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Business travel: 10 most expensive cities

Daniel Azocar/iStockphoto

By Jason Notte/

Oh, do you want to have a good cry about how expensive it is to travel to any city in the United States? Try traveling to cities around the world and tell us what a deep discount you're getting.

London-based MVF Global and its U.S. Expert Market team compiled a list of the world's most expensive cities for business travelers, and U.S. cities failed to crack the Top 20. In fact, only New York ($442.59 per day) and San Francisco ($444.66) cracked the Top 30.

"While it is not surprising that Europe is the most expensive continent, it is a shock that no U.S. city ranks in the top 20," says Ian Wright, head of Expert Market. "Hotel rooms and other expenses are very high in New York and San Francisco, so it is a surprise they are not ranked towards the top of the list."

Still, as Utrecht-based BCD Travel noted in its research for this report, the United States spends more on business travel than any other country in the world. In 2013 business travel spending reached $274 billion in the U.S., with only China getting anywhere close with $225 billion in business travel spending.

No other country reached the $200 billion mark. And U.S. business travel spending is only expected to increase this year, with the total projection to top $310 billion. Not that business travel is exactly cheap anywhere -- last year the average cost of a domestic business trip in the United States was $990, with the average for an international trip hitting $2,525.

Even Expert Market notes that its U.S. team is able to make many more business trips in a year than the company's staff in European markets, largely because of the lower costs.

With the help of the Expert Markets staff and SmarterTravel's Ed Perkins, we discovered why certain locations are so expensive and what travelers and businesses can do to offset costs.

Click ahead to see the top 10 most expensive cities for business travel.

10. Riyadh

REUTERS/Ali Jarekji

Cost per day: $495

If you're in the energy business, you've likely made a stop or two in Saudi Arabia's capital. There's one big way to trim your day-to-day costs.

"You can always go downmarket in hotels," Perkins says. "If your company policy says you can do five stars, you don't have to stay there. Even in those expensive cities, what tends to push up those averages is those top-tier hotels, and there's no reason you can't go down a tier."

9. Oslo

REUTERS/Kyrre Lien/Scanpix

Cost per day: $497

No, Norway's capital isn't cheap, but it's one of the cheaper options you'll find among its Scandinavian neighbors. In fact, it isn't even the most expensive Norwegian city for business travelers on this list.

8. Paris

REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Cost per day: $502

The only surprising part about Paris' inclusion in this list is that it isn't ranked higher. The Metro certainly cuts down on some costs, but hotels and restaurants tend to add up in a hurry here.

"As somebody who makes regular trips between London and Paris, I am not surprised to see both these cities ranked in the Top 10," says Lucile Michaut, marketing manager for Expert Market France. "Costs can spiral if you are not careful, so the company has to look out for deals to ensure they are getting the best rates."

7. London

REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Cost per day: $508

Again, in a city that's internationally notorious for being costly, you cut corners where you can. If you aren't taking clients out to a show in the West End or a match at Stamford Bridge, the Underground and the Heathrow Express are your friends.

"When I'm in a city and I'm not taking people with me, I use public transportation," Perkins says. "I take the subway in New York, Tokyo and London and don't feel the need to have a cab every minute, particularly when I'm not schlepping baggage."

6. Zurich

REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Cost per day: $509

Switzerland, on the whole, is incredibly expensive and is one of only two countries to have two entries on this list. If you want to do business with Credit Suisse, UBS, Swiss Re or on the Swiss Stock Exchange, though, you're going to have to take the hit.

5. Hong Kong


Cost per day: $523

It isn't as if Hong Kong is an all-around expensive city. Expert Market notes that cheap hotel rooms and food are actually fairly plentiful here. But since "business travelers usually look for a higher level of base quality than tourists," Hong Kong gets a spot in the top 5.

4. Stavanger


Cost per day: $524

This is Norway's second, more-expensive entry on this list, and with good reason. If you've traveled to Riyadh on energy-related business, you've likely hit the oil-rich city of Stavanger as well. Home to a lot of oil companies, a petroleum museum and the Offshore Northern Seas oil and gas conference, Stavanger is the epicenter of Europe's energy economy. That elevates the cost of doing business there quite a bit.

3. Stockholm

REUTERS/Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix Sweden

Cost per day: $528

We warned you about the Nordic countries. Stockholm blends tourist, business and political interests into one costly equation. Whether you're a buyer for H&M or an engineer for Ericsson, the cost of doing business in the booming Swedish capital is steep.

2. Geneva

REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Cost per day: $547

This is particularly impressive when you consider Geneva isn't just the most expensive city for business travel in Switzerland, but in all of Europe. Forget about the timepieces made here: They're just accessories worn by the executive and politicians who've made this city a European and global hub.

"Switzerland is an expensive country," says Michael Horrocks, website manager for Expert Market. "This combined with the type of business conducted in Geneva -- a financial and diplomatic hub -- explains why it is the most expensive business city in Europe."

1. Caracas

REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Cost per day: $611

Seriously? Caracas?

Seriously. It's not just business travel that's expensive here: It's everything. Using San Francisco as a point of comparison, Expert Market found that city's typical cab ride to be 70 percent less expensive than a similar ride in Caracas. A meal at an average restaurant is typically 30 percent more expensive in Caracas.

"Caracas is a huge anomaly in this study, as there are no other South American cities in the Top 30," Horrocks says. "The city's figure of $611 per day can be attributed to the Venezuelan government's strict currency controls and the high crime rate."

The rest of South America just shakes its head. The average business trip to No. 2 Rio De Janeiro costs $371. Relocate that meeting to Buenos Aires and the cost drops to $299 per day, or half the cost of doing business in Venezuela.

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