Now that the major airlines have pulled the plug on travel agency commissions, many business owners are faced with a difficult choice: Either pay a higher booking fee for airline tickets (fees have doubled, according to the American Society of Travel Agents) or become your own agent.
Online retailers Expedia (www.expedia.com) and Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) offer special booking tools for business travelers, providing many of the features you would expect to find if your travel were managed by an agent. For example, Expedia lets you become a "Travel Arranger," which allows you to buy tickets for other people, such as co-workers, friends, or family members. Similarly, Travelocity's Business Travel Center designates a "Travel Manager" to make arrangements for employees.
The National Business Travel Association says more companies are bypassing travel agents and turning to the Internet for cheap fares. Earlier this year, the trade group asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate those prices, saying businesses should be able to access them through their agents' reservation systems.
But are the deals really better on the Web? Not necessarily. Linda Reding at Minneapolis-based Carlson Wagonlit Travel says that designating a travel manager to handle bookings enables you to track travel expenditures, "and that helps when you're trying to negotiate a better airfare."
Large travel agencies such as Rosenbluth International and American Express are trying to stem the loss of business customers by offering so-called "self-booking" tools-applications that allow employees to book trips themselves while staying within their employer's corporate travel policy. But new products are likely only to slow the trend.
Christopher Elliott is a writer and commentator and the editor of www.elliott.org.