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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reasoning, practicality and price

At 10 pm yesterday evening, I knew we needed to make some changes in our plans. The annual symposium of the Ontario General Contractors Association starts today. It is an important event for us -- the association is distributing our newspaper to everyone who attends, and we are building strong relationships in the process.

Unfortunately, because my wife has a vital community function this evening, I must miss the first day of the event. So my original plans were to drive from Ottawa to the Blue Mountain Resort in Collingwood tomorrow (Friday, April 20), stay overnight and return on Saturday. Our new sales representative Jason Chase is flying in to Ottawa this morning for a day of orientation and introduction to our office, and we would drive together tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, Natalie Laferriere is in Collingwood today and overnight and we have a planning meeting scheduled there tomorrow afternoon.

All good, and inexpensive. With cheap air fares, no need for a car rental, and the ability to share a ride to Toronto, we could keep travel costs to a minimum. But yesterday evening, I knew this wouldn't work. The reason -- it is a seven hour drive to Collingwood from Ottawa, and there are important sessions to attend Friday morning. This means, to be there anywhere near on time, we would have to leave here about 4 a.m. Friday morning.

It is one thing for me to endure this type of travel punishment; it is quite unfair to force it on a new employee. So I checked the alternatives. Things have changed in the past decade. I found plane tickets for the two of us to Toronto on one day's notice -- and cheap weekend rates are available for the car rental. So far, so good.

But getting back to Ottawa proved to be a challenge. I could do it for $250.00 -- not bad by 'old' standards, but, used to $99 or $49 one way fares, I've been spoiled. If I'm going to pay that much, I want to go first class -- but the first class one way airline fare is $450.00. No way. Finally, I checked the train. First class would be $150 -- I would get in to Ottawa late Saturday night, but the savings certainly pay for a really nice dinner out for my family.

The travel planning brought to mind some points:

  • It is possible to be penny wise and pound foolish. I could save $350 by driving overnight. But I would be 'dead' to useful work -- and the productivity loss would far offset any financial savings by driving.
  • When prices are discounted, no one wants to pay sticker price if they can avoid it. Hence, my resistance to paying the 'regular' fare for the flight home on Saturday.
  • A little luxury goes a long way -- if it is priced reasonably. Faced with the choice of getting home a little earlier or travelling first class, but a bit later, and spending less money, I opted for the extra comfort of first class on the train.
  • Finally, it is easy to get sidetracked on things like this. For a few years, I was obsessed with 'working the rules' with the airlines -- I in fact became an expert on how to travel business class for really cheap fares -- but my study of these issues obscured the fact that I was thinking far more about airline operations than the practical realities of my own business. It is vitally important to be aware of sidetracks, and stay off them.

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