Many people think that traveling in the U.S. is not expensive, but it is. For example, a flight from the East Coast to the West Coast can cost twice the price of a flight from Europe to the U.S. For a startup trying to build its customer base around the U.S., the costs of travel and expenses (T&E) can quickly become prohibitive, if not kept under strict control.
Here are some tips to optimize your travel budget:
—Book your flights as soon as you know you will travel. Most airlines give you significant discounts for purchasing your ticket 3 weeks in advance, with decreasing discounts for purchasing 2 weeks, 1 week, or 3 days (typically) in advance. The closer to the travel date you book, the more you pay. These advance-purchase fares are usually non-refundable, but can be applied to another ticket if you have to cancel your trip. If you need to make a change to the date or time of the flight, you may be assessed a penalty, usually $75-150. However, even with a penalty, the total cost will still be below that of a full-fare, "no restrictions" ticket.
—Use alternate airports. If you live in a major metropolitan area, such as Boston, New York, Chicago, or the San Francisco Bay area's Silicon Valley, driving a few extra miles to another airport can save you a large amount of money on your flight. Providence, RI or Manchester, NH (one hour from Boston), Oakland (45 minutes from San Francisco or San Jose), Chicago's Midway airport, etc., are all served by low-cost carriers, such as ATA, Southwest Airlines, and America West, to name only a few. These low-cost carriers not only offer very cheap tickets, but also drive down fares at the major airlines, such as American, United, and Delta. On routes where you would have to pay $2,000 on a major carrier with a 1-week advance purchase, using that same carrier at an alternate airport might save you over $1,500!
—Stay over a Saturday night. Most airlines offer significant discounts for tickets that include a Saturday night stay. In many cases, paying for 2 tickets with a Saturday night stay will still be less expensive than one ticket without a Saturday night stay. This might provide a good opportunity to combine business and pleasure, perhaps with your "significant other," while discovering the U.S. and saving your company money!