Generating revenue and controlling expenses are the keys to ensuring the overall health of your association. For national associations that meet throughout the year, controlling travel and meeting expenses can be a significant part of successfully maintaining your annual budget.

As an association executive (chief staff officer) I rely on historical data and conservative projections when determining the travel and meeting budgets. If trends and the number of meetings are consistent throughout each year, it is fairly easy to predict your travel and meeting expenses from year to year.

The travel expense for board members to attend board meetings (for national associations) is dependent on many factors that influence the transportation costs. Airline fuel taxes, taxi fares, car rentals, remote destinations, meals and airfares all contribute to the overall health of maintaining your travel budget. When boards review the budget for each year the board members need to be reminded of the travel policy (if you don’t have one you need to develop one) for the association and make sure they do everything in their power to book their travel so they minimize the expense.

Many gurus say that the best time to book a flight is eight weeks before you travel, but there are others that suggest 45 days is best. They suggest that computer models are such that booking many months in advance won’t save but booking a week before you travel could be risky and cost the association more than budgeted for. For more information on this, check the following website:

The location of the board meetings is important as well. Selecting major cities that have multiple flights in and out each day allows board members to book travel easily and hopefully get to the meeting without needing an additional overnight stay. Also using airport hotels for cities that you are meeting in can greatly reduce expenses. The airport hotels are within walking distance of the terminals or have free shuttle services, eliminating the other transportation costs like taxis and rental cars.

The creative scheduling of board meetings can help you save money as well. For board meetings that require travel, starting your meeting early afternoon on one day and wrapping up early afternoon the following day can allow board members to fly in on the morning of day 1 and leave the afternoon of day 2, keeping the overnight room stays for the entire board to one night (depending on the host city for the meeting). The added benefit to your board members in scheduling a meeting like this allows them to be away from their business and family for one night only.

We manage a national association that meets quarterly, usually at a Toronto airport-area hotel. Catering at an airport hotel can be expensive. One way that we try and limit the meal expense for dinner is to have one board member stay in a suite at the hotel and then order in dinner from a local restaurant. This method saves a significant amount of money for the group and the board benefits from being able to eat, relax, and bond with other board members in a quiet, informal atmosphere. As well, a local board member shops for beverages making for a very economical, cost saving evening for the association budget.

As mentioned earlier, having a travel policy and having board members adhere to it is the starting point to controlling your travel and meeting expenses. Remind board members regularly to book their travel once meeting dates and times have been determined, as the research shows, booking early can save you money, and remove the risk of flight cost increases closer to the travel date.