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The Winner's Circle

Times may be tough, but our 10th Annual Business Travel Award winners still make travel a pleasure.
April 1, 2003
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/60254

Sweeping change. revolution. upheaval. Transformation. Whatever you care to call it, the business travel market is experiencing it right now.

But even in these lean and uncertain times, our latest Business Travel Awards winners are still going out of their way to cater to business travelers' growing needs. Interestingly, several previous (some perennial) Business Travel Awards winners are the very companies that are flourishing today. Prior winners such as AirTran, Frontier and Southwest are now the darlings of the air travel market. Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express and W Hotels are leading the pack in their respective hotel segments in many ways. In addition, Payless and Thrifty are currently picking up where the major car rental companies have left off.

Because it's becoming increasingly important to get a bigger bang out of every business travel buck, we've found other companies worthy of joining the ranks of our previous winners. So look no further than our 10th annual Business Travel Awards for help in your search for value. This is not a formal or scientific survey, just a subjective list of suppliers who offer affordable options to value-driven travelers everywhere.

Best Car-Rental Company: Enterprise
With the airport "hassle factor" looming large in every business traveler's mind, more are opting to literally hit the road in a rental car instead of taking to the skies. But choosing the right car-rental company is an increasingly complex task for the value-conscious, independent traveler.

Best Car-Rental Company
Best Hotels
Best Airlines
Must Have Travel Gadgets

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE:Travel Trends for 2003!

Our suggestion? Enterprise. Why? Because you get exactly what you pay for--nothing more, nothing less--which is a good thing these days.

Don't expect fancy red carpets, onboard satellite radios, frequent-flier miles or other perks that bump up rates at other rental-car companies. At Enterprise, you'll find pleasant, helpful employees, easy reservations, well-maintained cars and low rates.

Visit Our Travel Center Get more business travel tips, tricks and tactics in our Travel Center.

By providing these basic features consistently, Enterprise has won the highest rankings in J.D. Power and Associates surveys for the past four years--unseating such perennial full-service rental-car companies as Avis and Hertz. Enterprise says that its success at airport locations is largely due to a winning combination of unique customer service and low rates, which usually run about 20 percent less than its competitors.

In addition, frequent car renters can nab even lower rates by simply signing up for Enterprise's Corporate Class program (call 877-881-5500 for more information).

While the company has been around for many years serving local markets, in 1998, it jumped into the airport market and is currently on-site at about 125 of the top U.S. airports. For more details, call (800) RENT-A-CAR or visit www.enterprise.com.

Best Hotels

Best High-End Hotel: Kimpton Group
You may not have heard of the Kimpton Group, but you've probably heard the name of at least one of its 40 stylish boutique hotels that combine both affordability with personality in 15 cities across the country--such as the Hotel Monaco in Denver and Washington, DC; the Vintage Park in Seattle; the Allegro in Chicago; or any one of 17 unique boutique hotels in the chain's home town of San Francisco.

The company's M.O. is renovating and repositioning old buildings into charming hotels which feature popular restaurants. Each hotel has a cozy, living room-like lobby where guests can enjoy a free wine-tasting session each evening.

Rooms feel almost residential and even a little bit funky--but don't be fooled by their quirky design. All the rooms are thoroughly modern, with, among other things, two-line phones; high-speed Internet access; new, oversized bathrooms; large, well-lighted desks; and fully stocked mini-bars.

Affordability is yet another important key to Kimpton Group's hotel success--rates run $100 to $200 per night, and they are usually about 25 to 30 percent less than other comparable hotels nearby.

To find out more about the hotel chain, call (800) KIMPTON or log on to www.kimptongroup.com.

10th Annual Business Travel Awards
 
Best Car-Rental Company
Best Hotels
Best Airlines
Must Have Travel Gadgets
 
 
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE:Travel Trends for 2003
 

Best Midpriced Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn
Once you've tried a Hilton Garden Inn, it's hard to go back to any other chain. Dipping into its deep and vast reservoir of experience in the hotel business, as well as a lot of customer research, Hilton created the Garden Inn concept in 1996 to help attract a new and growing breed of value-conscious business travelers: that is, those who are no longer willing to pay for the costly trappings of large-scale hotels but still need more than just the basic amenities the inexpensive budget hotel brands have to offer.

The 150-plus Hilton Garden Inns across the country (all newly built) deliver everything you need to conduct your business, including such amenities as an oversized desk and two-line phone, free high-speed Internet access and a convenient 24-hour business center.

If you plan on staying in the area for several days, you'll surely appreciate homey touches such as an in-room microwave, a mini-fridge and an easy chair with an ottoman. Don't feel like going out? You can swing by each hotel's 24-hour "Pavilion Pantry" for a snack, or eat at the hotel's full-service restaurant.

Sleep Soundly
Find links to hotel chains around the U.S. on our Travel Center.

The best part about the Hilton's new hotel concept, however, is its consistency: Each Garden Inn offers the same pleasant experience at reasonable rates that will keep you from blowing your travel budget (from $80 to $180 per night). Log on to www.hiltongardeninn.com or call (800) 445-8667 for further details.

Best Low-Priced Hotel: Holiday Inn Express
On any given evening, at any given freeway interchange, there are several economy hotels welcoming a mix of business travelers and vacationers. If there is a Holiday Inn Express in the area, it'll be the first to sell out of rooms for the night. That's because the chain's 1,200-plus properties consistently offer budget-minded travelers a fresh and uncomplicated hotel stay at a good price--about $65 to $85 per night, which includes a breakfast and free local phone calls.

If you're already on the Holiday Inn Express circuit, you'll be pleased to know the chain is upgrading its free breakfast offering, adding cinnamon rolls, gourmet coffee, and more protein and fresh fruit. Even better, the chain will add at least 100 new locations this year. For more information, call (800) HOLIDAY or visit www.hiexpress.com.

Best Airlines

Best Major Airline: America West
Have you flown America West lately? If not, it might be time to give the airline another try. After years of lagging at the bottom of on-time performance and complaint rankings, flirting with bankruptcy and angering customers, the airline installed new management, and, within months, a remarkable turnaround was underway.

First, the airline got its operational house in order, and now it sits at or near the top of on-time performance rankings. Last spring, the airline tackled the problem of an unwieldy, major-airline fare structure and threw it out.

In its place are simplified, business-friendly fares that offer customers reasonable prices on tickets bought on short notice, and with no aggravating "Saturday night stayover." These radical moves enraged major carriers, which retaliated with fare wars in America West's Phoenix and Las Vegas hubs. But America West hung on.

The plan is working. Bookings and revenues are up, delays are down, and America West is coming to the rescue of value-conscious travelers seeking an inexpensive way to fly between western cities, or from coast to coast.

For example, transcontinental travelers who are willing to make a quick stop at America West hubs in Phoenix or Las Vegas pay 40 to 70 percent less than those using nonstops on major airlines. Even better, America West also offers a 5 percent discount on all tickets to small companies that are enrolled in its Corporate Awards program (free enrollment online or call 800-601-6002).

10th Annual Business Travel Awards
 
Best Car-Rental Company
Best Hotels
Best Airlines
Must Have Travel Gadgets
 
 
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE:Travel Trends for 2003
 

America West is currently the eighth largest carrier in the country and flies to 92 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico. For more information, log on to www.americawest.com or call (800) 2-FLY-AWA.

Best Low-Cost Airline: Jetblue Airways
Skeptics scoffed when JetBlue took off for the first time from its hub at New York's Kennedy Airport in February 2000. There had been too many stories of airlines soaring momentarily, then ending up in the increasingly large dustbin of failed airline start-ups.

Take Flight
Find links to major airlines on our Travel Center.

But after three years of practical, well-thought-out expansion, and glowing reviews from passengers and the media, business travelers can't get their JetBlue tickets fast enough. Why? Because the airline offers just about everything a thrifty business traveler could want.

First, fares are low and simple to understand. Customer satisfaction levels are high because the airline flies only brand-new planes with assigned all-leather seats, which include in-seat DirecTV screens (broadcasting 24 channels live via satellite). It's also created a mod, easy-to-use Web site. JetBlue has created an air of "cheap chic" other airlines have found impossible to emulate.

The only downside is that JetBlue does not fly to more cities. Currently, it flies between 20 cities (mostly northeast corridor cities to and from Florida as well as to and from the West Coast) and is building a West Coast base at Long Beach Airport, 20 miles south of Los Angeles International Airport. For a route map, visit www.jetblue.com or call (800) JETBLUE.

Must-Have Travel Gadgets

Just in Case
Airlines are clamping down on the size and number of carry-ons. Fortunately, the luggage industry has risen--or in this case, fallen--to meet the challenge. Atlantic's Upright Virtual Office is a wheeled business case, computer case and overnighter in one. After 9/11, designers reduced its size so it can fit in even the tightest overhead compartment.

Another innovation: Tumi's Expandable Carry-On with Suiter, a compact carry-on with storage for hanging clothes and a back sleeve that slides over a wheeled bag. The bag features two outside pockets, a front storage compartment and a back compartment with a removable suiter with zip mesh pockets to let you get into and out of the luggage faster.

Jet-Set Headset
A new hands-free device is liberating business travelers from the handset. Plantronics' MX100 headset for mobiles phones uses new technology called "Flex Grip" so the unit won't slip off your ear. The company has also upgraded its noise-reduction technology so the person you're talking to can hear you even if you're sprinting through a terminal.

10th Annual Business Travel Awards
· Best Car-Rental Company
· Best Hotels
· Best Airlines
· Must Have Travel Gadgets
ONLINE EXCLUSIVE:Travel Trends for 2003

Pillow Talk
Travel can be a pain. That's why Dr. Scholl's introduced a line of cushions designed with travelers in mind. They're all made from high-density foam that responds to your body's heat and weight, then "remembers" its original shape. Among the new pillows are a U-shaped neck cushion for long flights and a lumbar cushion designed to fit behind your back on marathon car trips. If you're looking for more high-tech relief, try the battery-operated lumbar cushion with a massage motor that keeps a gentle, consistent vibration on your back.

Cool Tools
Ever been stuck at a hotel without a screwdriver? Or needed a pick to remove a phone line stuck in a jack? The McGuyver XT from Topeak is a new 16-function stainless steel tool in a magnesium body that includes a fork, bottle opener, screwdriver, can opener, scissors, saw, knife and tweezers.

Swiss Army also offers a comparably priced tool, the SportRatchet, which features a bottle opener, screwdriver, wire stripper and toothpick. It also comes with several sizes of wrenches. Though these gadgets can be useful, check them with your luggage, or they'll get confiscated.

Convenience Call
As far as wireless devices go, Hop-On's new disposable cell phone isn't much to look at. It's small, doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, and could almost pass for a toy. But the real beauty of the Hop-On is unseen: With 60 minutes of prepaid calling time, you get to skip the contract, plus avoid long-distance and roaming charges and other fees. Early reviews say despite its somewhat awkward appearance, the Hop-On is as easy to use as any portable phone. Once you're done, you can return the unit for a $5 rebate certificate, or just throw it away.

The Trends Affecting Business Travel in 2003

If you're a business traveler, you're a survivor. You've seen airlines, hotels and car rental companies come and go. You haven't let bankruptcies, the economic downturn or sky-high airfares keep you off the road. You flew after 9/11. Many of your colleagues gave up on travel a long time ago. Not you.

Here are the trends that will affect your next trip--plus the road warrior wisdom that will help you not just make it through another year, but also profit from it. Think of this as your very own roadmap for what's to come.

No Waivers, No Favors
The rules are changing for the jet set. Hard times in the airline industry are forcing the major carriers to impose new restrictions on you. They've added new ticketing fees and new charges on excess baggage and tightened their ticket re-use policies. What's different?

Road warrior wisdom: Many smaller airlines, such as Southwest and JetBlue, haven't followed the majors' rule changes. If you want to get around the new restrictions, consider flying on these no-frills carriers.

Every Laptop for Itself
Looking for reimbursement for a damaged laptop? Take a number. When the federal government began supervising the screening of airline passengers in 2002, responsibility for carry-on items damaged by screeners transitioned from the airlines to the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA). So what happens when a screener breaks sensitive technology, like a laptop or a personal digital assistant, as you're passing through a checkpoint? There's a government claims office, but be forewarned: It can be slow to respond.

Visit Our Travel Center
Get more business travel tips, tricks and tactics in our Travel Center.

In the first six months after the TSA took over security screening, it received 192 claims for damaged laptops. Only two were resolved. The TSA's Heather Rosenker says the agency is working to handle current claims--it's opened a toll-free consumer hotline at (866) 289-9673, for example--and it is trying to prevent future accidents by training new federal screeners on handling technology. But Rosenker admits that accidents do happen, and in a letter sent to travelers who file a complaint, TSA acknowledges that the claims process may take up to six months.

Road warrior wisdom: Leave your laptop at home if you can. Many hotels now offer business centers, often at no charge, where you can check e-mail and work on your presentation. You'll also go through the screening process faster.

Travelers Hit the "Delete" Button
Reformatting a laptop computer's hard drive is usually the last resort when a portable PC doesn't work. Not for business travelers. At a time when sensitive computer hardware is being run through airport X-ray machines, dropped and mishandled more often, hitting the "delete" button is frequently the first choice for troubleshooting.

"Travelers aren't waiting around to find out what the diagnoses is from a tech person back at the office," says Tom Coppola, a vice president for Connect Globally, an online mobile-computing store based in Longboat Key, Florida. "They're more and more empowered to make their own diagnosis now. And sometimes the cure is a little extreme."

Complete disk reformattings are up between 5 and 10 percent from a year ago, says Rebecca Patrascu, a technician for Novato, California, data-recovery company DriveSavers. "It's unfortunate," she says, "because frequently there are less radical alternatives, like data recovery or just updating the software drivers."

Road warrior wisdom: Most disk reformattings are overkill, according to the experts. The best safeguard against data loss is a reliable backup system--something many business travelers still lack.

Insisting on Insurance
Business travelers are buying more travel insurance than ever. Before the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, about 10 percent of travelers typically bought travel insurance. After 9/11, the industry average jumped to about 20 percent, insurers say.

Interest in insurance remains high today in part because of sustained terrorism fears and in part because of new airline rules that limit changes made to nonrefundable tickets. Road warriors worry that the new policies put their trips more at risk than ever.

There are three main types of travel insurance:

1. For business travelers, one of the most popular insurance options is the travel-cancellation policy, which typically costs 4.5 to 7 percent of the trip price. A cancellation policy helps you get your money back if you have to call your trip off. Most policies cover up to $50,000 per person.

2. Another policy, which became popular after the 9/11 attacks, is flight insurance, which starts at about $8 per flight. If you're killed on a plane, your beneficiaries will get about $250,000 worth of coverage.

3.Medical insurance policies, which range from $25 for a few days of coverage to annual policies in excess of $2,000, help pay overseas doctor bills that aren't included in your regular medical insurance. They also cover a medical evacuation, if needed. The coverage starts at about $50,000 for short trips and goes up to $1 million for a year.

Road warrior wisdom: Use what you've got before buying an insurance policy. Some homeowner or medical policies already cover parts of your trip, making extra insurance an unnecessary expense. Read those policies carefully before deciding what kind of coverage to buy.

A Surcharge on Your Rental Surcharge
As the car rental industry struggles to stay profitable, it continues to come up with innovative ways to separate you from your money. Here are three of the most common car rental "traps":

1. The price isn't always right. Whether you called a car rental company's toll-free number or booked your car online, the rate you're quoted may not be the price you'll pay. Why? Because other surcharges, such as airport concession fees, license charges and local taxes, are added to your bill when you settle up. There's almost nothing these companies won't charge for. The latest: a fee for airport security and an "air conditioning" surcharge.

2. Surprise! Insurance and gas are extra. Rental car agents are trained to sell optional insurance and fuel-purchase option plans. If you balk, they often try the hard sell, showing you pictures of damaged cars and asking "Do you really want to pay for that?" But if your auto insurance already covers it, you should resist.

3. Tricky contracts. Car rental companies love to point to the fine print when they drive up your final bill. "What, you didn't return your car with a full tank of gas? You'll have to pay for gas at quadruple the street price--it's in the contract. Did traffic hold you up on the way to the airport? Too bad, you have to pay for another day--it's in the contract." Never mind that it's unreasonable for us to be expected to read the contract from top to bottom before we drive away. Rental agencies know that.

Road warrior wisdom: Be aware of these tricks, and ask about any "surprise" surcharges before you rent your next car. And don't be afraid to use your preferred customer status as leverage to get the company to remove any unwanted charges from your final bill.


Christopher McGinnis is CNN Headline News' travel correspondent and the author of The Unofficial Business Traveler's Pocket Guide. Christopher Elliott is Entrepreneur's "Biz Travel" columnist.