What a Trip!

Looking to minimize surprises and maximize perks while on the road? Our picks for the best deals in business travel can help you on your way.

Travel suppliers have finally discovered the "unmanaged business traveler," a traveler typically from a small company without a corporate travel department to depend on to negotiate discounts, set a travel policy or keep that expense account nice and fat. An unmanaged traveler is a free agent--making decisions on the go, frequently paying out of his or her own pocket, and always seeking real value where he or she can find it. Sound familiar?

With business travel prices expected to increase over the next year, finding value for each dollar your company spends on business trips is more important than ever. With our 2006 Business Travel Awards, we aim to help you choose the travel suppliers that offer the most value--those that offer the best products or services at affordable prices. Remember, this is not a formal or scientific survey, it's a subjective selection of suppliers that we believe offer the most to value-driven business travelers.

Best Airline Value:
AirTran Airways and Jetblue Airways (TIE)

Now that the line between low-fare airlines and major airlines has blurred, we have merged the two previous airline award categories (best low-fare airline value and best major airline value) into a new best airline value award. But even with a single category, two airlines, AirTran and JetBlue, tie for the honor this year, and here's why:

We can't think of two airlines that have improved the business travel experience more for the greatest number of independent travelers. Fares are lower and restrictions fewer among nearly all airlines as a result of the influence of AirTran and JetBlue. Due to these carriers' practical and reasonable pricing policies, older carriers have had to revamp their obtuse pricing schemes, eliminate exorbitant fare premiums for last-minute purchases or changes, and jigger their websites to make booking easier and more transparent.

With cutting-edge entertainment such as free satellite radio (AirTran) or free in-flight satellite TV (JetBlue), the in-flight experience is now light-years ahead of the seat-back magazine or grainy overhead movie you'll still find on older carriers.

AirTran flies to 50 destinations, including its hub in Atlanta, where it is now the second largest carrier. All its new Boeing 717 and 737 aircraft have free XM Satellite Radio (100 channels of live news, talk, sports, music and games) built into the armrests of every seat. Unlike other low-fare carriers, AirTran offers two classes of service-coach and business class, with upgrades to its business-class cabin (nearly identical to first class on a major airline) going for just $35 to $75. For more information, visit www.airtran.com, or call (800) AIRTRAN.

JetBlue's main focus is New York City, where it connects Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark airports to 32 other destinations. You'll enjoy roomy, leather, all-coach seating (a tip: you'll get two extra inches of legroom if you choose a seat behind the wing) with 36 channels of free satellite TV on every seat back. All seats are assigned, all travel is ticketless, all fares are one-way, and an overnight stay is never required. Learn more at www.jetblue.com, or call (800) JETBLUE.

Best Budget Hotel Value:
Holiday Inn Express

Holiday Inn Express is a perennial Business Travel Award winner in this category, and we feel it's still the best, with the most locations, the newest properties, and nearly constant tweaks and improvements. Since its launch in 1990, Holiday Inn Express has been offering extras such as free breakfast and free local calls, which, in turn, have become standard at nearly all budget hotels.

To stay ahead of the pack, Holiday Inn Express now offers free in-room high-speed internet access at all hotels, hot cinnamon rolls at breakfast and a revamped SimplySmart shower program, featuring proprietary multifunction Kohler shower heads; thicker, 100 percent cotton towels and bathmats; shower curtains with curved rods (adding 25 percent more showering space); and an upgraded line of bathroom amenities.

The chain boasts more than 1,500 locations around the world. Recently, it has made its way into pricey downtown markets like New York City, Montreal and Toronto with high-rise hotels, offering an affordable and practical alternative to overpriced urban pleasure palaces. Average rates run from $60 to $90 (but can be higher or lower based on location and season). In addition, you can earn points in the popular Priority Club frequent-stay program. Check it all out at www.hiexpress.com, or call (800) HOLIDAY.

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This article was originally published in the April 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: What a Trip!.

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