From the January 1998 issue of Startups

Making arrangements for business travel can be confusing for homebased entrepreneurs. The major carriers, such as Delta, United, American and Northwest, as well as the low-fare carriers, have their pros and cons--and their myths. Let's explore them.

Myth #1: You'll always save a bundle using low-fare carriers, especially on walk-up fares. A random call to a travel agent found the price for a one-way, walk-up flight from Louisville, Kentucky, to Atlanta on ValuJet (now called AirTran) was $109; on Delta the rate was $159. Quite a savings. Another call yielded very different results, however. The walk-up, one-way fare for a flight from Atlanta to Boston was $149 on ValuJet and $132 on Continental.

Myth #2: You'll always find substantial savings on tickets purchased in advance. Most major carriers match low-fare carrier prices and sometimes lift the Saturday night stayover requirement. The best advice is to search for the best rates, keeping in mind that because fares are lower across the board in cities where low-fare carriers fly, you may want to support the low-fare carriers to keep prices competitive in those markets.

Myth #3: Stick with an airline from which you can earn frequent flier miles. Beware! Frequent flier programs are usually suited to business travelers flying on the corporate dole, typically not concerned with the price of their tickets. As a homebased business traveler most likely on a tight travel budget, you probably don't have this luxury. Before you think you're missing out on all the great savings and free trips, consider this: Each mile earned in a standard program is only worth about 2 cents. Join the frequent flier programs of the major carriers if you fly them, but don't fly them simply because of their programs.

Meet Me In St. Louis

Homebased entrepreneurs rarely have the luxury of a satellite office to hold those important meetings on the road. Setting up a meeting out of town can be a relatively easy task, however, if you know where to look.

Start by establishing a relationship with a travel agent. Word-of-mouth recommendations are your best bet when it comes to this invaluable resource--a good agent will know the ins and outs of meeting places in your destination city. Also, don't forget about chambers of commerce, which have a wealth of resources on the facilities available in their cities.

To find a great place to hold your meeting, you need look no further than your hotel. For instance, Hilton recently introduced Hilton Garden Inns, its "four-star lodging at a three-star price" (about $70 to $90 a night for the room). The hotel not only features business-oriented amenities inside each room but also a free, 24-hour Business Center and two to four meeting rooms that can be reserved in advance to accommodate small to medium-sized groups. The charge for these extras is usually about $100.

Summerfield Suites Hotel, another mid-priced hotel chain, provides guests with a wide range of rooms and amenities. Meeting rooms can be reserved for as little as $75 a day, and audiovisual equipment is available for a nominal charge.

Successfully arranging all the details of your out-of-town meetings puts you in the driver's seat, impresses clients . . . and just may help you seal the deal.

Stay In Touch

Leaving your home office for an out-of-town destination involves preparation and planning, but it shouldn't include worrying--at least not about how to keep in touch with your office while you're on the road.

First, before leaving, let your most important contacts know you'll be out of town and when you'll be back. Also be sure to leave a message on your answering machine specifically stating how long you'll be gone, when you'll be back and, most important, how often you'll be checking your messages. Customers and clients want to feel secure that you'll get back to them as soon as possible. For instance, let your clients know you'll be checking messages each day at 1 p.m., and then return calls the same day to anyone who needs to speak with you immediately.

Finally, take advantage of e-mail. It's an excellent alternative to traditional forms of communication--and less expensive. Check with your hotel to see what kinds of business services (free faxing, e-mail service, etc.) they offer guests, and don't be timid about using them. Staying in contact with your clients while you're on the road will not only keep them happy, but it will make your life less hectic when you return.

Quick Tips

*Northwest Airlines now offers free first-class upgrades to many long-haul passengers who choose to connect through Detroit; Minneapolis; or Memphis, Tennessee, instead of flying nonstop on other carriers. The "ConnectFirst" program may cost a little more than the full coach fare, but the perks may well be worth it.

*Management consulting firm Runzheimer International predicts business travel costs will increase 4.7 percent in 1998, with hotel costs up 6 percent, airfares up 5 percent, car rentals up 4 percent and meals up 2 percent.

*Beginning next year, Delta Air Lines' Medallion and Gold Medallion fliers will get fewer 800-mile upgrade coupons--four to be exact (they used to receive eight as miles accumulated). Platinum members will continue to receive unlimited 800-mile segment upgrades.

*According to the 1997 OAG Business Travel Lifestyle Survey, which polled the world's most frequent business travelers from nine countries, 62 percent regularly use travel agents for planning air travel.

*Want to go online to get information on your next business trip? Try Yahoo! at http://www.yahoo.com . By clicking on the travel category, business travelers can be immediately linked to an array of valuable information, such as business travel articles, travel tips and hints on trip planning and booking.

*Be on the lookout for new cordless speaker phones in hotel rooms nationwide. Ramsey, New Jersey-based AlphaNet Hospitality Systems Inc., a telecommunications company for the hospitality industry, recently rolled out its new InnPhone product, allowing hotels to offer hands-free speaker phones in their guest rooms.

One Call

By Charlotte Mulhern

Imagine never again missing important phone calls, faxes or e-mail. NetCall Telecommunications Services Inc.'s PersonalOffice makes it possible.

Customers are assigned one toll-free number that works for their Internet mailbox, fax machine, voice mail and pager. Here's how it works: You're at the airport, but a client sends an urgent fax to your office. PersonalOffice notifies you of the fax via pager and allows you to print it out from any fax machine worldwide. The same goes for e-mail. And if you're expecting an important call, you can program three locations to ring simultaneously. It costs $25 to activate a PersonalOffice account; the cost for a 12-month contract is $9.95 a month, with a per-minute charge of 19 cents. For more information, call (800) 944-5800.

Desk A Go-Go

By Charlotte Mulhern

Working out of your car isn't easy--especially when you have files, pens, notebooks, cellular phones, calculators and a laptop computer to keep track of. Try the Executive Auto Desk, a mobile professional's dream come true.

General contractor Don Storholm, frustrated after years of disorderliness, created the product in 1993 with the help of his wife, Sharon. The portable desk fits securely on the passenger seat, provides ample room for writing on a nonslip surface, and has numerous built-in storage compartments for pens, paper clips and other accessories. An optional, detachable file box allows you to organize papers, and openings in the back of the desk allow for laptop and cellular phone power lines.

Business owners can choose from two sizes--for bucket or bench seats. Prices start at $280. To order, call Associated Contractors Inc. at (612) 888-4106.

Contact Sources

AlphaNet Hospitality Systems Inc., (800) 301-3522, mark.holzberg@alphanet.net

Associated Contractors Inc., 215 W. 102nd St., Bloomington, MN 55420, (612) 888-4106

Doubletree Hotels Corp., 410 N. 44th St., Phoenix, AZ 85008, (602) 220-6666

Hilton Hotels Corp., 9336 Civic Center Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, (800) 286-0645

NetCall Telecommunications Services Inc., (800) 944-5800, (617) 487-2220

Runzheimer International, (800) 558-1702

Summerfield Hotel Corp., 8100 E. 22nd N., Bldg. #500, Wichita, KS 67226, (316) 681-5100.

Catharine Brockman Kuchar is an Atlanta business-travel writer. She also runs a homebased desktop publishing design company.