Entrepreneurs, whose travel expenses usually come from their own wallets and not from some deep corporate kitty, travel differently than average business travelers. Unlike expense-account-backed corporate travelers who concern themselves with frequent-flier miles, upgrades and the contents of the hotel minibar, small-business owners zero in on costs. Unfortunately, those costs keep creeping up.
But even in times of rising travel prices, there are still ways to keep things affordable--especially if you use suppliers that consistantly offer an affordable option to overpriced travel. Our seventh annual Business Travel Awards isn't intended to be an official ranking or formal survey, but rather a source of information for travelers who want both quality and value at reasonable prices. Also included are this year's innovations in business travel. So, without any further ado . . .
Christopher McGinnis, a CNN and The Weather Channel commentator, is the author of The Unofficial Business Travelers Pocket Guide (McGraw-Hill) and manages his own Web site at http://www.travelskills.com.
Christopher Elliot is Entrepreneur magazine's monthly "Travel" columnist.
Best Low-Fare Air Carrier
If it weren't for Southwest Airlines (SWA), the "granddaddy" of the low-fare airlines, most of the other small airlines busily creating a competitive air-travel marketplace would have nothing to aspire to.
True to its name, Southwest has long dominated the budget-travel scene between many Sunbelt cities. But due to overwhelming success, it has become strong enough to take on the major airlines on their high-priced turf in the Northeast, and, most important, the giant New York City market by serving Long Island's Islip-MacArthur airport. When Southwest announced plans to invade these areas, fares plummeted on not only Southwest, but also the major carriers serving those markets.
For business travelers, Southwest offers more than just low fares. It has one of the youngest fleets in the industry (8.4 years old, on average) and leads the pack in on-time performance. Its simple frequent-flier program is one of the easiest for securing award seats. Its no-nonsense Web site lets you make a reservation with as few as 10 clicks of the mouse. It serves less crowded, smaller and often gentler airports, eschewing most giant airline hubs. And, best of all, its average one-way fare is a very wallet-pleasing $79.
But don't expect a first-class section, an airport lounge or any on-board fare. Southwest proudly serves just light snacks and drinks, encouraging customers to bring their own food on board.
So even if you don't fly SWA, you can thank the airline for keeping the fares to and from the cities it serves affordable--and for providing a role model for other low-fare carriers doing the same in your hometown. For more information, call (800) 435-9792 or visit http://www.IFlySWA.com.
Best Budget Hotel Chain
Holiday Inn Express
It's been six years since we first recognized Holiday Inn Express in Entrepreneur's Business Travel Awards. Back in 1994, there were only 150 Holiday Inn Express properties in the United States. Now they total more than 1,000 worldwide. This phenomenal growth record is undoubtedly due to the company's diligence in appealing to value-oriented travelers who just want the basics. No bells, whistles or chocolates on the pillows, please. Just a fresh, clean room, uncomplicated amenities, a good location and a decent price.
Each Holiday Inn Express offers comfortable rooms; a free breakfast bar featuring fresh fruit, cereal and pastries; free local phone calls in the United States; voice mail; and points in the popular Priority Club Worldwide frequent-stay program that can be redeemed for merchandise, airline miles or free stays in the more than 2,800 hotels owned by the parent company, Bass Hotels and Resorts.
Holiday Inn Express locations are ubiquitous-initially, many were built along or near freeways, but now many more are springing up in downtown areas, suburban office parks and even small towns. Rates generally run from $60 to $90, but can vary. For details, you can visit http://www.hiexpress.com or call (800) HOLIDAY.
Best Midpriced Hotel Chain
Wingate Inns has quickly become a favorite of road warriors, growing from a single location in 1996 to 90 in just four years. Fans of the chain might cringe when reading this article, though--they'd prefer their new hotel find to remain a secret.
What's so great about a Wingate Inn? First, all are built from the ground up. All offer free high-speed Internet access in every guest and meeting room. Each hotel also provides thoughtful amenities, like automated check-in and check-out; in-room cordless phones; and two-line desk phones with all the necessary features. Wingate Inns also offer free breakfast as well as free local and toll-free calls. There's also free 24-hour access to usage of fax, printing and copying equipment, and wireless phones can be checked out from the front desk for use anywhere within the hotel. Each location also has a whirlpool and fitness room.
A key feature of this chain is consistency--you'll find all the above features in every hotel. Better yet, you'll find the price competitive (from $69 to $99) and without nickel-and-diming at the check-out desk. For details, call (800) 228-1000 or visit http://www.WingateInns.com.
Best Upscale Hotel Chain
Starwood Hotels' latest brand, W Hotels, is resonating with an underserved niche of the business-travel market, the under-40, newly wealthy, tech, design and media cognoscenti. (Starwood also owns the Sheraton and Westin hotel chains.)
This fast-growing group is already weary of big, beige hotel boxes. Its desire for something different is fueling the a new generation of modern boutique-style hotels offering both style and funk. You'll notice details like quick and easy Internet connections, voice mail, good coffee, comfortable beds, a healthy room-service menu and a lobby that's hip to hang out in.
W Hotels are now open in Atlanta, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. Twenty more are scheduled to open by the end of 2001 in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Washington, DC. For more information, call (877) W-HOTELS or visit http://www.Whotels.com.
Best Airline To Europe
Virgin Atlantic Airways
Most Europe-bound business travelers aren't able to take advantage of the deep discounts usually offered to vacation travelers. That's because low transatlantic fares must be booked far in advance and carry penalties for changes or refunds-restrictions business travelers find hard to live with.
Even worse, a business traveler who has paid $1,500 for a last-minute coach- class ticket is usually seated next to a family of six (including two screaming babies), who paid $399 for a round-trip special they booked more than a year ago.
Leave it to kicky Virgin Atlantic Airways to provide a solution to this seeming inequity: the Virgin Atlantic Premium Economy Cabin. Premium Economy tickets are fully flexible and won't penalize you for changing flight dates or times. You avoid lengthy airport lines, thanks to its dedicated check-in desk and use of Fast Track immigration (a shorter passport line). On board, there's a separate Premium Economy cabin featuring extra-wide seats with headrests, footrests and generous amounts of legroom. You can make your selection from a menu that offers three different meals, including a vegetarian option. Best of all, you can leave vacationers to the back of the plane and even get some work done.
Virgin Atlantic currently flies to London from Athens, Newark, JFK, Washington-Dulles, Chicago, Miami, Orlando, San Francisco and Los Angeles (Las Vegas by this summer). For details, call (800) 862-8621 or visit http://www.Virgin.com.
Everybody's Doing It
Now that Preview Travel and Travelocity have merged, what alternatives do you have for online booking? There remain several worthwhile destinations on the Web, including the newly combined Travelocity site. Take a look:
- Priceline.com: For last-minute travel, Priceline.com remains a hot destination. Know what the lowest published fare is on a route, and chances are you can get that price if you bid at the last minute. The same rule applies for bidding on rental cars: Know what the going rate is before sending in a bid.
- Trip.com works with unmanaged business travelers, offering a whole suite of applications that help you track your travel expenses and make the most of your frequent-flier miles. Of interest to frequent travelers is the IntelliTRIP function, a program that scours the Internet and finds the best travel deals for you.
- Biztravel.com is another site that lets you book trips and track your travel. This site--whose founding editor, Christopher McGinnis, co-wrote this Quick Guide--lets you accomplish many of the same things that Trip.com does, with a few variations. For example, a new feature called FareGuard ensures you the lowest fare until you depart. Another program sends flight information to your pager.
Insider tip: Don't forget travel agents. Bricks and mortar may be passé, but with airline commissions cut again, real-life retailers want to show their value. Agents are newly resolved to act as travel consultants.
Hitting The Road
Can in-room personal computers liberate travelers from the heavy laptops they tote around with them? At least one hotel chain thinks so. Choice Hotels International is installing PCs with high-speed Internet connections in its hotel rooms. Choice Hotels' project could represent the single largest investment in hotel computer technology ever, if not the beginning of a new trend in the business.
Guests will have free access to the Internet but they will be charged a fee to utilize the word processor and spreadsheet programs on the computer. Think of it as an in-room premium similar to pay TV or a minibar.
But will the offering attract business travelers trying to lighten their load? Choice Hotels' Anne Curtis says that it's looking that way. "So far the four test hotels have been extremely well-received. Over 50 percent of our guests are going online. Guests are delighted with the amenity," she says. The next six months will dictate this trend's future.
Insider tip: Even if in-room PCs become commonplace, they won't eliminate the need for portables. Some business travelers get a lot of their work done on the plane, where we're still a decade away, at best, from having reliable computing devices installed in the seatbacks. This may be best for travelers just looking for an easy way to check e-mail.
Tip Of The Tongue
Bridging language--and cutural--gaps when a business trip goes global
You're planning a trip to Poland. Quick: What's their currency and national air carrier?
If you answered the Zloty and Lot, you're a big winner. Now, for extra credit, what do the natives call their money? Answer: Forsa, pronounced Four-saw.
If you didn't do too well, relax. Now there's a series of laminated "periodic tables" that instantly clue you in on a country's money, language, culture and airline.
Minneapolis-based publisher John Freivalds calls his periodic tables "Guerrilla Linguistics" and describes it as "the ability to speak a client's culture, not just their language." For more information, call (612) 525-0731.
Insider tip: Freivalds' next project is the "Periodic Table of Toasts," which he says will help travelers "drink and toast themselves into stupor in 40 countries using the local poison." What some folks won't do for their businesses . . .
Who's In First
First-class amenities suffer as airlines look to slash costs.
The price of an unrestricted first-class seat remains sky-high--often thousands of dollars more than a comparable seat in coach. But first class isn't what it used to be.
On domestic flights, many airlines have done away with the cushier first-class amenities in efforts to cut costs. United Airlines further blurred the line between domestic economy and first class when it recently introduced its "Economy Plus," a new section between its first and economy classes.
And for frequent fliers who land an upgrade, expect several extra inches of legroom, but no more width. TWA's Trans World First seats, for one, aren't any larger than those in the main cabin of Midwest Express Airlines.
One airline is resisting the trend. Aloha Airlines, an intra-island Hawaiian carrier, recently reconfigured the premium sections on its Boeing 737 aircraft. But the redesign didn't just add four more first-class seats. Aloha also removed a row of seats from coach to expand legroom for all passengers.
Insider tip: If you can't land an upgrade, don't bother with the "in between" classes-head for the gate and ask for an exit-row seat. These seats typically have more legroom and no children, so they're quiet, spacious places where you can get a lot of work done.
Choice Hotels International Inc., (301) 592-5000, www.choicehotels.com.
Guerilla Linguistics, fax: (612)525-0659, email@example.com.
United Airlines/Buy Travel, www.buytravel.com