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From the day I graduated from college until a few months after getting married, I was a road warrior. I traveled Monday through Thursday every week. I was young and energetic and I loved earning miles and points.
Now, one husband and two kids later, I find myself more grounded at home. I left the job with early wakeups and lots of plane flights and came to terms with not being able to earn points and miles as easily. Fortunately, I live vicariously (and still earn miles) through my husband, who travels for work.
Here are some tips to get the most out of your business travel. Hopefully, it can fund your next vacation.
Pick One Hotel Chain and Stick With It
When planning your business travel schedule, look to see which hotels are close to your destinations. If you typically travel to major cities, there is a good chance you have all the chains at your disposal. (In small towns, you might be limited.) If there is one chain of hotels that can be found in all your destinations, stick with that chain wherever you travel. (Assuming you have some control over where you stay for work.) You might like the lobby bar in one hotel and the concierge floor in another, but if they aren’t within the same chain, stick with your one brand. You’ll maximize your points, bonus promotions and elite status.
Focusing on one chain and earning status could also help your family sleep more comfortably and save money when you travel together. Status could get you anything from room upgrades to complimentary breakfast to lounge access and more.
If you live near a Southwest Airlines city, you can put all your eggs in one basket and try to earn the Southwest Companion Pass. Many business travelers shudder at the thought of flying Southwest because it doesn’t have business-class seats, but being able to earn a pass that allows another family member to fly with you for free (plus taxes/fees) an unlimited number of times for the life of the pass is well worth it.
Southwest allows you to earn the pass two ways: Earning 110,000 qualifying points or flying 100 qualifying one-way flights each calendar year. If you are on the road most of the year, hitting that 100-flight milestone might not be difficult. Most travelers, however, will probably strive for the 110,000 points. You can combine the points earned from flying with many other qualifying activities, such as Southwest credit card spending, shopping portal activity, crediting car rentals to Southwest, etc.
Use the Best Credit Card
With business travel, there are typically three different approaches when it comes to credit card spending:
1. You can use whichever credit card you want and just fill out an expense report.
2. You have to use the company credit card, but you still get the points.
3. You have to use the company credit card and the company keeps the points.
The best situation is clearly No. 1 as you can fully maximize the points earned with credit cards. If you fall into this category, you’ll want to use the best credit card for your expenses.
Airfare purchases: For your airfare purchases, the two best credit cards to maximize your points earned are the The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Citi Prestige. Both cards will earn you 5x points on all airfare. Let’s say you spend $1,000 a month on airfare, that’s 5,000 extra points earned each month on the respective card. Based on TPG’s valuation, this is worth between $85 to $100.
Runners-up are the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, earning you 3x points. Both will earn you Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which is a great currency to accrue. You can also transfer those points to World Of Hyatt, Marriott, United and more.
Hotel purchases: Depending on your hotel of choice, you might find that using that particular hotel’s cobranded credit card is the best way to maximize your points. Or, if you want to put all expenses on one card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card earn 3x points on all travel purchases. This means you can put all airfare and hotel purchases on one card, which might be helpful when doing your expenses.
Another great option for hotels, if you are hotel-agnostic, is to book your hotels through hotels.com and put all hotel purchases on the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. With this particular card you’ll earn 10x points when booking through Hotels.com/Venture. This equals 20% cash back toward future travel purchases. When booking through hotels.com, you typically will not earn points with that hotel’s loyalty program, but you will earn a night toward hotels.com’s loyalty program (10 nights = one free night).
Car rental purchases: Again, the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card are your best bets as you’ll continue to earn 3 points per dollar spent. Make sure to enroll in car rental loyalty programs or credit your rental to the best partner loyalty program.
Dining out: Being on the road means you are probably dining out often. These meals can add up, especially if you are the person to throw down your card when dining out with coworkers or hosting a client dinner. The two best cards for dining out are the Citi Prestige Card (5 points per dollar spent) and the American Express® Gold Card (4 points per dollar spent). While the Chase Sapphire Reserve only earns 3 points per dollar spent, it should still be a contender if you decide you want to use just one credit card for all business travel expenses.
Turn a Business Trip into a Family Vacation
Occasionally, a work trip might be scheduled to a fun destination. With one airfare taken care of and the hotel stay covered, this might be a great opportunity to bring the family along. Yes, you might be working all day, but they can enjoy the trip and you might be able to add a day or two and only be responsible for the added hotel costs (and flights for the rest of the family, of course).
Last year my husband had a work trip to Anaheim. With my daughter at the perfect age for Disneyland, she and I tagged along for a portion of the trip. We all flew out together, spent a few days in Santa Monica (on our own dime) and then played in Anaheim (with that hotel room paid for my husband’s company).
Although my husband was there a few days more than his required work days, this was the perfect opportunity to significantly reduce the cost of our family trip. Not only was my husband’s flight paid for, so was my daughter’s, thanks to a Southwest Companion Pass. Three of us were able to fly round-trip for the cost of just one — and, of course, I used my Southwest Rapid Reward points to cover my flight cost. We only paid for half of our total hotel bill as well, so it was a win-win. We got to spend extra time with daddy while he was “away” on business and save a good amount of cash as well. Naturally, make sure this arrangement works for your employer and be sure to keep family and work expenses separate.
Take a Bump
Some of you will hate this, but hear me out. Taking a bump when you are coming back from a business trip is essentially free money and can make the cost of your next family vacation a lot less. When I traveled for work, I took bumps all the time when it wouldn’t interfere with my work schedule. It allowed my now-husband and I to fly for free sometimes and we didn’t even have to dip into my points (although, those were the days when bumps were easier to come by as flights were more frequently oversold).
Now it is my husband’s turn to take a bump when the opportunity presents itself. For example, a while back, my husband was on a business trip to California. He had a travel day built into the trip so he didn’t have any urgent meetings to attend after he landed. His flight was oversold and he was able to pocket $500 and only had to wait an extra hour in the airport for his next flight. We used that American Airlines voucher toward a family trip to London.
Obviously, you want to make sure you aren’t putting your job at risk in any way here. You don’t want to miss meetings or stay an extra night on the company dime. Also, make sure your family is cool with you getting home a bit later in an effort to save some money on your next vacation. My husband knows I am OK with it as long as the payoff is good.
Being away from your significant other and kids for work purposes isn’t fun, but if you think of the points and miles you’ll earn, it might help you feel better about your business travel. The time away will result in an awesome vacation where you all can enjoy new experiences and time together if you don’t leave any points and miles on the table.
Featured photo by Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images
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NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
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- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel