Best Domestic Low-Fare Airline: AirTran Airlines
While other low-fare carriers are going out of business, feisty AirTran continues to grow by adding destinations and reducing fares throughout the eastern half of the country. AirTran serves both major metropolitan areas and small towns (38 total) from its hubs in Atlanta and Orlando, Florida. Last March, it announced a frequent-flier program that offers free trips on AirTran or 14 other U.S. carriers. That's in addition to offering business-class seats at the front of the plane that are no different from first-class seats on any other airline for just $25 more than its low walk-up fare. While the airline's fleet primarily consists of older DC-9's, it has purchased 50 new Boeing 717s that will be delivered starting next summer. ValuJet, which merged with AirTran last year, won Entrepreneur's award for Best Domestic Low-Fare Airline in 1996. For more information or reservations, call (800) AIR-TRAN or visit http://www.airtran.com
Best Trans-Atlantic Business Class: Continental BusinessFirst
A trip across the Atlantic can be as grueling as it is exciting, especially when you're traveling on business. And when you're shelling out more than $3,000 for a business-class seat, it had better be worth it. Once again, Continental Airlines has what it takes to provide true value. Several years ago when Continental was mired in bankruptcy, it had a vision: Despite the cost, it installed the roomiest and most comfortable business-class seats available on its airplanes. And the investment paid off. For the past five years, Continental's BusinessFirst cabin has been recognized by Entrepreneur and others for giving business travelers exactly what they want: a wide, cozy, electronically controlled seat; a good entertainment system; ample meals; a place to work; and award miles in a valuable frequent-flier program. And now that business is heating up south of the border, Continental offers BusinessFirst on flights to Bogotá, Colombia; Lima, Peru; Quito, Ecuador; Santiago, Chile; and Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, Brazil. For more information, call (800) 231-0856 or visit http://www.flycontinental.com
Best Trans-Pacific Coach Class: EVA Airways
Like Virgin Atlantic, Taiwan-based EVA Airways knows that a transoceanic flight can wreak havoc on a business traveler. And since business travelers typically pay more than vacationers, EVA has come up with an additional class of service called Evergreen Deluxe Class. For slightly more than the cost of an economy ticket, EVA gives Evergreen Deluxe passengers a wider, softer seat with leg rests, extra legroom, and an individual seat-back-mounted video system with six channels--handy on those 10- to 12-hour trans-Pacific odysseys. All flights stop in EVA's Taipei hub for connections to many other Asian capitals. EVA's younger-than-average jets touch down in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City and Honolulu. For more information, call (800) 695-1188.
Best Midpriced Hotel Chain: Hampton Inn
What's best about Hampton Inn? Consistency. At the more than 750 Hampton Inn hotels in North America, Chile, Costa Rica and Thailand, you can always expect a good night's rest at a reasonable rate. The hotels are located in high-traffic areas near full-service restaurants. All offer a free breakfast served daily in the hotel lobby, meeting space, free newspapers, pools and exercise rooms; all rooms include phones with data ports, coffee makers, irons and ironing boards. Since 1989, Hampton Inn has offered a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. In terms of value for dollars spent (on average, $65), a Hampton Inn is about as good as it gets. For more information, call (800) HAMPTON or visit http://www.hampton-inn.com
Best Trans-Atlantic Coach Class: Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy
Virgin Atlantic continues to grab our attention because it seems to be the only airline flying across the pond that is focused on making the long, cramped coach-class journey as painless as possible. Other airlines have given up on providing even a modicum of comfort and seem more focused on filling up the cabin than making it hospitable.
Virgin's most laudable effort is its Premium Economy section, which separates business travelers (those on higher full-coach fares) from backpackers and families. It's amazing what a little seat-shifting can do.
Virgin's Premium Economy offers a few more inches of leg and hip room and various goodies passed out by attentive and fun flight attendants who obviously love their jobs. For more information, call (800) 862-8621 or visit http://www.fly.virgin.com
Best Low-Priced Hotel Chain: La Quinta Inn
One of the most important features to look for in a budget hotel is the age of the property--or the date of its last major renovation. At the 270-plus La Quinta Inns, you'll find a less-than-3-years-old $120 million revamp of all 33,000 rooms. That means new bathrooms, drapes and carpet, phones with data ports, and brighter lighting.
La Quinta offers a free breakfast, free local calls, an oversized desk, a recliner, a swimming pool, space for small meetings and an adjacent restaurant--all for an average price of $58 per night. Like many other hotel chains, La Quinta offers a 100 percent customer satisfaction guarantee: If you're not happy with your stay, you don't pay. For more information, call (800) NU-ROOMS or visit http://www.laquinta.com
Best Hotel Value, New York City: Apple Core Hotels
These days, finding a value-priced hotel in New York City is almost impossible. Fortunately, a small chain of hotels is capitalizing on the cost-conscious mind-set of entrepreneurs. Apple Core Hotels renovated five centrally located, older boutique-style hotels and offers rooms at outstanding prices. All rooms feature cable television, phones with data ports, voice mail, coffee makers, irons and ironing boards. The average rate of $79 to $199 should appeal to value seekers. For more information, call (800) 567-7720 or visit http://www.applecorehotels.com
Best Hotel Value, San Francisco: Joie de Vivre Hotels
For the ideal combination of low rates and personality, try the offbeat but upscale 12-property Joie de Vivre chain. If, like many business travelers, you've grown weary of the tour bus and convention crowds that dominate the ever-popular City by the Bay, a stay at one of these small boutique-style hotels is like finding an oasis in the desert. While the properties have a whimsical style more befitting a weekend getaway than a business trip, most offer amenities that will help you get the job done during the week (some supply in-room laptops with Internet connections, printers and voice mail). The hotels offer all this at rates that start at $79--very inexpensive by San Francisco standards. And Joie de Vivre even offers corporate rates to repeat guests from small companies. For more information, call (800) 738-7477.
Best Hotel Value, Chicago: Hotel Allegro Chicago
Go ahead and indulge a little on your next trip to the Windy City. The upscale--but not uptight--Hotel Allegro is just the place to do it. Managed by the San Francisco-based Kimpton Group (winner of Entrepreneur's Business Travel Award for Best Hotel Value, San Francisco, in March 1996), the new Hotel Allegro Chicago offers 483 bright and funky rooms complete with CD players, honor bars, two-line speakerphones, hair dryers, irons and ironing boards. The hotel boasts "312 Chicago," a full-service bar and restaurant; an on-site fitness center; and plenty of meeting space. Rates start at $125--not bad for a new upscale hotel inside the Loop. For more information, call (800) 643-1500.
Best Car Rental service: Thrifty Car Rental
Once again, Thrifty Car Rental wins our praise as the car rental company most focused on small-business owners. Its combination of low rates, frequent-flier program tie-ins, multiple locations and efficient customer service comes without all the unnecessary bells and whistles offered by the major car rental companies. After five years of Thrifty winning this award, we can only find two faults: Thrifty agents seem overly zealous in trying to sell usually unnecessary collision insurance, and the company has recently imposed a few rate-expanding fees (like additional driver fees) that catch mostly happy repeat customers by surprise. Still, Thrifty is highly recommended. For more information, call (800) FOR-CARS or visit http://www.thrifty.com
- Budgetel (Baymont) (800) 428-3438
- Courtyard by Marriott (800) 321-2211
- Fairfield Inn by Marriott (800) 228-2800
- Hampton Inn (800) 426 7866
- Holiday Inn Express (800) 465 4329
- La Quinta Inn (800) 687-6667
- Microtel (888) 771-7171
- Red Roof Inn (800) 843-7663
- Sleep Inn (800) 627-5337
- Wingate Inn (800) 228-1000