Good Ill Hunting

Getting the best deal from the ailing travel industry
This story first appeared in the January 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

If you're a business traveler, 2002 was a year you'd probably rather forget-between bankruptcy filings by airlines and car rental companies, service cutbacks and security delays. Will this year be any better? Experts think it may be just as difficult. A recovery in corporate travel may not come for another 12 months.

Airlines: Low fares will vanish, as could some carriers. "As airlines cut schedules, there will be fewer low-cost tickets," predicts PA Consulting airline analyst Addison Schonland. He believes 2003 could be the year of the no-frills carrier. Just in time: Some bigger airlines may not survive.

What to do: Consider moving to a low-cost carrier likely to weather the industry shakeout.

Hotels: It's good news for business travelers-but not for the lodging industry, which is struggling to rebound after a difficult two-year stretch. Brad Garner, a hotel analyst at Smith Travel Research, says an expected recovery for hotels has fizzled, leading to continued aggressive discounting. Downside: Many of the same hotels are making cutbacks in service and amenities.

What to do: It's a buyer's market. Don't be shy about negotiating for lower rates or upgrades.

Car rental companies: Though business travel is expected to remain flat, an uptick in leisure travel could translate into higher overall rates. "It's still an uncertain time," says Neil Abrams, a car rental analyst at Abrams Consulting Group Inc. "A lot depends on the mood of the traveling public."

What to do: Rental companies under bankruptcy protection are your best chances for a low rate. But protect yourself by using a credit card.


Christopher Elliott is a writer and commentator and the editor of www.elliott.org.

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