If you are a small business in New Zealand there’s a good chance that you travel for business. In fact, it’s quite possible that you travel a lot (on average kiwi businesses book at least 30 trips per year). But how do you make sure that you’re getting real value for your travel spend and how do you make your travel budget go further?

For businesses there’s two ways to book and manage travel. Do it all in-house, which is called an ‘unmanaged travel program’, or pay a travel agent to manage it for you, which the industry calls ‘managed travel’. Most, if not all, large corporate organisations have a managed travel program because it saves them money and helps them keep control over their spend.

Just because you aren’t a big business spending millions each year on travel, doesn’t mean you can’t take some of their learnings and principles and apply to them your business. If you are interested in getting more bang for your travel buck then follow these seven principles:

1) Shop around

Most Kiwis operating unmanaged travel programs behave like consumers, using the same websites that people booking their holidays book (sites like Expedia). You’ll be surprised to find out that there is a big price discrepancy between the different suppliers. Based on our analysis 33% of rooms are priced the same, which means 66% are priced differently.

2) Know the difference between instant purchase, refundable and pay on departure hotel rates

Hotels often sell the same room at a variety of different price points depending on the level of flexibility on offer. The cheapest rates are typically inflexible (no refunds, cash up front, no cancellation). They’re fine if you’re travelling tomorrow, but if you’re booking further out and there’s risk that the trip might change, then look for Pay-on-Departure rates, or at the very least, refundable rates. You pay a bit more, but you will save in the long run.

3) Book flights and hotels at the same time whenever you can

Hotels often have ‘package rates’ which means that they charge a lower room rate if there’s a flight being sold as part of the package — the savings can be great. So buy on sites that offer flights and hotels. Be aware that package rates can sometimes be quite restrictive, so check the T’s and C’s carefully before you commit.

4) Define a clear Travel Policy and enforce it

A Travel Policy is simply a set of rules that determine what people can and can’t book. For example, most large businesses have a room night cap of $300 for major cities and $200 for regional cities. This stops people (that should know better) from booking the Penthouse. They have a no business class and no premium economy rule on domestic and Trans-Tasman. They also have a rule that says people should book the cheapest flight within a defined time window. It’s basic stuff, but applied with vigour it can start to drive real savings by shaving $50 here and $100 there.

5) Use an approval process

An approval process is simply a mechanism that ensures that someone sees and approves all of the expenses associated with a business trip, before any money actually gets spent. Most businesses say they have a process, but very few actually enforce it and as a result they often end up paying the price. Just knowing that someone else will look at the proposed itinerary before it gets booked has a significant impact on what people propose. Again, the savings are $50 here and a $100 there, but it soon all adds up.

6) Trust the traveller

For a lot of businesses the answer to the policy and approval question is to funnel all bookings through a central administrator or Office Manager. This works to a point, but it’s not really the right answer as more often than not, there’s double handling involved. The traveller does the searching and the booker does the booking and the net result is 1.5 or even double the time investment. With the right policy, the right tech and the right approvals process, travellers can and should have the freedom to book themselves.

7) Use technology wherever you can

Technology can solve a lot of the problems associated with travel management, and the right technology can drive huge cost savings and productivity gains for businesses. Large organisations learned this a long time ago, which is why they insisted that their managed travel partners provide them with online booking systems and mobile apps that addressed all of their needs. To this point the technology has been out of reach for small businesses. However this is all about to change thanks to a new service called serko.travel that launches on Monday 25th July.

If you travel for work and use Xero as your accounting system, then register now to be the first to use serko.travel, and let your travel budget take your business further.