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Special Report: Business Travel

Business travelers have always had it rough. But over the past year, things have only gotten worse: cutbacks in airline and hotel service, pressure from employers to travel on the cheap, and, most irritating, security procedures and fare structures that seem to fluctuate daily. With the fall business travel season kicking into high gear, we've charted the most significant trends affecting business travelers, and provided strategies for navigating the changing terrain. Here's to happier trails.

Maximizing Coach Class

As companies continue to reduce budgets, these days few business travelers can book a seat in business or first class. Instead, more are buying discounted seats in advance and settling for coach.

Fortunately, not all coach is created equal. American Airlines set a new standard two years ago when it began adding three inches of legroom in coach, bringing seat pitch to 34 or 35 inches, depending on aircraft type. Its entire fleet has now been converted. The company has also installed power outlets for laptops on some coach seats on 82 percent of its fleet; ask for one when you reserve if you want to plug in.

Long-haul coach passengers on troubled US Airways might worry about the future of their miles, but they can console themselves by watching movies on demand at their coach seats. South African Airways, Lanchile, and Singapore Airlines are among the international carriers that also offer video-on-demand in coach. By the end of 2003, Cathay Pacific hopes to complete a fleetwide, cabinwide installation of in-seat power outlets and high-speed Internet ports.

Stateside, budget carrier Frontier Airlines has just signed with LiveTV, the same company jetblue uses to make satellite television available in every seat. Though their routes are not extensive, these all-coach, low-fare airlines are using such perks to entice business travelers: in a recent survey conducted by the Business Travel Coalition, nearly 70 percent of respondents said they plan to fly budget carriers more often this year.

Going After Upgrades

With more business travelers forced to fly coach, there's more competition for upgrades to the front. Fortunately, there are things you can do to maximize your chances.

Inside Flyer publisher Randy Petersen's Web site, mileagemanager.com, keeps track of your account information, automatically letting you know what you're eligible for and when. Webflyer.com ranks programs, based on its members' success rates in using miles. Its "weblink" feature updates you on frequent-flier promotions via e-mail.

According to Petersen, Northwest and Continental have two of the most agreeable programs for upgrades: both airlines automatically put elite-level passengers on standby upgrade, with a success rate of up to 75 percent.


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