Making travel arrangements is a stressful process. Which is probably why many upper-level management staff pass the task off to administrative assistants. Whether you’ve been tasked with making flight, hotel, and car rental reservations for one staff member or ten, this tutorial will help you plan ahead, and give tips and tricks for finding the best rates.
Learn the traveler
If you’re an avid traveler, you know that many frequent travelers have preferences related to airline choice, time of travel, departure, arrival airport, etc. These are things that are important for you, as the travel arranger, to know. Here are a few questions to ask when learning about staff members for whom you’ll be booking travel accommodations:
- Do you have a first and second choice for preferred airlines?
- Are there any airlines you’d prefer not to fly with?
- What are the departure and arrival cities and are there alternatives?
- When would you prefer to depart and arrive?
- What’s your seating preference?
- Would you like to board early?
- Do you need extra legroom?
- How much luggage will you have?
- Are you comfortable sitting in an exit row?
- Upon arrival, would you like a private driver or will Uber, Lyft, or Super Shuttle suffice?
- Do you need a rental car and what size do you prefer?
- What are your hotel preferences?
- Do you have any travel or hotel reward accounts that you want credit for?
- Are you willing to use the points on those accounts to cover any portion of this travel?
Along with these questions, you’ll need pertinent information about the traveler, including the first, last, and middle names as they appear on his/her ID or passport, date of birth, a phone number where the traveler will be accessible on the day of travel, and a Social Security number. When making plans for a group, it’s best to save this information, with the exclusion of the Social Security number, to an Excel sheet, which can be used for future planning.
Research and secure flights
You’ll want to secure flights first and as far in advance as possible. Purchasing flights on Tuesday afternoons at least 45 days before planned travel usually guarantees your best prices, but even if it’s not a Tuesday, it’s great to begin by comparing prices. Travel fare aggregator websites like Travelocity and Kayak allow price comparisons over several different airlines, and they save you the trouble of going to every site. To most, these sites seem like ideal places to make purchases, but I suggest using them solely for comparison.
After comparing the costs, visit the sites of the airlines with the lowest rates. Remember, airlines like Southwest tend to not have their rates posted to travel fare aggregator websites; in this case, check those airline websites individually. You’ll want to be sure that you’re finding the best flight at the best rate, while considering the traveler’s preference! Before choosing the flight, check to see if the airline offers corporate rates, or if a benefit of one of your job’s packages includes flights with certain airlines. If you’re arranging flights for a group of 10 individuals or more, be sure to give the airline a call. You may be able to find hidden group savings!
When booking flights, double check the information you provide to the airlines to ensure it matches the information in your traveler’s spreadsheet. Send the flight confirmations to your own email address, to ensure that you have access to the documents should any changes need to be made. Once you receive the flight confirmations, forward them to the traveler. If you’ve made any mistakes, keep in mind: most airlines give you 24 hours to make changes or cancellations with no fees and no penalties.
Research and secure hotels
Hotels, like flights, should also be booked in advance for the best price. Many hotels offer 14-day advance bookings with no cancellation fees. For comparison of rates, travel fare aggregator sites like Priceline, Hotels.com, and Travelocity are among the best. With flights, book rates directly with the airline, but for hotels, book with the hotel, but be flexible to booking with discount sites like Priceline and Hotels.com. Sometimes, these sites simply have better rates. If changes are not anticipated, use Priceline’s “Name Your Price” tool. However, be sure to read the terms and conditions; should any changes be made on the day of, your hotel may be cancelled without a refund!
It’s for this reason that, if you ask any hotelier, they’ll likely tell you that hotels prefer direct bookings. If there’s a large enough discrepancy in the rates listed and the travel aggregator site rates, you’ll want to use your negotiation skills to sweeten the deal and then book directly with the hotel. You can ask for free wi-fi or complimentary food passes for hotels that have on-site restaurants or partner with nearby restaurants (such as the Marriott Hotels, which, in some locations, give guests discount passes for fine-dining chains such as McCormick and Schmick’s).
Regardless of what you choose, if travel is paid on a company card and the card is not in the name of the traveler, you’ll need to fill out the hotel’s Credit Card Authorization Form and fax or email it to their reservations staff, along with a copy of the driver’s license of the cardholder and a copy of the card. If your company is a tax-exempt organization, you’ll also need to send the tax exemption certificate to waive any federal tax responsibilities. Unfortunately, your company may still have to pay state taxes. Always call to confirm the authorization form and all necessary materials have been received.
Research ground travel options
At minimum, you’ll want to ensure the staff member’s travel to and from the hotel is arranged prior to the flight.
- Rental Car. If the traveling staff member needs a rental car, use the information gathered for their flight to book the rental. Booking rental cars is fairly simple and can be done either through the rental company’s website or through a fare aggregator site. This is because car rentals are usually paid at the time of pickup, not at the time of booking. Unfortunately, because of this, you may run into one, large issue: most rental car companies require a credit card, in the name of the driver, for bookings and security deposits. You’ll want to work directly with the staff member to decide if they’re comfortable being reimbursed for their rental.In the case that your company has a corporate account with a rental car company, you’ll want to use that company to avoid rental car reimbursements.
- Hotel Shuttle. While many assume that hotels near airports are the only places with shuttles, chains are adding the amenity to hotels that are further out from the airport. If your team of staff members only needs a way to or from the hotel, this is the way to go!
- Super Shuttle. In the case that the hotel doesn’t have a shuttle service, Super Shuttle is available in multiple major cities nationwide. If Super Shuttle is in one of the cities your staff members are traveling to, rates begin as low as $12, and discount codes are floating around online. There are also discounts for AAA members, and older staff.
- Uber, Lyft or Taxi. Finally, if none of the above options are suitable or available, Uber, Lyft, and local taxi services can be used to facilitate ground travel. This is great for you, as it adds nothing to your workload except the travel reimbursements that will need to be handled upon return.
Hotel and ground travel follow-up
In advance of the staff member’s travel date, call the hotel to confirm that all information is accurate, and to ensure that they are aware of the staff member’s expected time of arrival. This is especially important if the staff member is expected to arrive very late. Calling in advance prompts the hotel staff to hold the room instead of giving it to other customers.
You’ll also want to ask the hotel the procedure for requesting a shuttle. Do shuttles run on schedule, or will the traveler have to call for the shuttle once they arrive at the airport? If the traveler will have to call, make sure you provide the hotel’s number to the traveler for easy access once they land. If the traveler has elected to rent a car, you’ll only need to call in advance of travel to be sure the rental company will have one ready upon arrival.
Share the info!
Once you’ve made the flight, hotel, and ground travel arrangements, print out all necessary documents and give them to the traveling staff members. Send the same documents via email, so the traveler will have them in two places. If you have access to the traveler’s calendar, add the flight times and confirmation numbers, along with 2-3 additional hours of time to account for travel to the airport and check-in. And with that, you’re done!
Are there business associates coming in from out-of-town? Learn how to make travel accommodations for long distance visitors, too.
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