From the December 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Despite sluggish acceptance in the United States, microprocessor-based cards, commonly called smart cards, finally seem to be easing the mundane tasks of the masses. That's good news for business travelers, who will soon rely on smart cards to hasten basic travel processes, such as renting cars and boarding airlines.

Hilton Hotels Corp., for one, is testing the smart card in conjunction with American Express and IBM at its top 10 business travel destinations nationwide. Thousands of Hilton guests and American Express cardholders were selected to participate; evaluations begin in January.

Here's how the Hilton system works: The card is inserted into a lobby-based kiosk; it reviews the information stored in memory, including the customer's name and address, billing information, room preferences, and frequent-flier program, and makes any requested alterations. Then a key drops out with directions to the room--all this and you get to avoid the line at the front desk, too.

"If all goes well, we'll expand [use of] the smart card to all our commercial hotels," says Hilton's Bob Dirks. "And depending on how that goes, we hope to take the technology international."

According to research firm Dataquest Inc., smart card use should continue to rise: Year-end worldwide smart card sales are expected to total 1.2 billion units. By 2001, that figure should reach 3.4 billion.

"The smart card can provide convenience," says Marlee Laks, vice president of American Express' Smart Card Center of Excellence. "So whether you're boarding an airline, checking into hotels or renting a car, the card will speed the process and make it more traveler-friendly."

Perhaps not surprisingly, American Express has also teamed up with IBM and American Airlines to test the technology at boarding gates; although limited to passenger identification and seat matching, eventually the cards could be used to expedite the boarding process. Says Tim Smith of American Airlines, "We believe it's a technology that'll spread through the marketplace in the years ahead."

Road Notes

By Catharine Brockman Kuchar

  • Don't sweat losing those United Mileage Plus Original miles yet. Miles expiring this month can now be used until December 31, 2000.
  • If you've been hunting for gym while on the road, check out The Fitness Guide--Where to Work Out When You're on the Road (Incline Press Publishing) by Kyle Merker. This guide offers information on health clubs, local gyms and hotel exercise facilities in 45 U.S. cities. To order, call (800) 343-4002 or visit http://www.forbes.com/fitness .
  • Which cities have the highest and lowest hotel taxes? According to a study by hospitality industry consulting firm PKF Consulting, you'll find the highest per-night tax in Columbus, Ohio, at 17 percent. The lowest? Las Vegas, at 8 percent.
  • Marriott Rewards is offering Double Bonus Points to all new enrollees. Frequent travelers enrolling in Marriott Rewards for the first time will double their base points for the first 120 days of membership. But hurry--the enrollment offer is good only through December 31.
  • If you're planning to stay awhile at your next travel destination, you may want to check out Extended StayAmerica Inc. hotels. Rooms go for as little as $199 a week, and amenities include fully equipped kitchens; on-site laundry, mail and fax delivery; a data port for Internet access; and free local phone calls and voice mail. For more information, call (800) EXT-STAY.
  • Hertz now allows Delta Air Lines SkyMiles members to earn miles at almost 2,000 airport locations worldwide. To earn the miles, advance reservations are required, and qualifying rentals must be made in conjunction with a flight.

Contact Sources

Dataquest Inc., (408) 468-8195, jonathancassell@dataquest.com

Hertz, http://www.hertz.com