Business travel is back: it's projected that U.S. travelers will take 145 million trips for work this year (up 4.6 percent from 2003). Here, 10 tips for road warriors.
1. Reconsider Low-Cost Airlines
Low-fare carriers are now flooding business routes. America West has added flights between Los Angeles and New York and between Boston and San Francisco. Delta's Song serves business hubs such as Las Vegas, JFK and La Guardia, LAX, Boston, and Atlanta. United's Ted recently began serving O'Hare, Washington Dulles, and Phoenix, among other airports. By the end of November, ATA will have added 12 business-class seats, in a two-by-two configuration, to each plane in its entire fleet of 737's and 757's. This month, Washington, D.C.-based former commuter airline Independence Air will have completed its rollout of 35 routes, none of which will exceed $163 one-way.
2. Take Advantage of Fewer Restrictions
Now that low-cost carriers—whose one-way fare structure eliminates mandatory Saturday-night stays—are flying business routes, major airlines are feeling pressure to do away with the restriction. Southwest and Frontier have recently moved into US Airway's Philadelphia hub; as a result, US Airways has eliminated its Saturday night-stay requirement. Continental has also waived it, depending on the fare and market. None of American Airlines' new flights between Dallas/Fort Worth and five Los Angeles-area airports impose the Saturday-night stopover.
3. Upgrade (It's Easy)
Airlines are extending new upgrade benefits to elite members and those buying an unrestricted economy class, or "Y" fare. Now members of American Airlines' AAdvantage Executive Platinum and Delta's Medallion clubs can get unlimited free upgrades on mostpublished fares within the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. American has reduced its fee for a 500-mile upgrade from $50 to $30, and Northwest Airlines' "Y-Up" is free for travelers paying a full-coach fare on some routes. (Platinum Elite members may upgrade a companion at no charge.) United, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines are also offering their elite members free upgrades to first or business class when they book full-fare economy tickets.
4. E-mail from the Sky
Earlier this year, Lufthansa became the first airline to offer in-flight high-speed wireless Internet access. By the end of 2006, the service will be on all 80 of its long-range routes, at a flat rate of $29.95. Emirates Airlines has equipped its long-haul flights with Wi-Fi hot spots at a rate of $20. Singapore Airlines plans to launch the service by the end of the year and roll it out on all its long-haul flights, as does ANA (formerly known as All Nippon). Japan Airlines will have Internet connectivity starting in December on flights between Narita and London. The fee on Singapore, ANA, and Japan Airlines will be $29.95 for a six-hour flight.
5. Fly All-Business
For those who miss the Concorde, a new kind of exclusive travel has emerged: all-business class service. Air France's Dedicate, five 82-seat A319LR's, flies mostly oil and gas executives to far-flung locations such as Kuwait, Doha, and Tashkent. Lufthansa has flown its 48-seat business jet between New York and Düsseldorf since 2002, but last year added Chicago -Düsseldorf and Newark-Munich routes. In January, Swiss International Air Lines begins flying a 56-passenger Boeing Business Jet between Newark and Zurich six times a week.
6. Rent a Jet
Business travelers who want the privacy of fractional jet ownership, but aren't ready to commit to high acquisition and maintenance fees should keep in mind that there are easier, less expensive ways to fly privately. The Marquis Jet Card, a kind of aviation debit card, buys 25 hours aboard NetJets, the largest fractional-ownership operator, which flies 518 planes to 140 countries. It costs between $110,000 and $300,000, depending on the route. Sentient Jet offers cards in either $100,000 or $250,000 denominations and has contracts with jet-charter companies across the country; these make their planes available on demand to Sentient Jet clients.
7. Don't Forget Day Rooms
If you get bumped or have a long layover, check into a day room. At Hong Kong International Airport's Plaza Premium Lounge, you can pay $20 to $77 to use shower facilities, private resting suites, and other amenities, including a full-service business center, a library, and a bar. (Plaza Premium also operates day rooms at Kuala Lumpur International, Singapore Changi, Sydney, and, most recently, Vancouver.) At Heathrow's Terminal 4, passengers can take a nap at the Radisson Edwardian Heathrow Hotel or use its Pegasus Health Spa.
8. Spring for the Club Floor
A surprisingly small premium can sometimes mean the difference between a regular hotel room and one that comes with access to a butler, a chef, and full business services. Roughly $60 buys an upgrade to the club floor at the InterContinental Hong Kong, with its Bulgari bath amenities, personalized business and concierge services, free local phone calls, unlimited high-speed Internet access, and a chef who will cook food to order. The club floor at Le Méridien Etoile, in Paris, has a meeting room, a private reception area, an outdoor terrace, and rooms with high-speed Internet access and Hermès amenities, all for $130 extra per night.
9. Stay at a Budget Boutique
Budget hotels, traditionally the realm of the road warrior, are getting a chic makeover. Choice Hotels, parent company to Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, and Econo Lodge, is planning to open a yet-to-be-named chain of 400-500 boutique-style hotels in 2005. Rooms will have flat-screen TV's and CD players; rates will hover at $90 per night. The InterContinental Hotels Group, which owns Holiday Inn, will launch the first of 200 Hotel Indigos this month, in Atlanta. Rooms will have hardwood floors and spa-like glassed-in showers and will cost $100 per night.
10. Sleep Tight
In the tradition of Starwood-owned Westin's Heavenly Bed, other hotel chains are developing bed-based promotions of their own. Radisson Hotels & Resorts will replace most of its 90,000 beds in 249 North American properties over the next two years with the Sleep Number bed by Select Comfort, which allows you to adjust the mattress's firmness by pressing a button; Sheraton (also Starwood-owned) now has the Sweet Sleeper; and Marriott's Courtyard and Hampton Inn hotels are getting bigger, thicker mattresses. Crowne Plaza Hotels & ResortsHotel Indigo, for its part, has introduced designated "quiet zones" and restricted housekeeping hours.