travel-240px-2-180520428A business trip is often meant to gain new customers and clients, or solidify relationships with current ones. Or perhaps it’s a time for sales calls and “meets and greets” with suppliers. In any event, the goal of business travel is generally to make money, not to squander it away on needless expenses.

While it might be tempting to cut back on travel costs to save money, especially during tough times, the result could be a drop-off in sales, leads or damage to important business relationships. A better solution might be to keep your travel plans, but figure out a leaner way to take business trips.

Here are some simple things to do to help keep expenses in check.

The Early Bird Finds the Deal

It pays to start your planning well before you leave home. Online shopping is easy and handy when booking air travel early or researching hotel prices. The various online airline and hotel discount sites, like Travelocity, Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotwire, may offer better deals than the airlines and hotels themselves. But it’s the airline aggregator sites that make it simple to compare and contrast the airline ticket and hotel prices from a variety of online discount sources.

If you’re interested in points or rewards with airlines or hotels, just remember, booking through a site and not through the hotel directly, you aren’t earning member rewards points available through the hotel. And depending on the rate, you may or may not earn frequent flyer points when you book through an airline discount site and not through the airline.

Check Your Calendar

Look for any and all deals available during certain times of the year if your travel plans are flexible. Not surprisingly, it’s more expensive to stay in hotels during peak travel times. And if you travel during the week and not over the weekend, you’re sure to get the best rates in certain areas.

If your business travel brings you to a popular vacation spot, expect plane tickets to be the most expensive during certain periods and major holidays. Whenever possible, avoid peak travel times and days for extra savings on hotels and flights. Use airline frequent flyer points or other loyalty points to pay for flights and hotel stays, especially to offset the costs when you have to travel during “prime” times.

For small business owners and the self-employed, it’s best to travel light. Today, many more airlines are charging passengers for checked bags. So, if you can, pack the essentials and make sure to bring what you need on the plane as carry-on luggage. Try not to over stuff your bag, as airlines may have a weight limit and will charge additional fees for these checked bags.

Carry-ons can’t exceed a certain size and weight, so be aware before you leave the ground, and some airlines are even charging for carry-ons. If you’re required to take a large number of items with you, it might be cheaper to ship the items and time them to meet you when you get there.

If you plan to use a rental car, rethink the rental car insurance and check your auto insurance policy before you leave to find out if it covers rental cars and to what extent.

Time is Money

The increase in airline security has upped the time to get through the airport. If you fly very frequently, you might want to look into the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program, TSA PreCheck. It’s possible to expedite screening at select U.S. airports with certain airlines, but note that TSA PreCheck does have a fee associated with it.

Resist the Temptation

If your business requires you to be away from home for considerable stretches of time, it can be tempting to treat yourself to expensive dinners or shopping trips when you aren’t meeting with customers or clients. Preplan to help avoid overspending. Figure out your agenda in detail, and plan for the possibility of downtime, especially during the day. A little research may reveal some interesting and relatively inexpensive options for filing the time.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Review your last trip and the associated expenses, and then formulate a plan to reduce them the next time you leave home. If you haven’t already separated your personal and business checking accounts, stop into your bank and ask a representative about the process. In the event the IRS asks for more information about your deductible business expenses, this is an important accounting tool to keep your business costs on track and help you provide a clean record.