Dear Dan: Running my small business requires that I travel quite a lot. But it seems to get costlier and more delay-ridden all the time. Got any good tips for making business travel a little easier? - Travel Weary
Dear Travel Weary: Fewer flights, higher costs, longer lines and delays galore. That's the reality of travel today. No wonder many small business owners are choosing web and video conferencing as a travel alternative. But travel is still a part of conducting business for entrepreneurs who are constantly on the lookout for ways to skirt delays, save time and cut costs.
Here are eight things you can do to make business travel a littler easier on you and your business budget:
1. Get a "Clear" security pass. The Clear pass, operated by Verified Identify Pass Inc., is a high-tech card that gives you access to express security lines at major airports. You still have to go through medal detectors and x-ray, but without facing long lines. You may already have seen the blue Clear display cubes where members insert their cards and verify biometric information. Annual Clear membership is $199. Details at www.verifiedIDpass.com.
2. Get real-time flight tracking information online. Knowing in advance that a flight is delayed can save you a lot of time and aggravation. Weather is a constant factor. But financial troubles and airline mergers are also causing carriers to change flight departures often. Technology is coming to the rescue. Several independent websites offer real-time flight tracking info. FlightAware.com, for example, lets you quickly get unlimited live flight arrival and departure information, free. Just enter the airline and flight number in the search box and get a full profile of the flight, including scheduled and estimated (actual) arrival and departure times, plus flight duration, aircraft type, current status and more. Registered users (also free) can get a four-month history of a specific flight.
FlightView.com, FlightArrivals.com and FlightExplorer.com also offer free flight tracking information. FlightExplorer tosses in weather information. TripChill.com offers real-time travel alerts delivered to a mobile device.
3. Always check in online. Nearly all airlines offer online check-in - a great time saver as staff cutbacks lengthen airport check-in lines. With carry-on bags and online check-in, you can proceed right to security (and speed that too with a Clear pass noted above).
4. Sign up for free email, voice, text message or AIM flight status alerts. Most airline mileage programs (such as Delta Skymiles, American AAvantage, United Mileage Plus, etc.) offer free flight notification services to members. Subscribe to updates on all flights, or get one-time alerts on specific flights. For regular information across different airlines, however, one of the free flight information services might be best. Membership at FlightAware, for example, lets you create a personal profile of flights, airlines and airports you regularly use, and receive email and instant message updates on flight times.
5. Bypass rental car lines. It's easy to do if you sign up for rental company loyalty programs, such as Hertz #1 Club, National's Emerald Club, Avis Preferred and others. Join the program for any rental car company you ever use, and be sure to book your car using your membership number. At many pickup locations, you'll be able to go directly to your car without waiting in any lines whatsoever. Booking online is also quick and easy with these memberships, and gives you a much better overview of available cars and rates than you can get over the phone.
6. Get the word on traffic and security lines from fellow travelers. Some general travel booking websites offer on-the-go updates from other travelers. The Orbitz Traveler Update service delivers real-time information from fellow travelers on security wait times, traffic, parking and more. Travelocity also has a Flight Status page with updated information on departure/arrival times, terminals, gates, baggage claim and more.
7. Join airport clubs. For frequent fliers, the cost of an airport club is worth every penny in flight delay situations. In addition to often-free food and drinks, you get access to airline booking agents who can help with changes or updates. American Express Platinum Card holders get free access to the Delta, American, Northwest and Continental Airlines clubs.
8. Carry your own computer cable. Many hotels, office buildings and other locations now offer wireless Internet connections. But not all, and when an Ethernet cable is required, they often are broken or go missing, which can stop you cold when you need to get work done on your laptop.