Entertaining clients on a business credit card: Tips to do it right
Business credit cards record expenses in one place, provide a barrier against fraud and theft, and may offer high-status perks – such as concierge services and special access and discounted prices to events and restaurants.
But, as with anything related to credit, it pays to be smart and budget-minded when it comes to entertaining for business purposes. Clients or not, you can’t charge champagne on a beer budget.
Using your business credit cards to entertain clients in an effort to win more business and boost your bottom line? Here are a few smart tips to get more for your money:
Tips for entertaining clients on a business credit card
Take advantage of apps and loyalty programs
If you know you’re going to be entertaining from time to time, have a card that gives you extra rewards for dining and entertainment, says Lee Huffman, travel blogger and founder of BaldThoughts.com.
Business cards that offer extra bonuses on dining expenses include Bank of America Business Advantage Cash Rewards Mastercard and Chase Ink Business Cash Credit Card.
This is how iDine works:
- You register your cards and then pay as usual at participating restaurants.
- You get 5 to 10 percent cash back on every dollar spent, depending on how much you spend annually at participating restaurants.
- The cash back rewards accumulate on your iDine account.
- Once you accumulate $20, a gift card is mailed to you.
Affinity programs from your favorite airlines are another alternative to iDine. Link them to your credit cards and get extra miles and rewards when you dine out – on top of any miles or points you may earn by paying with your rewards or travel card.
Dosh is a cash back app, “and most of the restaurants that participate give you 7 to 10 percent back,” he says.
He calculates that, when you can stack the two along with a rewards or cash back card that’s giving you 2, 3 or 4 percent back, you can actually recoup 10 percent or more of what you spend entertaining clients.
If you want to let employees keep these rewards as an incentive, “It’s a good way to give them a perk without it costing anything,” says Huffman.
Consider using a cash back card instead of a travel or rewards card
“In some ways, having a cash back card can be better than having a miles card,” says Huffman. Many small-business owners don’t need to travel and don’t plan on taking a vacation any time soon, he says.
But a cash back card can help you whether you’re taking a potential client to lunch or stocking up on office supplies.
Two that he recommends:
- The Costco Anywhere Visa Business Card by Citi, which gives 3 percent cash back on dining and 4 percent cash back on gas – on the first $7,000 in purchases every year; 1 percent thereafter.
- The Capital One Spark Cash for Business card gives 2 percent cash back on all purchases.
Opt for quality over status or brand names
When entertaining clients, you’re also giving them a window into your business practices. And sometimes the smartest thing you can do is demonstrate you’re as careful with their money as you are with your own, says Caroline Glackin, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Fayetteville State University.
Glackin remembers being courted as a client herself early in her career – when one of her duties was buying ad space for her employer.
One magazine rep wanted to go somewhere tony for lunch. Her pick: A cool, inexpensive local spot that she enjoyed frequently on her own time. The rep couldn’t believe that she didn’t want to lunch at a pricier place.
Her reply: “You can take me somewhere more expensive, but it’s not going to get me to buy more ad space.”
Make the most of credit card concierge services
Credit card concierge services can be a time and money saver for entrepreneurs who are short on both. And these services tend to shine when it comes to getting seats or discounts to popular events as well as offering recommendations and booking tables at popular restaurants.
Michelle Madhok, CEO and founder of SheFinds.com, used an American Express Platinum card to get Hamilton tickets for $200 each, when seats more commonly cost around $900, she recalls. And that allowed her to treat some very valued clients.
For events and shows, American Express gets blocks of tickets and makes them available to cardholders, sometimes at a significant discount, Madhok says. To see the deals, “you want to subscribe to the credit card benefits emails.”
Likewise, Visa will often offer tickets to special events to their cardholders. And Chase hosts a VIP lounge for its business card members at the U.S. Open, with complimentary food, hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, says Jamie Larounis, founder of the travel blog TheForwardCabin.
Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program also offers goodies such as VIP tickets to festivals and sporting events (including the PGA Championship, the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers), plus exclusive dining experiences.
Starwood, through its Starwood Preferred Guest program, lets cardholders use their points to bid on experiences, says Madhok. A couple of recent examples include two Knicks-Magic VIP tickets at Madison Square Garden and a private halftime chat with Latrell Sprewell.
Concierge services can go the extra mile for business cardholders
You can also use concierge services for more than discounts. If you’re in a strange city and need a restaurant recommendation, your card concierge can help with recommendations and even reservations.
Larounis used the service to get a last-minute table at the cozy, popular Rubirosa, in New York’s Little Italy. “It was fantastic,” he recalls.
Madhok has also used the feature while abroad. “It’s very useful,” she says, especially if you’re not fluent in the local language.
Some services will go the extra mile, doing some of the tasks of a personal assistant. With American Express, “they can do things like send flowers, gifts – all kinds of things that can save time,” says Madhok. If you want to go to an event, they’ll even buy the tickets for you.
Want to have that concierge, literally, at your fingertips? “American Express Platinum, in particular, has a feature where you can text the concierge – and people don’t know about that,” says Larounis. (AmEx spokeswoman Elizabeth Crosta confirmed the service but explained it's only available to Platinum cardholders.)
Tip: American Express offers concierge services to Platinum cardholders via text message. To get access, you have to register for it. When you need a request fulfilled quickly, they often respond in “one or two minutes,” says Jamie Larounis, founder of the travel blog TheForwardCabin and who's used the service.
Look for deals and discounts you can load onto your credit card
Of course you want to save money entertaining clients, but “you wouldn’t necessarily want to use a coupon with clients,” says Madhok.
The good news: Thanks to electronic wizardry, it’s not necessary. Many card issuers, including American Express and Bank of America, will let you link deals they offer directly to your credit card.
When you use that card in that location, you automatically get the deal or discount. No crumpled coupons required.
Madhok used the feature to get a $50 discount at New York’s Fig & Olive.
Her advice: Log in to the card site regularly and load any deals that appeal onto your card. Think of it as coupon clipping for the business set.
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