Business travel divides people. Some see it as an exciting opportunity to visit new places on someone else’s dime. Others see it as a headache, and a hindrance to family life.
Opinions expressed reflect the view of the writer (this is his story).
Regardless of which side you fall on, we can all agree on one thing: if you need to travel for work, you might as well make it as painless (and profitable!) as possible.
I worked as a management consultant in my previous life. The long hours and gruelling work weren’t fun, but on the bright side, I learned a whole lot of tricks on how to hack business travel.
Hack #1: Ditch the corporate card (if you can)
If your company policy dictates you must use a corporate card, you’d best play along. However, if given a choice, there’s absolutely no reason to use a corporate card instead of your personal credit cards.
That’s because corporate cards weren’t created with rewards in mind; they’re meant to benefit companies, not individuals. It’s quite telling that when you read the webpage of a corporate card, you see benefits like “streamlined processing cost”, “better cashflow”, and “improved control”. Even when corporate cards do earn rewards, they’re more of an afterthought. and you’d be lucky to earn anything more than a paltry 0.4 mpd.
On the other hand, personal cards are much more generous with rewards, and there’s nothing sweeter than hitting all your sign-up bonuses with reimbursed spending. I personally timed my new credit card sign ups to coincide with company business trips, knowing that I’d easily meet the spending thresholds.
The main downside to using a personal card for corporate spending is that you’re at the mercy of your finance department. If they’re slow in processing reimbursements, you may find yourself in a bit of a temporary cashflow crunch. Otherwise, it’s a great way to turn your work travel into a free personal holiday.
Hack #2: Book your own air tickets
Depending on how large your company is, it may have appointed a travel agent to handle flight bookings. If it’s not mandatory to use them, don’t.
Sure, the agency may be able to do the heavy lifting of finding and piecing together complicated itineraires. But when it comes to booking, you’re much better off paying for the flights yourself. That’s because you earn significantly more miles booking air tickets online than through a travel agent.
Take the DBS Altitude card for example. You earn 3 mpd on the first $5K of air ticket bookings each month, provided they’re done online. Should you give your credit card number to the travel agency instead, you’ll only earn a measly 1.2 mpd.
Similarly, the UOB PRVI Miles earns 6 mpd on selected airlines booked through Expedia or UOB Travel. This includes major carriers like British Airways, ANA, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad and Japan Airlines (but not Singapore Airlines, sadly). You’ll only earn 1.4 mpd if you book through a corporate travel agent.
Hack #3: Earn hotel points on behalf of your colleagues
When it comes to booking hotels, there are benefits to being a good Samaritan and helping your colleagues out with reservations. That’s because certain chains allow you to earn points on more than one room. This means that if you pay for your colleague’s stay, you’ll earn double the points (be sure to check that he doesn’t mind though!)
Here’s the hotel chains allow you to earn points on multiple rooms:
- Hilton allows you to earn points for up to two rooms, provided all eligible charges are paid on one bill (simply ask them to consolidate it at check out)
- IHG allows you to earn points for up to nine rooms when staying in the USA and Canada. Outside these regions, you can only earn points for one room
- Le Club Accor lets you earn points for up to two rooms
- Marriott Bonvoy lets you earn points for up to three rooms
- Radisson Rewards lets you earn points for up to three rooms
- World of Hyatt lets you earn points for up to three rooms
Unfortunately, no loyalty program allows you to earn elite status credit on multiple rooms. This means that if I book a room for myself and my colleague for a week, I’ll only earn seven nights towards elite status qualification (see below).
Hack #4: Take the fast lane to elite status with status challenges
Hotel elite status is a godsend for a corporate road warrior. It gives you a faster lane for check-in when you’re tired and just want to get to bed. It gives you late check-out, so you can work from the comfort of your hotel before a late flight. It may mean suite upgrades, which help ease the pain of being away from home.
But even for seasoned travellers, attaining hotel elite status can be daunting. Earning the top tier in some hotel programs can require up to 100 nights a year. That’s a long time to be away from home.
The good news is that there’s an easier route to qualification through “status challenges”- reduced thresholds for elite qualification.
For example, Marriott Platinum status usually requires 50 nights in a year. However, members can register for a status challenge and get Platinum with 16 nights in 3 months. This helps you earn status a lot quicker and is particularly useful when you know you’ve got an extended business trip coming up.
In the same way, World of Hyatt Explorist status (their second highest tier) usually requires 30 nights in a year. However, employees of selected companies can get it instantly for 90 days, with the option to keep it for the rest of the year by staying 10 nights within the 90 days, or upgrading to Globalist (their highest tier) by staying 20 nights within the 90 days.
This offer has been confirmed to work for MNCs like EY, IBM, PWC, Microsoft, Apple and Netflix, so be sure to try your own company email and see if it’s eligible.
Hack #5: Apply for business traveller programs for priority immigration
There’s nothing worse than getting off a long flight and walking right into a snaking immigration queue. Fortunately, several countries allow frequent business travellers to access expedited immigration queues by applying for special programs.
The best example of this is the APEC Business Travel Card, which Singapore citizens are entitled to apply for. This document gives you access to priority lanes at airports in Australia, Brunei, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, USA and Canada.
To be eligible to apply, you need to be one of the following:
- A bona fide business person representing an economically active business entity
- A member of a professional body (for example, a doctor, lawyer or accountant)
- A public officer representing a ministry, government department, economic agency or statutory board, travelling in your official capacity.
(2) and (3) are pretty rigid criteria, but (1) is more open to interpretation as anyone who travels for business would fit this category. If you believe you fall into this category, you need your HR department to fill out a support letter.
Applications cost S$100 and take about three months to process. Approval may be slow, but there’s no feeling quite like waltzing past everyone else in a crowded immigration hall.
I’ve written about a few other programs that business travellers may be interested in, but the APEC Business Travel card should cover most places you may go to.
Under the right circumstances, business travel can be a great way to rack up miles, points and status for better personal vacations. Always be sure to stay within your company’s policies of course: all that vacation time counts for nothing if you lose your job!
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By Aaron Wong
Aaron started The MileLion to help people travel better for less and impress “chiobu”. He was 50% successful. This is his story.