Over the last 12+ years I have had to travel fairly frequently for work. For the last 4 of those years, I have been in charge of booking all the arrangements on a budget. Since I only had limited resources (sometimes even spending my own money), I have had to get smart about the choices I make. This made me realize that others out there might benefit from some of these suggestions. If you are starting your own business and are a lean startup, things can be really tight. Travelling to land that big account might be exactly what you need to kickstart your success – but you can’t go bankrupt in the process of getting there. Here are 5 things I have learned and used that could be a help to you:
1. MegaBus (www.MegaBus.com)
If you are not opposed to ground transportation between cities, then MegaBus.com might be your most affordable option. The company is operated by Coach USA who is well known for running charter buses. They employ some of their fleet in the spin-off company Megabus. These double decker buses offer low rates in between cities with minimal stops on the way. As opposed to the comparable “Greyhound” system which stops every 20 or so miles in between, Megabus opts to give you only 1 rest stop in between each advertised hub. This allows for the cheaper rates by cutting costs and conserving fuel. They even have an advertised $1 rate (although I have yet to actually experience it). To give a real world example, I am able to travel from Kansas City to Chicago (some 800 miles one way) for about $30 ROUNDTRIP on average. I have even travelled down in the $15 to $20 range on numerous occasions.
One of the down sides would definitely be the limited locations that are serviced. For me I have to travel about 3 hours to get to the nearest pickup/drop-off. This is not entirely bad considering the price, but if you have to go to a location that is far from any of their locations then the extra cost of further travel might quickly erase the savings.
PROS: Free Wi-Fi, power outlets, air conditioning, minimal stops, mostly comfortable seats, no extra charge for bags
CONS: Minimal stops, limited service locations (most major cities included), passenger quality, seats get somewhat uncomfortable over long distances (this could be an opinion)
2. Spirit Airlines (www.Spirit.com)
I like to affectionately call them the “MegaBus of the Air”. Much of the same applies here but with air travel. Spirit has grown steadily over the last few years as they are offering ultra-low fares between several dozen locations (including some international). Just as with MegaBus, if the serviced locations are not where you need to go then additional travel may make this not as ideal. However, they mostly service all major metropolitan areas and I have used them many times for business travel. If it is within your budget, you can even “upgrade” your boarding priority, seating assignment, and baggage for not much more. These features are even more affordable if you join the “$9 Fare Club”. This annual membership of $59 gives you even deeper discounts than the advertised prices. For another real world example: I have gotten round-trip tickets from Kansas City to Chicago with a 2 night hotel stay (Days Inn) for $185 total.
As can be expected with a discount airline, sometimes there are noticeable areas they cut costs. They appear to be understaffed at times, with flight delays and cancellations resulting from it. They operate a limited route schedule on a daily basis so changing flights will likely result in moving travel to the next day instead of just later in the same day. Lastly, in order to keep their prices low you have to be ok with their “philosophy” of getting what they call the “bare fare”. This results in having to purchase EVERYTHING else including bags over a certain size, seating assignments, boarding priority, and even snacks and drinks while in-flight.
BONUS TIP: I invested in a carry-on bag that is exact dimensions to get the "bare fare" rate. I am able to fit my laptop, cords, a notebook, and all necessary clothes for 3 days of a trip into it. You do have to get creative but it is a good deal in the long run. The LUCAS Wheeled Under the Seat Cabin Bag EXCLUSIVE is the perfect dimensions at 9.8 x 15.7 x 15.7 inches; 5.6 pounds.
PROS: Ability to bundle other services such as hotel & car for even deeper discounts, some of the lowest rates in the industry, remains affordable even booking “last minute”
CONS: Limited flight schedules, Limited service locations, higher frequency of issues, extra charges for pretty much everything beyond the base ticket
3. ZipCar (www.ZipCar.com)
ZipCar has been around now for 15 years. It is a simple, straight-forward concept that is meant to be an alternative to the costly process of renting a car. Car rentals can be a laborious procedure. You can’t use bank/debit cards, you have to put down a deposit, there may be additional age or insurance requirements. Additionally, maybe you only need the car for a few hours and don’t want to pay fees to rent for the entire day or week. ZipCar is a great way around that. They have locations all over the US and have either monthly or hourly membership rates. Membership gets you a card that allows you to use any ZipCar at any of their locations.
PROS: One low monthly cost gets you access and the additional fees are fixed and affordable; access to cars in an impressive list of locations
CONS: You might not have the selection you want at all locations; some limited availability in certain areas
4. Uber (www.Uber.com)
Cabs are expensive. I think someone in the Bible said that. No? Either way, believe it. If they charge by the quarter mile, then why does the meter keep running even when you are stopped at a light? Getting from point A to B once you have finally made it to your destination city can be so very important. Many times, the cab is the last leg to get your temporary shower and bed. Or, maybe you are counting on a taxi to shuttle you to the meeting that is the sole reason you are even travelling in the first place. Lastly, don’t get me started on how much these cab companies charge for “airport service door-to-door”. If you have hired a cab, I don’t need to explain any of this to you because you already know.
I won’t take the time to educate you fully on what Uber is, you can always visit their website or download the app for more info. Essentially it is the ability to use your smartphone to rent a taxi, private car, or rideshare that is driven by “regular people”. People in every location that Uber operates service are able to sign up and become Uber Drivers and use their own vehicles to transport others. They get paid, Uber gets a slice of the action, and you still pay less than a traditional cab service. The company is fighting hard to make sure it keeps a close hold on the integrity of it’s drivers and implemented a rating system where you can choose who you hire before they show up. Additionally, there is talk about Uber and Google teaming up to have robot controlled driverless cars you can order on demand. Robots! Yay!
PROS: You can meet interesting people, save money, eventually…maybe…robots!
CONS: You can meet interesting people, scheduling can sometimes be tricky as you have “independent drivers” – this varies depending on the city, everyone (including the company) is still figuring out how it all works, there might not be Uber Drivers in the place you are going to
5. AirBNB (www.AirBNB.com)
There are many ways to find a good deal on hotels. Yet, what you end up getting for the hotel in the end can sometimes be drastically different and not worth the price. Wouldn't it be nice if you had a place to stay where you were going that was equivalent of crashing at a friend's house? Enter AirBNB. Airbnb is a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world — online or from a mobile phone. Basically you pay a little cash to crash at someone's house. Win-win for both of you.
PROS: You can meet interesting people and potentially make lasting relationships; you can literally make yourself at home in a place that is actually a home; the rates tend to be lower than comparable accommodations; international travel is even more affordable in most cases; you can even get great rates for weeks or months at a time
CONS: There is inherently a trust factor of not knowing the place you will be staying; there might not be a long established reputation or review system yet for where you want/need to stay; you run the chance of not connecting with your "hosts" (but that is a good chance to grow your people skills!)