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If 2006 business travel prices gave you sticker shock, be prepared for more drama in 2007. According to several industry reports, prices are projected to ratchet up for the fourth year in a row. The American Express "Global Business Travel Forecast," for example, estimates that the cost of the average domestic business trip will rise 4.5 percent in 2007. In some cities where hotel room rates have skyrocketed, expect increases of twice that much.
Does that mean road warriors have to sacrifice quality to snag a bargain? Thankfully, no. With our 2007 Business Travel Awards, we're distinguishing the travel suppliers who offer the best bang for your buck--or who can point you in the right direction.
Keep in mind that our awards aren't based on a reader poll or an empirical ranking a la Consumer Reports. Instead, it's our editors' choices of companies that do a great job of serving the road warrior--and the CFO.
Best Airline Value:
Practically from its first flight seven years ago, JetBlue Airways was lauded for transforming the discount travel experience. Founder and CEO David Neeleman had built a carrier that travelers really wanted to fly, regardless of price. On some routes, JetBlue could command slightly higher fares than the competitions' because customers got quality in-flight service, roomy leather seats, terrific in-flight entertainment and appealing snack options. Innovative special touches include Shut-Eye Service on red-eye flights from the West, which offers a comfort kit and a hot towel service in the morning. And unlike other airlines, JetBlue doesn't charge Draconian fees for changing plans midtrip.
Then came the ice storm in February that triggered an operational and customer service breakdown at JetBlue's main hub, JFK. Passengers were stuck on planes for as long as 11 hours. The cascading effect of grounded traffic at JFK meant thousands of travelers were stranded at other airports. But before the miserable week was out, Neeleman had new contingency plans in place and humbly apologized across several media. He then introduced a Customer Bill of Rights that included compensating passengers whenever long delays of JetBlue's own making occur.
Is the damage permanent? Probably not. Neeleman's candor ("I'm mortified," he admitted) and swift, substantive response is already earning grudging respect from customers. BusinessWeek may have yanked JetBlue from its list of top 25 "customer service champs," but we think the airline, ever the innovator, will fly through hoops to reassure customers that its meltdown was a fluke.
Best Budget Hotel Value:
When saving money is your top concern, Microtel can take some of the sting out of staying at a no-frills hotel.
Don't expect edgy interiors, but you will find clean, comfortable rooms, a decent complimentary continental breakfast, cable TV with a free movie channel and a built-in workspace. Window seats add a nice homey touch.
Every Microtel has interior hallways, electronic key cards and a front desk staffed 24 hours a day--all important safety features. Many Microtels also offer online preregistration for speedy check-in. There's even a frequent guest program that offers a free night's stay after nine stays at any location.
What also earns special praise is that Microtel offers--gratis--many of the special features that high-end hotels offer for a fee: Guests are treated to free wireless high-speed internet access in their rooms, plus free local and long-distance calls anywhere in the continental U.S. In fact, the only extra fees on your bill would come from a raid on the well-stocked vending machine.
Best Midprice Hotel Value:
Hilton Garden Inn
As business travel costs rise, saving money more often means booking a midprice hotel. Thankfully, at Hilton Garden Inn, "mid" doesn't mean mediocre.
When HGI was designed, the peeves and peccadilloes of the BlackBerry-toting, platinum-level road warrior were clearly taken into account. The details matter here, whether ergonomic, cosmetic or merely thoughtful. Forget your cell phone charger? You can buy one at the Pavilion Pantry mini-mart. Need to go online? High-speed internet access is free throughout the hotel. Need something printed? E-mail it to the hotel's 24-hour business center. Laser printing is free, as is the use of the photocopier and fax machine. (Standard office supplies are also provided.) If you work in your room, you'll be sitting on an insanely comfortable Herman Miller Mirra ergonomic chair at a spacious desk with plenty of outlets and dataports within easy reach. The high-end chairs are part of a recent brand refresher that also included a new kind of mattress with adjustable firmness and 26-inch flat-screen, high-definition TVs.Every HGI has a 24-hour fitness center and pool. If you'd rather work out in the privacy of your nicely deco-rated room, ask for the Stay Fit Kit when you check in. It includes a yoga mat, a medicine ball, elastic bands for resistance training and hand weights. You may never want to leave your room.