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Good Ill Hunting

Getting the best deal from the ailing travel industry

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

This story appears in the January 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »