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Tech for the Road Warrior Advisor

Financial advisors traveling for business or pleasure can get around more easily and save money by using innovative technology and apps.

Bill Winterberg, 02/14/2013

Despite the growing popularity of virtual meetings and online webinar software, many financial advisors still travel frequently for a variety of reasons. Whether traveling to attend industry conferences, visit clients, or take a much-needed vacation, road-warrior advisors often run into high costs and inconveniences when moving from point A to point B.

Here are a number of useful websites and apps advisors can add to their travel toolkit to make each journey a bit more affordable and enjoyable.

Air Travel
Unlike stock prices, frequent flyers know that airfare prices seem to only go up year after year. According to Arlington, Va.-based Airlines Reporting Corp., average domestic airfare increased 4.2% in 2012 after increasing 8.5% in 2011 and 13% in 2010.

As they begin to plan for their next trip, advisors should start pricing airfares by using the Bing Travel Price Predictor. After entering information about the origin, destination, and travel dates, Bing displays the lowest airfare along with carrier and flight itinerary details.

Immediately above the search results, the Bing Travel Price Predictor shows a tip whether to "buy" or "wait" regarding the current airfare price. Clicking the "Fare History" link opens a window displaying daily price trends from the past and a confidence rating regarding the current "buy" or "wait" recommendation. Bing Travel Price Predictor does not analyze all airline routes, but it is still a convenient place to see past trends in pricing and determine if it's worth it to buy now or wait for a lower fare.

Once a low price is secured, advisors next need to decide where to sit in the airplane. Again, frequent flyers know that not all seats are created equal and covet those with extra legroom, power outlets, and other amenities. Before confirming a seat assignment, advisors should visit SeatGuru.

SeatGuru lists seating configurations for hundreds of airplanes across all of the major domestic and international carriers. Simply look up the specific carrier and equipment for an upcoming trip and see which seats have been rated as good and bad by other frequent flyers. Pointing the mouse cursor over any seat highlights details of that location and any pros and cons. Advisors using SeatGuru should rarely ever sit in a seat that doesn't recline or one that might be located immediately next to a high-traffic lavatory.

Ground Transportation
Once at their destination, advisors need to consider their ground transportation needs. Locating a taxi at the airport is easy, but it's not so straightforward to arrange one for the return trip or for other transit needs.

One service with the potential to disrupt the traditional taxi-for-hire market is San Francisco-based startup Uber. Advisors can download the Uber app to their Apple or Android mobile device, visit Uber's mobile-optimized website, or use SMS messaging to arrange transportation in private sedans, limousines, or SUVs. Uber currently serves about 18 large metro cities worldwide including New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Pricing for rides arranged through Uber depends on the destination and requested vehicle type, with flat rates available for popular routes, including to and from airports.

Advisors opting for a rental car over a private car service still need to know how to get to their destination and avoid delays, so a good GPS navigation system with real time traffic information is essential. GPS heavyweights like TomTom and Magellan offer mobile app versions of their traditional hardware systems, but the latest innovation in GPS technology takes advantage of crowdsourcing.

A great example of crowdsourcing for navigation comes from social GPS provider Waze. The Israel-based company supports most Apple, Android, and selected Blackberry, Nokia, and Windows Mobile devices. With the free app installed, users can submit a variety of traffic reports, accidents, or police sightings as they drive to their destination.

Waze aggregates all the user-submitted updates with general speed data collected from other active mobile devices to calculate the fastest way to get to a particular location. I live in Atlanta, a city known for its horrendous traffic, and I must admit, Waze has saved me several times by helping me avoid congested intersections or rerouting me around traffic collisions. Waze also includes social gaming elements like leaderboards, moods, and special avatar icons to increase user participation, which in turn increases the overall accuracy of the crowdsourced data.

Most road warrior advisors seek clean and comfortable accommodations at their destination, but finding relaxing amenities without breaking the budget is getting harder and harder. According to the Fall 2012 Hotel Price Index™ from Hotels.com, average prices for single hotel rooms in financial hubs such as New York City, Boston, and San Francisco start at $175.

Again, advisors can turn to their mobile device for alternatives to traditional hotel booking methods and high retail prices. One popular option is the last-minute reservation app Hotel Tonight, created by the eponymous San Francisco-based startup. Hotel Tonight is a free booking application built specifically for Apple and Android devices.

Each day at noon local time, Hotel Tonight "unlocks" three last-minute hotel rooms identified in one of five distinct categories: Hip, Basic, Solid, Charming, and Luxe. The app lists details about each hotel's amenities, availability (for multiple night reservations), high-quality photos, and transparent pricing with taxes and fees included. Once a credit card is registered with a Hotel Tonight account, booking is confirmed directly on the mobile device and an electronic receipt is delivered via email.

Hotel Tonight grew dramatically in 2012, with total downloads increasing 390% over the prior year. Apple even named Hotel Tonight as one of the best apps of 2012, calling it "one of the most disruptive services of the year."

Again, I have used the Hotel Tonight app several times and have been very impressed by the value offered. For example, during my move from Dallas to Atlanta last summer, I needed a last-minute room due to a change in logistics. With Hotel Tonight, I booked a room for one night at a four-star downtown Dallas hotel for just $50.

Road Warrior Tools
Financial advisors who visit with clients in other states or regularly attend industry conferences and events will inevitably encounter a myriad of delays, inconveniences, and high fees. Fortunately there is no shortage of new, innovative applications and services aimed at giving road warrior advisors an advantage when traveling. New technology delivers entirely new methods to lower costs, cut out middlemen, and benefit from crowdsourcing, much of which can be done entirely from the convenience of a mobile device.

Bill Winterberg, CFP, is a technology and operations consultant to independent financial advisors. His comments on technology have been featured in a variety of financial industry publications. You can view more information about Bill and see his schedule of upcoming speaking engagements at his Web site, FPPad.com. The author is a freelance contributor to MorningstarAdvisor.com. The views expressed in this article may or may not reflect the views of Morningstar.

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