreCheck is a simplified security screening for travelers labeled “low-risk.” It does require an application process, fingerprinting, and an interview to qualify and costs $85 for a five-year membership.
Some credit cards also reimburse you for the TSA PreCheck travel program.
7. Bring Only a Carry-On Bag (If You Can)
According to Nordstrom Trunk Club, 62% of U.S. travelers overpack before departing on a trip. Unfortunately, we don’t realize how expensive our overpacking habit is until we get to the ticket counter.
Most airlines charge $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second. The loophole is that those same airlines allow passengers one free carry-on bag to stash in the overhead bin and a personal item.
For shorter business trips, skip the bulky suitcases entirely and jam everything into your 22-by-14-by-9-inch carry-on bag.
In other words, pack light, and pack smart.
8. Avoid Flying on the Weekends
There are two reasons to book weekday flights whenever possible:
A better travel experience and discounted rates.
Guaranteeing a Better Travel Experience
Booking weekend flights means you’re sharing an airport and plane with more personal travelers, long-weekenders, and vacationers. That said, airports tend to be busiest on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Days of the Week With the Cheapest Travel Expenses
Airfare Watchdog, one of the leading sources in flight tracking, revealed that Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to fly. Compared to Sundays, Tuesday flights are about $85 less expensive.
9. Compare Travel Sites and Airline Websites
Business travelers are still split on the best place to find discounted plane tickets — on booking platforms or via the airline’s website. Generally, the cheapest seats are available directly through the carrier’s site.
But that’s not always the case.
In fact, when we tried to book the same roundtrip ticket from Miami to Boston (via the JetBlue site and an unnamed online travel agency), both tickets came out to the same exact price: $97.20. The booking platform also offered us discounts on a rental car during our trip.
If you need to change or cancel a flight you booked through an outside agency, they may charge you extra fees.
10. Choose Airlines With Decent Policies
Don’t let that low ticket price cloud your judgment!
While a $150 roundtrip ticket sure beats $200 or $300, the carrier’s policies and hidden extra fees matter just as much.
Consider these airline policies early on in the booking process:
Did you know that some of the most reputable airlines also charge “service fees” for tickets not booked online?
For example, United Airlines charges a non-refundable $25 fee for seats booked over the phone and double that for those reserved at the airport.
Buying tickets online and through the carrier’s website is the best way to avoid these booking fees while finding a flight that matches your travel needs.
Most airlines will charge you if you change your itinerary before your original flight departs. Change fees typically start at $75 when flying domestically.
Yet, some airlines — like Delta and its 24-Hour Risk-Free Cancellation Policy — allow you a full day to cancel your tickets without penalties.
11. Use Price-Tracking Tools for Tickets
Here’s how to use them:
Imagine your boss schedules you for a week-long business trip to Atlanta three months from now. The lowest rate for a roundtrip ticket to Atlanta is currently $250, but the budget is $200.
You can select your preferred flight routes and travel dates on your price-tracking app and then sign up for price drop notifications. You’ll receive an alert whenever the ticket price drops by a significant amount.
13. Guarantee Flights Home With Roundtrip Tickets
When we travel for business often, we pick up the risky habit of booking one-way tickets with the “I’ll figure it out later” mindset for the flight home.
It’s true that two one-way tickets can be cheaper than buying roundtrip. Though, for most of the big-name carriers, one-way tickets are exactly half the price of roundtrip airfare.
We did a little digging for a four-day trip from Denver to New York (JFK, specifically). JetBlue offered one-way tickets for $109 in either direction, while a roundtrip was an even $218.
Yes, one-way trips are the most logical choice for business trips that could unexpectedly end early or drag on for a few extra days.
But roundtrip tickets are the safer option.
A last-minute cancellation on your return flight with a one-way ticket could leave you stranded with no confirmed ticket home. But with a roundtrip ticket, your airline would find you a seat on a later flight, which is particularly helpful for international flights.
14. Consider Less Popular Airlines
Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, and American are among the most popular airlines in the U.S. For good reasons, too — their customer service, change fee policies, and safety ratings are tough to beat.
But unfortunately, the top airline carriers don’t always offer the best prices.
The smaller “budget airlines” — like Spirit and Frontier — average a savings of at least 19.3¢ per mile when compared to the industry leaders.
Of course, while a roundtrip ticket with these carriers could cost half as much, there is one drawback:
The number of destinations available.
These discount airlines won’t always be an option for your business trips, but when they are, they’re worth the savings.
15. Widen the Choice in Airports
Whether you want to admit it or not, all business travelers have a favorite “home” airport. We’ll bet yours is less than an hour drive up the freeway and has 1,659 flights arriving or departing per day — like LAX.
But is the convenience factor worth the price?
Being flexible with your preferred airports opens the door to even more carriers and direct flights. No more layovers that leave you stranded in the middle of the country when you’re already on a tight schedule.
So, compare flights to your destination departing from different local airports.
For example, if you normally fly out of O’Hare (Chicago), check for flights leaving from Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago Midway.
Or, do the opposite — search for flights landing in cities near your destination.
Say you have an upcoming business trip to Fresno, California.
A quick Google Flights search shows that a roundtrip, nonstop American flight from Philadelphia to San Francisco costs $324.
Yet, we could save $54 by flying into Los Angeles instead. Minus gas for the extra hour of driving to Fresno from LA instead of San Fran nets you a $24 savings overall.
Corporate travel management is one of the trickier aspects of running a company or serving as an employee.
Travel bookings are often unpredictable and change by the minute, and other travelers prefer to keep these tips hush-hush.
If you have an upcoming business trip on your calendar, try these 15 tips to save yourself time, money, and effort!