From the January 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Have you had a nightmarish experience dealing with a travel company that went unresolved? You're not alone. According to an annual report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which summarizes consumer complaints against travel agencies, travel clubs and discount travel services, unhappy customers had only a 42 percent chance of getting satisfaction. Worse, they had a 20 percent chance of not even getting a reply from the offending party within 30 days.

While the findings are bleak, some say they're not surprising. "Every industry has its problems," says Steve Bernas of the Chicago and Northern Illinois BBB. "The travel industry still has some bad apples. It's no different than what we've seen in the past."

Consumer complaints don't always land on deaf ears, though--far from it. In some cases, a history of complaints results in severe action against a travel company. Bernas points to a series of lawsuits against four travel-related businesses in the Chicago area last year. Consumers sued for refunds on trips companies didn't make good on.

Should you have a problem with a travel company, the BBB recommends you first contact the company and attempt to resolve the conflict yourself. If that's unsuccessful, send the company a letter stating your complaint, the parties involved and what you want done. Be sure to include your method of payment (such as copies of receipts or canceled checks). If your letter fails to elicit any action, call the BBB nearest the company. It can contact the company on your behalf, offer arbitration or refer you to other sources of assistance.

On the flip side, should you have a highly satisfying experience with a travel-related company, don't keep it to yourself, says Bernas. The BBB keeps letters on file that praise companies as well.

Meet And Run

With travel budgets dwindling and entrepreneurs pressed for time, travelers are spending less time seeing the towns they visit and more time at the airport. Indeed, many are choosing to hold their meetings at or near airports, says Karen Goodwin, editor in chief of Frequent Flyer magazine. That way, travelers can get off the plane and get down to business without spending time and energy going to and from meetings. And for those flying in from around the country, it makes good sense to hold engagements at major airline hubs with easy accessibility.

"People want to just fly in, have the meeting and get out as quickly as possible," explains Goodwin. "[The trend is] definitely on the upswing."

One way more business travelers are holding meetings at airports is by taking advantage of airline clubs. Equipped with fax machines, data ports and conference tables, airline lounges have become a convenient and productive place to hold meetings on the fly, says Goodwin.

Greg Cowley, vice president of sales for American Express Group Travel Management Services, also sees a trend toward travelers meeting at nearby airport hotels. Most are either within walking distance or have a free shuttle, thus reducing transportation costs and hassles. Airport hotels also boast easy parking, on-site catering and state-of-the-art conference facilities.

What are airport locations lacking in? Says Cowley, "Groups locked into airport environments are really limited in their entertainment and dining capacities, so if you have off-site needs, it's really not the [ideal] niche."

Book Em

Getting on the horn isn't necessarily the easiest way for business travelers to get what they need anymore. A recent survey by Runzheimer International found travelers' use of fax, voice mail, e-mail and online services to make reservations and travel plans has increased substantially.

About 67 percent of travelers and professionals regularly use fax machines to obtain travel information, 35 percent use voice mail, 28 percent send e-mail, and 12 percent access online services. They are also catching on to the convenience of using electronic avenues to secure travel reservations: More than half the travelers surveyed, or 58 percent, said they had used fax machines for this purpose; 23 percent used voice mail, 19 percent used e-mail, and 6 percent used online services--all increases from 1994.

Plug It In

Your airplane seat just got one step closer to being a virtual office. American Airlines now gives many fliers power for their laptop computers.

This month, American begins outfitting 10 aircraft with electrical outlets that permit in-flight computer use shortly after takeoff. The first outlets will be on trans-Atlantic flights between London and New York City and Boston. Eventually, the airline will put outlets in its first- and business-class sections on domestic flights.

"We figured it would be a real plus if travelers have a power port they can plug into and not worry about batteries," says Bill Dreslin of American Airlines. "This feature has widespread appeal for business travelers."

American joins Delta Air Lines in offering the power ports, and, at press time, at least one other major airline was also testing new outlets.

Travelers still need to bring adaptors to use the new seat-back outlets. Appropriate adaptors are the same kind used to plug laptops into car cigarette lighters.

On a similar note, American is still planning to install technology that allows travelers to send fax transmissions from their seats via phone, says Dreslin. All American Airlines aircraft should offer this option by midyear.

Youve Got The Look

Entrepreneurs on the move are increasingly in need of tools that give them a professional, tech-savvy image. Proxima Corp.'s new Lightbook projector is one of those tools. To jazz up meetings, seminars and presentations, mobile presenters can plug it into a notebook computer for SVGA image support or connect it to a VCR to handle integrated video. Nifty features include Fit-to-View, which automatically corrects where images are placed on screen, and the LightBoard drawing tool for drawing on projected images. Plus, the Lightbook projector is truly mobile: At 11 pounds, it's light enough to carry with ease--and its sturdy metal frame withstands travel in the trunk or luggage compartment. Cost: $4,999.

Contact Sources

American Airlines, (800) 882-8880;

Better Business Bureau, (703) 276-0100, (hcherico@cbbb.bbb.org)

Chicago and Northern Illinois Better Business Bureau, 330 N. Wabash, #2006, Chicago, IL 60611, (312) 832-0500;

Frequent Flyer, (800) DIAL-OAG, (708) 574-6000;

Hotel Vintage Park, 1100 Fifth Ave., Seattle, WA 98101, (800) 624-4433, (206) 682-6979;

ITT Sheraton, (800) 247-CLUB;

Manhattan East Suite Hotels, (800) ME-SUITE, (212) 465-3806;

Official Airline Guides, (630) 574-6342;

Proxima Corp., 9440 Carroll Park Dr., San Diego, CA 92121, (619) 457-5500;

Runzheimer International, Runzheimer Park, Rochester, WI 53167, (800) 558-1702;

Southwest Airlines, (800) I-FLY-SWA.

Contact Sources

American Airlines, (800) 882-8880;

Better Business Bureau, (703) 276-0100, (hcherico@cbbb.bbb.org)

Chicago and Northern Illinois Better Business Bureau, 330 N. Wabash, #2006, Chicago, IL 60611, (312) 832-0500;

Frequent Flyer, (800) DIAL-OAG, (708) 574-6000;

Hotel Vintage Park, 1100 Fifth Ave., Seattle, WA 98101, (800) 624-4433, (206) 682-6979;

ITT Sheraton, (800) 247-CLUB;

Manhattan East Suite Hotels, (800) ME-SUITE, (212) 465-3806;

Official Airline Guides, (630) 574-6342;

Proxima Corp., 9440 Carroll Park Dr., San Diego, CA 92121, (619) 457-5500;

Runzheimer International, Runzheimer Park, Rochester, WI 53167, (800) 558-1702;

Southwest Airlines, (800) I-FLY-SWA.