Ah, the holiday season! It can be the best of times and the worst of times for frequent travelers. For those aiming for the positive, here are six mistakes to avoid as you hit the roads and the skies in coming weeks.
MISTAKE #1: Shorting yourself on travel time to the airport.
Many fliers test the limits of time needed to travel to the airport, which is risky at this time of year. So be sure to leave enough time to arrive to the airport stress-free. Airlines have reduced fleet size in recent years, but demand is rising. This means nearly every plane will be full if not sold out during the upcoming peak Holiday season. If you miss your flight, the likelihood of getting on the "next flight out" is very small. You could end up waiting a day or two, which could spoil your entire trip. (Especially important for families traveling together! It's one thing to re-accommodate a single traveler on a later flight....but it's a different story for a family of four.)
When you hit the road on business, isn't it nice to land in a place where everyone seems happy? It makes the trip so much easier- you feel more productive, content and engaged in your surroundings. Being in a happy city makes you want to invite someone special to join you when your trip is over to enjoy a long weekend--or longer!
That change in the slant of the sun's rays and that ruddy tinge on the trees means now's the time to start planning for the holiday travel season, which includes Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Just like the recent peak summer travel season, travelers should expect crowds, lines and higher prices. Some advice:
If you are planning to fly home or away on the peak travel days around Thanksgiving, now is the time to book your flights. High demand means that deals will be few and far between, so booking early this year is all about getting the most convenient flights at the best times, as well as the best seat assignments. Putting off booking Thanksgiving flights until after October 15 means you'll likely get stuck paying a high price for an inconvenient or uncomfortable flight.
Every year at about this time, the largest travel buyer in the country, the US General Services Administration (GSA), publishes its annual per diem rates for business travel. Per diem rates are more about staying there than getting there--they include an allowance for lodging, meals and incidental expenses, but do not include transportation costs.
This year, the standard per diem rate (effective Oct 1) across the continental US is $129 ($83 for lodging, $46 for meals and incidentals). However, these rates vary widely based on location and season, so the GSA per diem web site provides rates for specific destinations and times of year. The GSA says that its per diems are typically about 5% less than the market rate.
In case you've not noticed yet, business travel has really taken off this year. You can see it in the packed planes-- when was the last time you had an empty seat next to you? The frequent hotel sell-outs-- how many times have you been turned away from your favorite Best Western? The traffic. And of course, the rising prices?
To help celebrate the one-year anniversary of Best Western's pioneering I Care Clean program, I worked with travel expert John DiScala (aka JohnnyJet) on a Twitter chat devoted to the subject of Hotel Hygiene.
The popular chat drew thousands of tweets (and retweets!) and resulted in some great tips from experts and frequent travelers for staying clean when staying at hotels.
Think about this: One million Best Western Rewards points would buy 38 $100 gift cards from Best Buy. The $3,800 could be used to buy a new flat screen TV and home theatre system your family could enjoy when you are out on the road on business trips--not to mention that it would be a perk you'd enjoy when you are home on weekends!
Summer is just around the corner, and it's time to start making plans for business trips and vacations. Here's Part One of my advice:
Is there any way to dodge pricey flights this summer?
With airfares skyrocketing and "deals" increasingly hard-to-find, budget conscious business or leisure travelers might consider more trips by car this summer.
The world economy is recovering... but the recovery is uneven, and that's illustrated in how business travel costs have increased, decreased or remained about the same in various regions.
For example, hotel and food costs have jumped in fast growing places like Canada and South America. But there are also regions such as Europe or India where prices declined, indicating slow or no economic growth.
Despite all the attention paid to air travel, most business travelers hit the highways much more often than the skyways. As summer vacation season approaches, more families will be hitting the highways, too.
At the same tine, the economy is sputtering back to life, and more large trucks are hitting the highways, too, making sharing roads with the big rigs increasingly common--and crowded.
As most of us are still hitting the "defrost" button every morning when we jump in the car... or watching airport workers blast the plane with de-icing fluid... Americans are starting to think and dream about vacation, and finding some balance in their lives. Last week, the New York Times opined about our frustrations with finding balance.
Have you taken a meaningful break lately? One where you could truly "get away from it all?" There is increasing evidence that the pressures of work and the proliferation of new tools like smart phones and tablets are making it tougher to truly let go. For example, a new survey by Best Western reveals most Americans (62%) feel that work frequently keeps them from relaxing while on vacation.
Combine a long, cold winter, spiking gasoline prices, and an improving economy. Then fold in an early Easter and you have the recipe for what could be a very crowded and expensive spring travel season. Already, advance bookings for March at Best Western's 2000+ hotels in the US are up 8.9% compared to this time last year.
To avoid the highest prices and the possibility of sold out flights, hotels or rental cars, those planning March trips should make reservations as soon as possible-- especially if headed to popular spring break destinations such as Florida, the Gulf Coast, Rocky Mountain ski resorts and Mexico.
Despite the current deep freeze across much of the US, it's time to start focusing on Spring Break... and how a very busy March is going to impact your business trips.
With Easter coming early this year (on March 31), families, students and business travelers are on a collision course during the month of March. The peak in demand means that March is going to be an unusually expensive and crowded month for travel, so plan accordingly.
Did you know that right now... in early January... is the cheapest time of year to travel? We are in the midst of what are known in the industry as "dead weeks" and travel bargains abound.
The dead weeks are a good time for business travelers on a budget to get out there and dig up some new business face-to-face. It's also a great time for leisure travelers with flexible schedules to take advantage of amazingly low rates for quick last minute getaways.
As 2013 approaches, it's time for me to peer into my trusty crystal ball and attempt to decipher what's in store for business travelers in the coming year. Here's what I'm seeing:
As demand for travel in the US increases, so will prices. But not by much--there is still enough economic uncertainty out there to keep inflation in check. So when all is said and done, I think we'll likely be spending about 5% more on travel in 2013 than we did this year.
A brand new-from-the-ground-up Best Western high-rise hotel in New York City? You bet! The new BEST WESTERN PREMIER Herald Square Hotel is slated to open later this winter, and on my last trip to NYC, I took a quick hardhat tour.
Click on the video above for a slideshow of this exciting new property!
Flying during the holidays means paying a premium of anywhere from 30% to 70% compared to other times of year--especially on long haul flights. Christmas/New Year's holiday period airfares are running at an average $454 this year, up 5% from the same period last year when they were $434. Average fares during the peak Thanksgiving period are only slightly less, averaging $442, which is also up 5% compared to last year.
This is going to be a tough week for business travel, no matter where you are headed.
That's because the nation's air travel network is deeply tied to getting people to or from the "Megalopolis" which extends from Washington DC to Boston. And the megalopolis is essentially shut down to air and rail travel today through at least Wednesday.
If you are flying anywhere this week- even if your itinerary does not have you anywhere near the Northeast, your flight could be affected due to the ripple effect of this storm.
Business travelers are becoming more and more mobile. Increasingly, they are un-tethered to strict rules about how much time they spend at headquarters.
As a matter of fact, many frequent-traveling executives may not even have permanent office space at all any more, as the trend toward "hoteling" office space becomes even more widespread. (Office hoteling refers to the practice of providing office space to employees on an as needed rather than on the traditional constantly reserved space.)
By now you may have read my post from last month about the outlook for the fall travel season.
The lead on this post read: Election-year uncertainty and a weak US economy combined with higher gasoline prices, airfare and hotel rates have not deterred American travelers this summer, and healthy demand should carry on into the fall months.
Election-year uncertainty and a weak US economy combined with higher gasoline prices, airfare and hotel rates have not deterred American travelers this summer, and healthy demand should carry on into the fall months.
This year, the fall travel season begins just after Labor Day (Monday, September 3) and extends through mid-November when demand begins to rise in anticipation of a relatively early Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 22).
Most studies show that between 80% and 90% of business travelers now carry smart phones. While these slick new devices are certainly "smart," using them overseas can be very expensive. If you worry that it might cost you a fortune to turn your phone in other countries, here are some tips that should help ease your mind...and your travel budget:
I'm going to stick with the hotel wi-fi theme introduced in a previous post this month because there's a new study that shows just how important this issue has become to business travelers around the world.
It's not just Americans who need a high-speed internet fix when traveling on business or vacation. Some 95% of respondents in a recent survey among business travelers from Europe and the Middle East admit to taking their mobile devices on vacation for work as well as personal use. More than half (56%) of respondents said that they used their mobile device for accessing work e-mail or downloading work documents when on vacation-- an increase over last year's figure of 48 percent.
It's more likely than not that the business traveler you are seated next to on the plane, or bumping elbows with at the hotel breakfast bar works for a small or medium sized company. And it's likely you'll see more of this kind of traveler out and about in the coming year, according to a new survey from American Airlines.
In a June survey of 1,100 of travel managers at small and medium sized companies, 71% said that the economic outlook for their firms should improve in the next 12-18 months. Despite the current mixed data about the state of the US economy, 86% of these companies expect their travel to increase up to 24% over the next year. A very optimistic 6% anticipate an increase of more than 25%.
Hotel wi-fi has been in the news a lot lately-- for example, a recent and widely read article in USA Today suggested that some of the biggest hotel chains in the US are now considering adding new charges for in-room wi-fi.
But few hotels that have offered wi-fi for free in the past are now charging for it. Instead, they are moving to a tiered offering.
Rapidly falling gasoline prices are prompting Americans to cast away their economic fears and hit the road on vacation this summer... in droves! As a matter of fact, advance bookings for trips from June through August at Best Western are up a whopping 22% compared to this time last year.
Across the US, gas prices are tumbling. Remember back in April when the price per gallon neared the psychological limit of $4? Everyone was predicting that it could reach $5 by the peak summer driving season...
Increasing consumer confidence in the US, moderating gasoline price increases and the release of pent up demand for vacations will likely lead to an extremely busy summer travel season. This means business and leisure travelers should be formulating plans and making reservations now to avoid high prices or sellouts later this summer.
This year, the peak summer travel season begins around June 15 and lasts until about August 24.
In 2011, spending on business travel continued to grow as the economy began a slow climb out of recession. As usual, most of our travel budgets were gobbled up by airfare and lodging costs.
In the US, airfare rose about 7% and hotel costs rose about 4% compared to 2010 according to Concur, which helped large companies process about $50 billion in travel and entertainment expenses last year.
Is web-based technology such as video conferencing replacing business travel?
Well, you would have thought so in the deepest, darkest days of the recent "great recession." Remember the media frenzy surrounding business travel boondoggles and the so-called "AIG effect" when many observers predicted the demise of business travel as we knew it?
It's no secret that most of Best Western's best customers commute to work-- either across town or across their state or region. In a recent survey, 63 percent of Best Western Diamond 100 members revealed that they drive instead of fly on nearly all their business trips.
With that in mind, the infographic below provides an interesting snapshot of what too much driving can do to us.
For example, research shows that couples in which one partner commutes for more than 45 minutes each day are 40% likelier to divorce!
Here's the third in my series on the issue of "frequent travel guilt." I'm writing these posts in response to a recent Best Western survey of 500 business travelers where 62% said that they feel guilty while on the road for work. Most say that the remorse comes from being away from loved ones. They can't stand missing special events at home like birthdays and anniversaries. They said they felt bad about unhealthy on-the-road eating habits and the disturbance to their exercise routines.
While my previous posts about travel guilt have focused on what frequent travelers can do to make life better for family members left behind, this post focuses on the opposite--what a stay-at-home spouse can do to spruce up the business traveler's less-than-glam on-the-road existence.
Here's the second in my series on the issue of "frequent travel guilt." I'm writing these posts in response to a recent Best Western survey of 500 business travelers where 62% said that they feel guilty while on the road for work. Most say that the remorse comes from being away from loved ones. They can't stand missing special events at home like birthdays and anniversaries. They said they felt bad about unhealthy on-the-road eating habits and the disturbance to their exercise routines.
Does this sound familiar? If so, stay tuned to my posts this month, all of which will delve into the problems and solutions around "frequent travel guilt."
In a recent Best Western survey of 500 business travelers, 62% said that they feel guilty while on the road for work--with most saying that the remorse comes from being away from loved ones. They can't stand missing special events at home like birthdays and anniversaries. They said they felt bad about unhealthy on-the-road eating habits and the disturbance to their exercise routines.
Does this sound familiar? If so, stay tuned to my posts this month, all of which will delve into the problems and solutions around "frequent travel guilt."
With the economy, the temperature and the price of gasoline on the rise, business and leisure travelers should prepare for larger crowds and higher prices during the peak spring break travel season. This year, the peak spring break travel season begins on March 5 and lasts until about April 10.
To avoid the highest prices and the possibility of sold out flights, hotels or rental cars, those planning trips in March or early April should make reservations as soon as possible--especially if you are headed to popular spring break destinations such as Florida and other destinations along the Gulf Coast.
Did you know that small businesses employ more than half of all US workers? These all-American companies are poised to hire even more as economic and employment trends in the US begin to brighten.
For example, medium-sized businesses added 72,000 new jobs in January, and small businesses added an astonishing 95,000 new employees, according to new data from ADP, a payroll processing company. In the same month, large companies in the US added only 3,000 jobs.
Winter is here, forcing many of us into close quarters with others in planes, trains and automobiles. Unfortunately, cold and flu viruses come along for the ride, and end up infecting a significant number of travellers. But it doesn't have to be that way.
Nearly every frequent traveler has heard that the most handled thing in a hotel room is the TV remote, right? Starting this year, one of the first things you'll notice when you walk in your room at a Best Western is the new "fresh remote"--which has been specially sanitized by housekeepers, then slipped into a hygienic wrap. This is part of Best Western's new "Extreme Clean" campaign that you'll be hearing more about in coming months.
I've gazed into my crystal ball, and here's what I'm looking forward to in 2012 on the business travel front:
1 - With the US economy improving slowly, I expect to see equally slow growth when it comes to corporate travel budgets--so don't expect your company to loosen the reins any time soon. The good news is that I don't think we will see as many budget cuts and controls as we've seen in recent years. Midscale hotels like Best Western that include extras like breakfast, wi-fi and parking along with a reasonable rate will continue to be a travel budget's best friend.
Best Western's best customers tend to drive on business trips much more often than they fly, so this post should make them (and their loved ones) happy.
According to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), roadway fatalities and injuries fell to their lowest rates...ever... in 2010. The record-breaking decline occurred even as Americans drove nearly 3 trillion miles last year.
NHTSA says that the improvement is a result of three key factors:
With airlines cutting back or cutting out service to smaller towns across the US, it's increasingly likely that business travelers will be picking up rental cars at major airports, and then driving to small town destinations. While rental car prices are expected to remain relatively flat in the coming year due to increased competition, it's still smart to shop around for the best rate. Here are some tips on how to do that:
Have you ever wondered how your fellow Americans feel about travel? Poll Position, a new company that conducts a wide variety of scientific polls, zeroed in on travel lately, and the results are interesting.
According to a recent poll of 1,179 registered voters, 74% said that they'd traveled outside the US while 22% said they had not. Those who classify themselves as "Independents" made up the largest group of international travelers, with 80% saying they have traveled outside the US. Republicans traveled outside the US in larger numbers, with 74% saying they've taken a trip outside the US compared to Democrats, among whom 68% said they'd traveled beyond borders.
Best Western's most frequent guests spend days, weeks or months on the road, often leaving loved ones behind as they carve out a living in far-flung places.
With that in mind, I thought I'd share some tips and advice from consultants, authors (and frequent business travelers) Doug and Polly White on keeping the spark alive under the strain of a long distance relationship.
All business is cyclical. You heard that in business school and see it in how your company's fortunes rise and fall in patterns over time.
The travel industry is no different. Throughout the year, there are predictable peaks and valleys in demand and pricing. Travelers who study them save the most money and have the most comfortable trips.
Last month the folks at Best Western challenged me to spend as many Best Western Rewards points as possible on a business trip. The idea behind the exercise was to illustrate just how diverse loyalty programs can be.
While most frequent travelers prefer to use points for free nights, there's a whole world of redemption opportunities out there -- just check the "spend points" tab on the Best Western Rewards website and you'll see what I mean. And if you are earning double rewards points this fall, it should be easier than ever.
Ahh September, the traditional kick-off to peak business travel season. Road warriors everywhere can now reclaim their space at airports, on planes, on freeways and at hotels. But given recent fluctuations in financial markets and economic uncertainty . . . what is it going to be like out there over the next 4-6 months? Are travelers cutting back? Are fares and rates rising or falling?
One of the best things about living in Northern California is easy access to places like the Napa Valley and big name events like NASCAR races at the Infineon Raceway, located about 45 minutes north of San Francisco.
Best Western's most frequent guests spend a lot more time in cars than they do on planes. In a recent survey, 63 percent of members of the Best Western Diamond 100 advisory board said that nearly all of their business trips are road trips.
If you one of those road warriors who spend a lot of time behind the wheel and have been watching gas prices average nearly a dollar more than last year, this should be music to your ears.
The Global Business Travel Association has released the 2011 findings from its annual study of car rental, hotel and meal taxes in the top 50 U.S. travel destination cities- and the results might surprise you. For example, cities in Florida and California are cited as having the lowest taxes.
All taxes are not the same...some specifically target travelers, like Phoenix's $2.50 rental car fee that goes to the "Maricopa County Stadium for debt retirement." Or the 5% rental car tax imposed by San Antonio to fund "youth and amateur sports facilities."
When trying to understand or sell something to large and diverse groups, it's human nature to try and fit different types of people into neat categories or pigeonholes. Divide and conquer as they say.
Hoping to get a better grip on the large and fast growing population of business travelers, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) recently released a study identifying five segments of business travelers in the market today based on their travel goals, characteristics, technology usage and demographics:
Despite the economy hitting a "soft patch" in the recovery from the recent recession, business travel spending remained steady through the end of June, according to the Global Business Travel Association's latest Business Travel Quarterly Outlook.
Continued business travel spending suggests the U.S. economic recovery will march on and resist a backslide or double-dip recession despite setbacks like rising oil prices, natural disasters, slowing global growth, and shaky consumer confidence. GBTA points to strong corporate profits, pro-travel sentiment on the part of company management, growth in emerging countries and rising travel prices as indicators of continued growth.
As technology improves and state governments become more cash-strapped than ever, an increasing number of road warriors are getting caught speeding or running red lights by cameras instead of cops.
The problem for business travelers comes when their infraction happens in a faraway place. By the time they get home and get the camera-generated ticket in the mail, they are long gone and unlikely or willing to return to contest it. So they typically just pay up.
Best Western's most frequent guests drive much more often than they fly, putting thousands of miles on their cars each year. In a recent survey, 76 percent of Best Western Diamond 100 members reported that nearly all their business trips are taken primarily by car or truck. Sixty percent drive cars or trucks that are less than three years old, which means they are not only frequent drivers, but frequent buyers of cars.
Nobody likes to pay extra. Everybody hates that feeling of getting "ripped off."
That's one of the best things about Best Western...there are rarely any surprises at check out. That's because nearly anything "extra" a business traveler could need is usually included in the rate.
It's a different story with airlines. Over the last two or three years, they have changed their pricing model to offer basic air transportation only, then add on fees for what they feel are "extras." Their decision to adopt this new strategy has been a major factor in US airlines' profitability--additional revenue from fees amounted to nearly $6 billion in 2010.
If it feels like you've been paying more for your business trips this year, your feelings are right on.
As a matter of fact, average domestic airfares increased a steep 10 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year to $494 roundtrip, according to the latest American Express Business Travel Monitor. That's higher than the average $466 fare we were paying back in the first quarter of 2008 before the recession started.
We've all heard the warnings and the rumors over the years, hoping that they weren't true.
But this week an international panel of experts from the World Health Organization said that cell phone use could be linked to certain types of brain cancer. The announcement re-ignited a long brewing debate about the safety of the devices.
A new medical study by researchers at Columbia University that looks into the cardiovascular health of business travelers has been making the rounds in the media lately. The study examined data from the medical records of 13,057 employed patients engaged in a corporate wellness plan.
There's good news and bad news to report. First, the good news: Some business travel might be good for you. The study found that business travelers who are away from home between one and six nights per month are healthier and less likely to be obese than non-travelers.
Answer me this: Given a choice between a nonstop or a direct flight between San Francisco and New York, which one would you take? What if a connecting flight option was thrown into the mix?
Your choice could have a big impact on the price, length and comfort of your journey.
As a travel writer, I'm frequently amazed at how many travel agents, airline employees, frequent business travelers and even fellow travel writers tend to think that direct and nonstop are interchangeable terms when referring to flights. They are not. So let's examine these three types of flights to determine which one is best for you.
With winter blahs and collegiate spring break nearly behind us, it's time for frequent travelers to start contemplating late spring and summer trips. Here are some things to consider:
Airfare: There's no doubting that airfares are on the rise this year. Depending on whom you ask, average fares are up 10% to 20% over last year. This is due to three factors: rising demand, higher fuel costs, and a reduction in the number of seats flying.
Our youmustbetrippin.com blog scored another big hit in the mainstream media last week when the Washington Post Style section called to ask for advice on choosing luggage.
My advice? Don't skimp! Paying a premium for high quality, durable luggage is always worth the extra cost for a frequent traveler. That's because you use it nearly every week. It takes a beating. And it's something that you don't want to break down in the middle of a long trip. (Have you ever tried to maneuver a rollaboard with broken wheels or missing handle through an airport? Ever had your bag show up on the luggage carousel wrapped up in a large clear plastic bag because its zippers failed in the cargo hold?) Also, choose brands that offer strong warranties--many offer lifetime guarantees that will repair or replace broken bags.
If you are waiting and wondering if business travel prices might fall...you might be in for a long wait.
This week American Express released its latest Business Travel Monitor (BTM) report for 2010 showing that airfare continued to climb in 2010 and is just 6 percent shy of the airfare highs of 2008. Also, domestic hotel rates were steady overall in 2010 while reaching their highest levels all year in the fourth quarter of 2010.
I'll never forget how I learned about speed traps.
Our family was on the way from Atlanta to Florida in our new Chevrolet Caprice station wagon (yes, wood-paneled!) for spring break way back in the 60's or 70's. Back then there were long stretches where interstate freeways were still unfinished and motorists had to detour for miles on local roads.
The link between the investments you make in people or equipment and the expansion of your business is pretty clear. But have you ever wondered about the return you get on your company's investment in travel?
The rosy outlook for business travel revealed late last year in our survey of Best Western's Diamond 100 Advisory Board is coming home to roost. We were right!
Growth in business travel spending is expected to increase five percent in 2011, in sharp contrast to the 14 percent drop in 2009, according to the National Business Travel Association's (NBTA) latest Business Travel Quarterly Outlook.
Based on surveys and interaction, I know most readers of this blog are not necessarily early adopters of technology. But even if you're just learning how to use a cell phone, you've no doubt heard the hype surrounding Apple's iPad.
Have you seen one yet? Maybe you've stepped into an Apple store to fiddle around with one? I did just that last spring and by the time my birthday rolled around in May, I received one as a gift. Now I'm one of the nearly eight million Americans toting around an iPad.
I used to think most business travelers flew to their meetings wearing trench coats and carrying briefcases. Since working with Best Western, I've learned that, in fact, more business travelers move about by car than by plane. That's definitely the case among the real road warriors who bed down at Best Western. In a recent survey of the chain's top business customers, 63 percent said that less than a quarter of their business trips involve air travel, with many saying they don't travel by air at all. Only 11 percent said "most" of their business trips involved air travel.
Contrary to what a lot of folks think, Best Western is not a franchise organization, but rather a membership organization of hotel owners from all over the world. Like the majority of its business traveling guests, these owners live in small towns and run or work for small- and medium-sized companies. In many cases, the manager of the hotel is also its owner and not an employee of a distant corporation.
Business travel price increases are holding steady, according to the latest American Express Business Travel Monitor. In the third quarter of 2010, year over year prices for both airfare and hotel increased.
Amex says airlines have been able to raise fares and maintain more financial stability mainly by constraining capacity. Domestic airfares in Q3 increased six percent year over year, while international fares climbed eight percent. Hotel rates across the U.S., meanwhile, increased just two percent on average in the third quarter compared to the same time last year.
Cities with the highest year-over-year hotel price increases include New York City, where rates are up 10 percent, as well as New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas and San Francisco.
About this time of year, frequent and infrequent travelers alike are faced with the hassle, uncertainty and expense of checking bags for trips home for the holidays.
Most business travelers reading this rarely check bags when on the road for business, anyway. But for holiday trips home, bag contents frequently expand to include winter coats, formal wear, gifts and plenty of other extraneous items--especially if kids are involved.
Despite the dire warnings about a Thanksgiving travel meltdown, most of those hitting the roads and skies this year found smooth sailing. There were no major upsets at airport security, the weather cooperated and airlines and airports performed well. To the surprise of many, it all went off without a hitch.
Earlier this month, we asked a core group of Best Western's best customers about their outlook for business travel in 2011. Overall, these members of Best Western's Diamond 100 Advisory Board (BWD100) see gradual improvement when it comes to trip volume, spending levels and economic recovery. This brighter outlook comes to light when we compared findings from a similar survey taken one year ago.
The below is the second in a two-part series that examines some key findings. Part one can be found here.
Earlier this month, we asked a core group of Best Western's best customers about their outlook for business travel in 2011. Overall, these members of Best Western's Diamond 100 Advisory Board (BWD100) see gradual improvement when it comes to trip volume, spending levels and economic recovery. This brighter outlook comes to light when we compared findings from a similar survey taken one year ago.
The below is the first in a two-part series that examines some key findings. Come back next week for part two.
Google announced this week that it's sponsoring FREE in-flight Wi-Fi on Virgin America, Delta and AirTran from Nov. 20 through Jan. 2. This is a major expansion of a similar holiday season Wi-Fi freebie offered by the company last year, which then only included Virgin America. Delta is currently the largest airline in the world and has more than 500 jets outfitted for in-flight Wi-Fi.
The promotion is hoping to draw more attention to Google Chrome and encourages--but does not require--users to download the browser in order to receive Wi-Fi gratis.
Time sure flies! I cannot believe we're already in November.
When the leaves are falling and the weather's cooling off, that means it's time to start plotting and planning for the peak Thanksgiving week. Whether you're hitting the road on business or for feast, here are some things you need to be considering now:
Every year at about this time, American Express releases its annual Business Travel Forecast for the coming year.
For 2011, it appears as though road warriors can expect more of what they experienced this year: rising prices.
Airlines have been slow to buy new aircraft or to pull many of them out of their desert parking lots, while the pipeline for new hotels has shrunk considerably. At the same time, demand for both air travel and hotels has increased rapidly, leading to higher prices.
Most frequent business travelers have packing down to a science. They almost always carry their bags on board and rarely consider checking them with airlines.
Cooler weather means bulkier clothing, and holiday travel usually involves bringing along family members who aren't as practiced in proper packing procedures. So the likelihood of checked luggage, a visit to the luggage carousel and pain of paying new airline fees could increase in the coming months.
Got a checked bag in your future? Then consider these tips:
Airline mergers have been in the news a lot lately. Over the last year, for example, we've witnessed a relatively smooth blending of Delta and Northwest. It was a long time coming, and it's got a long way to go, but United and Continental recently sealed the deal on their merger, as well.
Even low fare carriers are getting in on the act. Southwest recently announced it would absorb AirTran for $1.4 billion. Last year, Denver-based Frontier and Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines joined forces under the Frontier brand (which makes me happy because we'll keep seeing Frontier's classic animal photos on airplane tails!)
I'll never forget driving in the Caribbean on one of the first business trips of my career. It was insane. Every driver was out for him or herself, ignoring stop signs and painted lane separators. Drivers slowed down (but did not necessarily stop) for red lights.
I'm still amazed that I came out alive and with no wrecks. Not even a ding.
But you know what? I learned a lot about driving both offensively AND defensively, and it prepared me for living in San Francisco--a city which sits near the bottom of the list when it comes to safe driving.
In a recent poll of the Best Western Diamond 100 group, an ultra-elite group of the Best Western Rewards program members, we asked how likely it would be for members to combine business and leisure trips.
The response was split nearly right down the middle, but leaned toward more likely--54 percent said they'd be very or somewhat likely to combine business and leisure trips, while 46 percent said it would be less or not at all likely.
Slowly but surely delivery of the morning newspaper to your hotel room door is going the way of the dodo bird.
Though Best Westerns in the U.S. provide complimentary USA Today's in the lobby (in Canada, though the newspaper choice varies, one is always available), more and more business travelers are getting their news online from laptops and/or mobile devices. And according to a recent article from the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank. people are increasingly likely to bypass those hard copies as they head out to begin their day.
I discovered something new and exciting about Best Western when I was at the recent National Business Travel Association meeting. You'll undoubtedly hear more about this in the coming months, but I wanted to provide a heads up.
As summer winds down and the autumn season kicks into gear, business travelers will be sharing the road with fewer vacationers. Airlines and hotels are busy rolling out the fall deals and promotions, which means lower prices and some nice breathing room for travelers.
I had a great stay in a big, clean and comfy suite at the Best Western Downtown Inn & Suites, located about a mile from the convention center. (Stay tuned for one of my famous videos highlighting this property...)
Remember last Christmas when the "underwear bomber" almost brought down a jumbo jet over Detroit?
That prompted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to grab a big pile of federal stimulus money for about 150 more full body scanners -- you know, the ones that produce those controversial ghost-like images of travelers' bodies.
There are currently just over 100 of the so-called "advanced imaging units" in use at airports across the country, but TSA says that number will soar to around 500 by the end of this year-- with nearly 1,000 in place by the end of 2011. That means frequent travelers should expect to encounter more of them, and soon.
While much of the media focus remains on frequent flyers, the fact of the matter is that there are a LOT more frequent drivers out there. This is especially true among Best Western's very best customers-- members of a select group called the Diamond 100 (BWD100)--who have stayed at a Best Western at least 250 nights over the last five years.
Here's some more interesting information about how BWD100 members feel about all those road trips:
While much of the media focus remains on frequent flyers, the fact of the matter is that there are a LOT more frequent drivers out there. This is especially true among Best Western's very best customers--members of a select group called the Diamond 100 (BWD100)--who have stayed at a Best Western at least 250 nights over the last five years.
Despite the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, millions of business and vacation travelers are still expected to visit the region in coming months. If you're soon headed to the coastal regions of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana or Mississippi, here's some helpful information:
When the super-frequent travelers in this group talk, Best Western listens closely-- it's made up of nearly 400 Best Western Rewards member who have spent more than 250 nights with the chain in the last five years.
When the super-frequent travelers in this group talk, Best Western listens closely--- it's made up of nearly 400 Best Western Rewards member who have spent more than 250 nights with the chain in the last five years.
Two things jumped out to me as surprising findings:
With airlines and airports expected to be packed over the next few months, it may be the right time to consider taking to the highway instead of the skyway for summer travel plans.
I expect airline flights will be close to 100 percent full and airfares are up nearly 20 percent over last year according to Bing Travel. The good news is that gasoline prices are expected to remain right around $3 per gallon, so there's even more reason to stay grounded this summer.
In what appears to be the waning days of the current recession, the travel industry is finally moving toward consolidation, something that travel experts have been forecasting for years.
Recently, frequent travelers have seen Delta Air Lines merge with Northwest, Frontier merge with Midwest and the beginning of what looks like a United /Continental merger.
On the car rental front, we've recently watched Avis combine with Budget, Enterprise snap up National and Alamo, and most recently, Hertz announced its intention to buy Dollar-Thrifty for $1.2 billion. Last year, Hertz bought Advantage.
Earlier this month, I took a business trip to Asia and checked in at the new Best Western Shinjuku ASTINA Hotel in Tokyo. It's currently the only Best Western in town and offers a great value to travelers visiting one of the most expensive cities in the world.
A few unusual touches to check out in this video: Pajamas and buckwheat pillows, smoked trout and miso soup on the breakfast bar and heated toilet seats!
The older I get, the more I'm affected by jet lag which is not a good thing for someone who makes his living as a travel writer and consultant.
Over the years, I've tried every drug from Ambien to Xanax. I've gone the homeopathic route with various herbs, I've tried starving myself, I've avoided alcohol and of course, I've always kept myself hydrated.
I've tried sleeping with hotel room drapes open and taking long walks in the sunshine upon arrival. I've even tested an oversized visor with a battery-operated light under the bill that was supposed to offer some sort of "light therapy."
Earlier this month, I took a business trip to New York City where I hosted Best Western's Business Travel Summit, an annual event that brings travel industry execs and travel industry media together to network and discuss trends. I was also in the Big Apple to attend the Strategic Travel Symposium, which was organized by the National Business Travel Association.
Over the course of my three-day trip, I picked up a mountain of news and insight that might interest the readers of this blog. Here's a download:
By now everyone has heard the old adage that you don't save any money on gas by driving on the freeway with the air conditioner off and the windows down. (Having the windows down causes aerodynamic drag, which cancels out the effect of turning off the A/C.)
Since most readers of this blog do a lot of driving, I thought it might be time to put some other myths to rest.
First off, something we've probably all done recently due to the recent severe winter weather--the myth that you need to let your car engine warm up when it's cold outside.
Every year at about this time, the travel industry begins to shake off a long winter's nap. With daffodils and crocuses starting to peak through the slush, it's time for road warriors to prepare for the spring break onslaught.
Based on a miserably cold and wet winter across the country, I'm thinking pent-up demand and the magnetic force of the sun will combine to make this spring break a big one.
Here's what business travelers need to know over the next few weeks:
Two major earthquakes in the Americas in the last two months. Monster storms and flooding in Europe. A series of blizzards in the northeastern U.S. When many of these natural disasters struck, I was glad to be in my hometown.
But how would I have reacted if I were out on a business trip? Recent events have really made me wonder about this. If disaster struck in a town I was visiting, who or how would I call for help? How would I let my family back home know I was okay?
On the flipside, what if I'm on a business trip to New York when "the big one" hits my hometown of San Francisco? How would I know if my family was safe? If my house survived? If my pets were okay?
From now on, I'm going to be better about leaving tracks regarding my whereabouts and be more personally prepared. Here's what I'm doing:
Since the beginning of this year, there have been a lot hopeful murmurs about the return of business travel after a precipitous decline over the last two years.
Now we've got even more proof that business travelers--especially those from small and medium sized companies--are seeing growth opportunities and taking more trips.
Several times a year, I survey the Best Western Diamond 100 Advisory Board (BWD100), a group of about 400 of Best Western's best customers who typically work for small or medium sized companies, or for themselves. They drive more often than they fly, and for the most part, they make their own travel decisions and rarely rely on travel agents or corporate travel managers.
Guess what? The outlook is brightening among this group of road warriors and many expect to travel more this year than last.
*Photo by Paramount Pictures.
Have you seen the movie "Up in the Air" yet? In case you've not heard or read about it, the Oscar-nominated film stars George Clooney playing the part of Ryan Bingham, a super-frequent business traveler dealing with the effects of his peripatetic lifestyle. Here's a great one-minute clip.
His quest to earn 10 million frequent flyer miles has gotten him plenty of perks, but it's clearly left him isolated from the real world and from real relationships.
Every frequent traveler will see a little bit of him or herself in the Bingham character. The scene in the movie that hit home most with me was when he returns "home" to his apartment after a long stint on the road. The place looks just like one of those new long-term apartment style hotels--sterile, boxy and cold.
I've been writing this blog for over a year now, and not a week goes by that I don't hear from a reader or see something online (or in person) that makes me think, "Wow, who'd have thought THAT was a Best Western!"
I remember the first time I pondered this "who'da thunk" phenomenon. I was walking in downtown San Francisco near Union Square in search of Millennium, an unusual high-end, white-tablecloth-and-wine-cellar yet vegetarian, restaurant. Where did I find it? In the lobby of the Best Western Hotel California. Who'da thunk a Best Western would house a world-class gourmet vegetarian restaurant where the least expensive entrèe starts at $22.50?
Like most of the readers of this blog, I spend a LOT of time behind the wheel. And like many of you, I think I'm a skilled, smart driver and aware of the driving laws in California--my home state--and elsewhere.
But here's something I did NOT know.
Nearly all 50 states have recently enacted "Move Over" laws to help save the lives of police officers and other roadside emergency personnel.
Last week, I was flipping through the newspaper and came across an article that caught my eye immediately because it referred to "road warriors."
As it turned out, the article was not about the kind of road warriors you read about here. Instead, it was about a new breed of young, homeless panhandlers, now referred to as "road warriors," who travel between West Coast cities with pit bulls in tow, causing trouble along the way.
Nonetheless, it got me thinking about the term "road warriors" and how its meaning has changed over the years.
Since the attempted bombing of Delta/Northwest flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day, airport security has been turned on its head (once again). Here's what business travelers need to know about security before heading out on another flight:
Most increased security is on inbound-to-U.S. flights. The only changes you may notice for domestic U.S. flying are more frequent pat downs by TSA personnel as well as the possibility of random screenings of carry-on bags at the gate.
Flights inbound to the U.S. from the U.K. are currently restricted to a SINGLE carry-on that must conform to normal size standards (one bag only...which means purses or briefcases need to fit INSIDE carry-on bags.)
It seems like the entire country is covered in ice and snow as I write this. Despite the nasty weather, most road warriors still have to get out there and kick 2010 off to a busy start.
I'm not the go-to guy for this type of advice (I grew up in the South), so I went to the folks who run the Bridgestone Winter Driving School in Steamboat Springs, Colo. as well as AAA for some winter driving tips. Here's what they advised:
Regular readers of this blog know that I occasionally get to survey some of Best Western's very best customers, a group known as the "Best Western Diamond 100." These road warriors have spent the night at a Best Western at least 250 times in the last five years, so they know a thing or two about a thing or two. That's why I'm always so excited to get inside their heads when it comes to issues of importance to business travelers.
In late November, we queried the BWD100 regarding their feelings and experiences when it comes to hotel upgrades. Here's a distillation of their responses.
Upgrades don't come too frequently. 40 percent of the group said they only score them once or twice a year, but a lucky 25 percent said they get them five or more times per year. Only 18 percent said they never get them.
"I usually get good rooms but to get an upgrade, to a suite let's say, requires more then the kindness of the registration clerk. Different factors need to be put together including some luck," wrote one BWD100 member. Another added, "I was recently upgraded from a King business room to a King Business Suite with a separate bedroom. I would have loved to have my wife with me for this upgrade!"
It's no secret that Best Western's most frequent guests spend a lot more time in their cars than they do on airplanes. In a recent survey of participants in the Best Western Diamond 100 advisory board, 63 percent said that nearly all of their business trips are road trips.
That's why I've got two items for my blog this week--both about driving.
Last month I took a Tuesday evening flight to Atlanta and ended up arriving to my hotel at about 10:30 pm. Little did I know that the entire hotel lobby and many of the rooms were occupied by revelers attending Jezebel Magazine's raucous "Most Beautiful Atlantans" party.
After a five-hour flight from the West Coast, I was a rumpled mess in a sea of beautiful, well-dressed Atlantans. I felt like the only person in the hotel lobby without a Cosmopolitan cocktail in my hand. I was definitely the only one with a roller bag and a briefcase.
While there was certainly a lot to look at, I remember thinking to myself, "Man, if I had only known this party was going on, I would have booked the hotel across the street!" Luckily, the front desk clerk recognized my distress, and told me he'd moved me to a high and relatively unoccupied floor.
This made me think about other situations where I'd say, "If I had only..." when it comes to hotel stays. Hopefully you'll learn--as I did--how to avoid some snafus...
It's not very often that "Good Morning America" calls. So when producers contacted me last month to help them out with a segment about navigating airport security lines, I jumped at the chance.
As it turned out, the segment touched on two areas of interest for readers of this blog: getting through airport security lines AND driving in heavy road traffic.
My advice: Choose your security line carefully--try to avoid getting behind families with children, those with strollers or hard-to-remove lace-up shoes or boots. I also recommend staying away from international visitors holding foreign passports since they typically don't have the drill down like U.S.-based travelers and tend to slow down the lines.
The segment also helped road warriors answer an important question: Is it faster to stay in one lane during heavy freeway traffic or is it better to weave around slow movers in zigzag fashion? Check out the video to get the answer to that question!
When it comes to my frequent traveling lifestyle, I've got long list of things to be thankful for at this time of year. Here goes:
Faster Flying: Last week, my flight from New York to San Francisco arrived one hour early! I thought the pilot was joking when he came on the P.A. to tell flight attendants to prepare the cabin for an early landing. Early arrivals (or just on-time arrivals) are increasingly common these days because over the last two years, major airlines have cut their capacity by 10 to 20 percent--and fewer flights mean less congestion. Recent monthly reports from the Department of Transportation show consistent improvements in on-time performance.
Lower prices: Nearly every travel expense is smaller this year than last. Gasoline is averaging about $2.65 this month--that's down about $.54 per gallon compared to this time last year, according to AAA. In addition, not only are holiday airfares down slightly compared to last year, but they're much cheaper for trips on non-peak days. (However, extra fees such as those for checking luggage are rising, but there's a bright side here, too--fewer checked bags means fewer lost or damaged ones.) Also, hotel rates are down about 10 percent compared to last year.
Now here's a dash of good news: 53 percent of consumers plan to spend as much or more on holiday gifts as they did last year, according the latest American Express Spending & Saving Tracker. Whether you're giving gifts or receiving them this year, here are four items sure to warm the cockles of any road warrior. (Me included!)
Home Monitoring Devices: This is so cool! While on the road, you can now view what's happening at home on your PDA with these new monitoring devices. Typical systems include small Web cameras and microphones placed around the home which are wirelessly connected to the Internet. Users get real-time streaming images sent to laptops or PDAs with high-speed wired or wireless connections. Costs vary based on individual requirements, but you can get a single Panasonic Network Video Camera for about $125.
You may not know this, but Best Western is not a franchising operation, but a membership organization. All Best Western hotels are independently owned, and owners opt to join Best Western as Members.
Every year several thousands of these Members gather with Best Western's top brass for a big powwow known as "Convention." Since many readers of this blog spend much of their lives at Best Western hotels, I thought they'd be interested in an outlook gathered from some of the most important speeches and presentations at the latest Convention held in Phoenix last month.
Enhancing Best Western Rewards® is a key initiative for 2010. Elite level members can expect more than just bonus points for each stay--you'll likely see more welcome gifts or room upgrades. Similar to what you saw this year, you can expect at least four big bonus point promotions in 2010. Plus, a new Best Western Rewards credit card will make it even easier to fatten your account balances.
Prognostication is a dangerous exercise, especially out here in the blogosphere where anything you publish can easily come back to haunt you. But as we enter the fourth quarter of a tough year, I'm going to stick my neck out and point to some positive things I see coming our way in the next year...
The rebound in business travel is going to be led by road warriors from small- and medium-sized companies. These "unmanaged" travelers are the folks who call their own shots when it comes to business travel and aren't bound by any corporate policies that may have hampered some of their "managed" traveler counterparts from getting out there and snagging new business this year. In a recent survey, nearly 80 percent of them said they'd be traveling as much or more this fall than last. I expect more of the same early next year. However, as the year progresses and the economy continues to warm up, those corporate policies will slowly melt away-- though it's going to take a while for things to return to "normal."
I've been waiting and wondering about this and now it looks like its time to bite the bullet and change my name.
My travel name, that is.
My travel name would be the name I use when I buy an airline ticket, make a hotel reservation, rent a car, travel to another country or sign up for a charge card or loyalty program.
Why go to the trouble? Because starting next year, a new federal initiative called Secure Flight will require that the name on the ID you use to check in at the airport EXACTLY matches the name on your airline ticket.
And since the name on my ticket should always match the name on my frequent flier account (to avoid missing out on miles), I'll have to change that.
As many readers of this blog know by now, I recently brought together a group of Best Western's most frequent guests to form the "Best Western Diamond 100." This advisory group consists of business travelers who have stayed with Best Western more than 250 nights over the last five years.
When we first reached out to this group, we expected that about 100 would agree to participate--hence the name Diamond "100." To our delight, nearly 400 road warriors signed up to share their thoughts and voice their opinions on a number of business travel-related topics important to them. This is indeed an excellent illustration of how loyal these folks are to the Best Western brand.
Speaking of loyalty, our most recent BWD100 survey examined members' feelings about frequent travel programs and revealed some interesting nuggets:
I started wondering if things were on the mend in business travel when we completed our August survey of Best Western Diamond 100 members. As you may recall, it revealed that unmanaged business travelers expect to travel as much (68 percent) or more (11 percent) this autumn compared to the same time last year.
That sounded like pretty good news to me, and in my blog headline, I pondered whether unmanaged travelers (those who work for themselves or for small companies and call their own shots when it comes to travel) were going to be the ones to "lead the charge out of economic doldrums."
Now there's further evidence that travel demand might be on the rebound: In its Global Business Travel Forecast released last week, American Express said the decline in business travel demand may be bottoming out due in part to pent-up demand for face-to-face meetings.
If you think you're doing your company a favor by taking fewer business trips, you might want to think again. Evidence is emerging that you could actually be doing it harm.
U.S. companies could miss out on nearly $200 billion in profits this year because they have cut back on business travel too much, according to a recent study by IHS Global Insight.
Another study by Oxford Economics found that companies bring in about $12.50 in revenue and $3.80 in profit for every $1 spent on business travel. The research firm said that if a business cut out all travel, it would forfeit 17 percent of its profits in the first year, and those profits would likely not return for three years after business travel resumes.
I've always had the feeling that traveling and meeting face to face was crucial to my business, but this is the first time I've ever had that feeling quantified.
Here's an example of how this study applies to my own business travel...see if you can apply it to yours.
When it comes to planning a business trip, one of the constant questions we all ask ourselves is, "Is this trip going to be worth the cost?" To determine the return on your investment, you first need a good estimate on how much it will cost.
And that's not always so easy. But Uncle Sam is here to help.
Every three years at about this time, the U.S. General Services Administration publishes the per diem rates it uses to reimburse government employees or contractors traveling to thousands of U.S. cities. In 2010, most of the country will fall under a standard maximum per diem of $116 ($70 for lodging, $46 for meals and incidentals). But there are 400 non-standard areas that have per diems which are higher.
Best Western's most frequent guests are business travelers who drive more than they fly on business trips. As a matter of fact, 63 percent say that less than 10 percent of their business trips over the last year involved air travel.
So when I read about a fascinating recent study on traffic gridlock, I knew I had to pass along some key findings here. The National Traffic Scorecard was produced by INRIX, a company that provides traffic and navigation information for online traffic sites, and a provider of GPS devices that road warriors use every day.
After a period of decline due to the stagnating economy in 2008, traffic congestion was on the rise in the second quarter of 2009 due to signs of economic recovery and lower fuel prices. Delays due to federal stimulus package roadway construction projects are also contributing to an overall increase in congestion.
If you are wondering what's going to happen next in the big wonderful world of business travel, then the National Business Travel Association's annual convention is a must. Last week, nearly 6,000 professionals (including yours truly) showed up in San Diego to gather information, sell, check out the competition, attend educational sessions, network and enjoy what has to be one of the best cities on earth to be sent on a business trip.
Here is some of what I was hearing on the tradeshow floor:
Many of those who are planning to travel as much or more than last fall explained how business trips are an integral part of maintaining relationships. "In a down economy, it's worth the extra cost to get in front of my customers even more. My competitors are cutting back and I'm there to pick up the slack," said an employee of a Utah building products company. A BWD100 member from Seattle commented that while her business overall is down, "I still have to make the same number of trips to maintain relationships and business." Another member who works for an aerospace company in California stated, "My work has not been impacted by the recession and my travel schedule remains the same from month to month." Another member, speaking for many, commented, "We are watching our money, but so far, thank goodness, I am still traveling the same amount."
These are folks who drive more than they fly and they work for themselves or for small- or medium-sized companies. They call the shots and pick up the tab for their trips.
They don't normally stay at 4- or 5-star downtown hotels and they don't fly business class--or even fly that much at all. Furthermore, they rarely spend more than $100 per night for a hotel and they don't work for giant companies that manage their business trips. Few have access to video conferencing facilities and many don't even have a travel agent or an expense account to fall back on.
Among travel industry insiders, these types of people are known as an "unmanaged travelers" (as opposed to "managed travelers" whose large corporations dictate how business travel will be conducted).
But just how many unmanaged travelers are out there? That's a tough question to answer. So I called in an expert.
Did you know that business travelers use online video throughout the trip-planning process more than leisure travelers? 'Tis true according to a recent study by Google and OTX called "The Traveler's Road to Decision."
The study showed that about 60% of us road warriors access online video when thinking about taking a trip, when thinking about what kind of trip to take and when deciding on accommodations and transportation related to the trip.
So without further ado, here's my latest Youmustbetrippin.com video. It's only two and a half minutes, so please tune in and let me know what you think of the content and my still-budding video production skills!
Part of the art of successful business travel is maintaining the delicate balance between a healthy family/social life and the demands of the road. It's been interesting to witness how that balancing act has evolved and expanded in the Internet age.
When my first book 202 Tips Even the Best Business Travelers May Not Know was published in 1994, my advice for maintaining communication with family and friends was rudimentary. It included suggestions such as regularly scheduled check-in calls, sharing a room service meal with family and/or friends via speakerphone or faxing handwritten notes home.
Over the last few months, I've been working with Best Western on a project aimed at identifying trends, opinions and habits among its very best customers.
We wrangled this group together by emailing invitations to Best Western Rewards members who have spent more than 250 nights with the chain in the last five years. Nearly 400 members agreed to participate in monthly surveys and other forms of outreach and research.
We just completed our first survey which illustrates just who Best Western's top customers really are. To me, this group represents the core of the North American business traveler population-- entrepreneurs or those employed by small- or medium-sized companies.... out there on the road, in their cars in small towns and rural areas, probably eating alone and spending nights in roadside hotels. They always keep a keen eye on saving money, getting the job done and then getting home.
Who are Best Westerns best customers? Here are some top-line survey results:
When or if companies loosen their purse strings and allow employees to attend meetings and conventions again, expect a lot less flash. And a lot more scrutiny.
Earlier this month, the Treasury Department published new rules around meetings and conventions for companies receiving TARP funds. The rules require TARP recipients to "eliminate excessive and luxury expenditures" for entertainment or events as defined by the Treasury Secretary.
But don't think for a minute that just because your company is not a TARP recipient, you won't be subject to the new rules.
Here we are in the midst of the peak summer travel season. Everywhere you go, people are talking travel. And not all the stories are positive.
As a matter of fact, mid-summer is the time of year when you can't escape the stories of airport strandings, oversold hotels, broken down rental cars or unexpected traffic jams. Everyone seems to have his or her own personal anecdote of travel misery that can out do anyone else's.
I've just returned from my first transcontinental flight equipped with in-flight Internet access.
And I loved it.
I loved being able to stay on top of my emails in real time during the 4-5 hour flight. No email box to clean up at the end of a long day in the air. I read The Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle online, even though I had a hard copy in my carry-on. I was able to track my flight on a flightstats.com map to verify which cities, rivers and mountain ranges we were flying over. I passed some time on Twitter and Facebook reviewing videos and photos with my family and friends.
Have you harnessed the power of the blogosphere to make life on the road better? If you're reading this blog, you're well on your way. If you'd like to dig in a little bit deeper, check out the following blogs that I read at least once a week to keep me abreast of what's happening in the big wide world of business travel. They can help you, too.
As I've said before, don't think for a minute that this summer is going to be much different from others when peak vacation kicks in later this month. Despite the struggling economy, millions of Americans will still be hitting the roads and skies this summer.
During the next three months, business travelers will be sharing their quarters with vacationers eager to have fun. While the latter is focused on the beach, the pool and the family, your focus will likely be on the deal you've got to clinch tomorrow, your important conference call or the speech you're about to give.
Some conferences are so much better than others and I've just returned from a zinger. The Association of Travel Marketing Executives (ATME) met in Las Vegas this week and I picked up several nifty nuggets of business travel intelligence that road warriors will see play out in this era of the "New Normal."
If I were not a travel writer, I'd be a food writer. My gastronomic passion is wide ranging...I'm fascinated at how eating at airports has evolved in recent years. I even frequently arrive early just to see what's on the menu. In-flight fare has never bothered me all that much and I enjoy the break from the monotony of a long flight.
I'm an arbiter of taste when it comes to the hotel breakfast buffet. I'm happy to know that May is National Hamburger month. I love judging the quality of the "krinkle kut" French fries and homemade pies at a roadside diner as much as the foie gras at the latest, greatest bistro in New York or Paris.
All of that brings me to this question: What are the best foods for business travelers? I've got some ideas, but would like to hear yours, too. Please post your favorites or comments below!
Every year at about this time travel prognosticators and pundits hit the airwaves with their forecasts for the approaching summer vacation season. It's usually a time when business travel is pushed off the air or to the back pages. Just because it's beach weather doesn't mean business travel stops. In fact, demand for business travel is just as high during the dog days of summer as it is at any other time of year.
Here's my take on how what's happening on the leisure side is going to affect your business travel in the coming months.
Due to the current, tough economic climate, U.S. companies canceled an estimated $1 billion worth of conferences in the first two months of this year and trimmed back on others, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.
I've created an two-minute video for this post illustrating how this trend is playing out at two hotels on the seaside golf course in the scenic central California coastal town of Half Moon Bay. (Let me know what you think about the video and if you'd like to see more videos included in the future! Quality will improve as time goes on...)
A perfectly planned business trip is sort of like a finely tuned watch. There are a lot of moving parts, but if one tiny pin or wheel stops working, the watch stops.
The same goes for a business trip. An unplanned traffic jam, a thunderstorm over the airport, a missed wake up call, and yes, even an outbreak of the swine flu can stop your trip in its tracks.
Sometimes travel glitches are no one's fault. That's when you've got to roll with the punches and make the best of a bad situation like everyone else. But at other times, it makes sense to write a letter and seek to resolve the issue when it's clear that someone has goofed up.
Do you think you've got a good case? Don't keep those feelings bottled up or start a negative word-of-mouth campaign. Write a letter and give the supplier the opportunity to make good. Here's some advice on writing that first email or letter:
So here we are. Six months since the bottom fell out of financial markets last October. Finally, the economy seems to be mimicking the spring season and producing tiny little green shoots of growth here and there.
This means that a lot of business travelers who may have been ordered by their companies to stay home and hunker down might be getting out and about for the first time this year in coming weeks.
A lot has changed in the last six months. Some observations from my recent trips and research:
Highway traffic is down slightly. While there are still bottlenecks during daily rush hours and before and after holiday weekends, the volume of cars on the road feels about right. Not too many cars. And not too few. There's no longer that rushed, panicked and packed scenario or rogue traffic jams most of us faced during this last "bubble."
Being mobile while on the road hasn't also been so easy.
At the turn of the 21st century, I was an early adopter of the Blackberry. Quite basic, it offered a black-and-white screen to display emails and the phone worked relatively well. I upgraded a few years later to a newer Blackberry that offered a color screen and showed "clipped" versions of Web pages.
But three years ago, I gave up on my Blackberry, and switched to a Nokia phone, as they were known to provide the best reception in areas with weak signals - which included my office. While it worked like a charm, it alas was not a Blackberry, and I missed the handy-dandy mobile access to my email, especially when on the road.
As much as business travelers tug on one end of their travel dollars, suppliers are tugging just as much on the other. That means travelers need to be on the lookout for new fees. In a recent TripAdvisor poll of 5,000 travelers, 34 percent said they are facing more hidden fees than they did last year.
AIRLINES: By now, you've heard all about the nearly universal $15 fee for the first checked bag. But did you know that on most airlines, you now pay $150 to change your ticket...whether you bought it or redeemed frequent flyer miles for it? Here's a helpful chart from Kayak.com that should help you keep track.
All the recent spotlight on travel cutbacks, trading down and staying focused on a strict budget reminds me of when I was first cutting my teeth as a business traveler. And it's proven to me that what's old is definitely new again...
During the late 1980's I worked as a trainer for a U.S.-based consulting firm. The company had projects across the country and I'd fly around to many of them to conduct two- to four-week training programs that helped clients integrate changes that our consultants were recommending.
I know that job description may sound exciting and important, but the reality was something quite different. Our company was super cheap. Since we were in the business of showing companies how to save money, we had to set the example.
...but the reality is that increasing business travel when other companies are cutting back creates an opportunity to poach business from competitors and snag new accounts.
Well, yes, according to the US Travel Association. Granted, this group's raison d'etre is to promote travel, but its mid-February survey of 401 execs at U.S. companies reveals a conflict.
About half of the respondents reported that their companies had recently cut back on business travel spending. But 82 percent agree that business travel is important to their ability to achieve positive results. And 81 percent believe that client contact is necessary during tough times.
I know there is a lot of angst, bickering and confusion about the recent passage of the federal stimulus package that will inject $800 billion into our sputtering economy.
But you know what? Those of us who spend much of our lives on the nation's highways are going to be some of the first to enjoy the results of this massive spending. Smoother, wider and more technologically advanced roads are just around the corner.
I'm picking up from last week's column where I shared some interesting snippets from a panel discussion I moderated at the recent Best Western Business Travel Summit in New York City.
Panelists included Linda Rutherford, VP of communications and strategic outreach at Southwest Airlines, George Zilvetti, VP at MasterCard who oversees business development and co-branding, and Best Western's Dorothy Dowling, senior VP of marketing and sales.
Here are some more nifty nuggets of knowledge I picked up from the panel and how they affect you:
If you've been following my blog, you know that I traveled to New
York last week to lead a panel discussion at the Best Western Business Travel Summit, saving at least 100 jobs in the process.
Now, I bet you're wondering what we covered in a our revealing conversation that included Linda Rutherford, VP of communications and strategic outreach for Southwest Airlines, George Zilvetti, VP at MasterCard who oversees business development and co-branding, and Best Western's Dorothy Dowling, senior VP of marketing and sales.
Here are some of the nifty nuggets of knowledge I picked up from the panel and how they will affect you:
How will the economy effect business travel in 2009? Who will benefit from the down turn in the economy? How can you find survive this new world of business travel? Listen to expert business traveler Chris McGinnis, lead a panel discussion of business travel industry insiders and learn what's in store for business travelers in the coming year.
Have you ever considered how many people you help remain employed when you hit the road?
Last week, I took a business trip to New York City to lead a panel discussion at Best Western's third annual Business Travel Summit. For the duration of my trip, the fate of President Obama's economic stimulus plan dominated the news. As I sat in my room at the Best Western Hospitality House, I pondered just how much my trip would help stimulate the economy and how many jobs I might be saving.
Here's what I came up with: In just a single day of travel, I helped preserve at least 33 jobs.
When American Express talks, the business travel community listens. Last week, the travel behemoth released a new study that details how companies are controlling travel costs in an economic downturn.
While the report was written for travel managers and procurement types, let me translate it into language road warriors will understand.
The report says that companies will be holding employees accountable. This means you are going to be getting plenty of edicts from management to cut your travel costs and if you don't, you'll be asked why. Your company is going to try and explain the financial implications of out-of-policy travel spending and will emphasize that the sacrifices you make on the road could help save your job.
It's the dead of winter with most of the U.S. under a deep freeze that seems to have no end (meteorologically and economically). So, let's talk about Hawaii.
Have you been earnestly earning your Best Western Rewards points in colder climes and dreaming about redeeming them somewhere warm and tropical? It so, set your sites on the Best Western Coconut Hotel in Waikiki where I cooled my heels last weekend. (Rooms here go for 36,000 Rewards points per night.)
There are, of course, hundreds of hotel choices in Honolulu and as a travel writer for the last 20 years, I've slept and schlepped my way through many of them. But when air fares from California to Hawaii plunged to less than $300 round trip this month, I decided to jump on the plane and try the Coconut. Wow, was I impressed. (I know, I know...I'm jaded due to my affiliation with Best Western, but if you check out user-generated reviews at sites such as tripadvisor.com, you'll see that I'm not alone in my praise for the place.)
As a travel writer, I've seen my share of presidential suites. I recently got a look at the $34,000/night, I.M. Pei-designed presidential suite atop the Four Seasons Hotel in New York City. Wow.
Presidential suites are almost always big, dramatic--and dramatically expensive. So expensive, in fact, that most road warriors would never even consider them an option. But since we're all thinking "presidential" this week with the inauguration in Washington, D.C., it's worth re-examining the belief that presidential suites are in fact out of touch.
Actually, there are some situations where one of the largest and most prestigious rooms in a hotel makes perfect sense: a special occasion, a board meeting or when two or more employees are traveling together and entertaining clients. (For instance, I've seen presidential suites in Hong Kong used as mini-showrooms by apparel manufacturers meeting with buyers.) But the best way to see a presidential suite is on that very rare occasion when there are no more rooms left at the property and you get upgraded!
As the economy continues to slide, those words are increasingly used as part of the corporate clarion call to trim travel spending. No company or industry is exempt.
You'd think it was the end of business travel as we know it. But it doesn't have to be.
If you want to maintain the level of travel to which you have grown accustomed, it's time to burn off some of those miles and points to offset the cost of business travel.
With nearly every major hotel loyalty program offering gigantic bonuses this winter, you don't have to worry much about depleting your accounts.
For example, members of Best Western Rewards earn double points when they stay two nights, triple points when they stay three nights and quadruple points when they stay four nights now through February 14. (Details)
Hitting the road this month? I can't think of a better time to be traveling on business. Prices for anything travel-related are at historic lows. Families with kids are back in school and travel industry front-liners thankful to be employed during tough times are more accommodating than ever.
Here's what I mean:
We are paying about half as much for a gallon of gas as we were this time last year. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the average price per gallon is now $1.68, down from about $3 in January 2008. The total cost to fill up my 15-gallon tank is now about $25; last summer I paid $60.
Airfares have sunk as fast as gasoline prices, especially into leisure-oriented markets like Florida, Colorado, California and Hawaii. However, new fees for things like checked bags or advance reservations for certain coach seats which were imposed last summer are here to stay, I'm afraid.
They say timing is everything, and that's especially true when it comes to saving money on business travel. Granted, many business travelers have little control over the timing of their trips. When clients (or your boss) call, you go. Period.
However, there are times when you can plan ahead. And if you travel during the following slower periods, you'll save big bucks over the coming year. So get out your 2009 calendar and consider hitting the road during the following slow periods:
January: After the holiday rush, demand for travel falls precipitously and so do prices. In the travel business, the two to three weeks after New Years are called "dead weeks," and you'll find deep discounts nearly everywhere. Warning: This is a time when many hotels schedule repairs and renovations, so be sure to ask for a room away from such activity when you check in.
I've had it with all the doom and gloom. It's the holidays. This should be a happy time. So with that in mind, let's focus on the silver lining surrounding all those dark economic clouds...
First off, if you are reading this blog, it's likely you are still employed and still have a travel budget. That's great news considering the current flurry of pink slips seems heavier than the season's first snow flurries.
Have you noticed that nearly everyone in the travel space seems to be in a better mood these days? I think this is because the pressure is off--- the decline in traveler volume means that everyone can sit back, take a breath, and remember that its not all about the number of heads in beds or butts in seats, but it's about customer service.
Every year at about this time, pundits and prognosticators produce their annual outlooks for the coming year. And since blogging is the newest form of punditry and prognostication, here's what your favorite business travel blogger is seeing in his crystal ball for 2009.
Lower prices: Declines in demand along with tanking jet fuel prices will result in some of the lowest airfares we have seen since 9/11. If you've got business trips scheduled for January, typically one of the slowest months of the year for travel, you'll enjoy astonishingly low airfares, hotel and rental car rates. If you're driving, gas prices will almost certainly stay below $2 per gallon until we see a light at the end of the tunnel for the economy.
The combined effect of the recent "fall-back" to standard time, dusk at 5 p.m. and two cross-country trips in the last month is forcing me to sharpen my sleeping skills. Over the years I've battled with bouts of insomnia that either come on or are exacerbated by my frequent traveling lifestyle. I know I'm not alone...if you talk to any group of road warriors long enough, you can easily elicit enough bleary-eyed tales to keep you awake for hours. Here are some of the ways I've learned to cope.
Your Own Alarm Clock: Pack a portable alarm clock or use the one on your mobile phone or PDA. Why? First, relying on a wake-up call from the hotel can add a layer of unnecessary stress. Second, you won't have to worry about whether or not you've correctly set those notoriously confusing and unfamiliar hotel room alarm clocks. (Note to self: Always be sure the alarm clock is set to "off," so it does not go off in the middle of the night. Can't figure out how to do that? Just unplug it.)
Here it is Thanksgiving week. Despite all the gloom and doom these days, there is still plenty for business travelers to be thankful for. Here are three things for which I'm grateful. Check them out and then please click on the comments button and tell me what YOU are thankful for when it comes to life on the road....
Lower gas prices. After a summer of discontent at the pump where I cringed each time it cost $60 to fill up my car, gas prices have crashed, and now stand at less than $2 per gallon on average. They've not been that low since early 2005. You should have seen me beam last week when the nozzle popped and the tank was full at $31!
After a year of watching the economy cool off and wondering how--or if--it would force changes in business travel, I've got my answer. Big changes are on the way. Companies worried about the future are clearly cutting back on the number trips they are willing to authorize and they are cutting costs on the ones still allowed.
Just this week, the National Business Travel Association, a trade organization based in Washington, D.C. predicted that cost cutting measures will continue well into 2009 as a result of the economic slowdown. It expects business travel costs to increase and the number of business trips to grow at a slower rate than in previous years. "Across the board, we can expect to see some changes in the way travel is managed to further maximize value," said the group's president in a recent press release. In addition, the Airlines Reporting Corp this week said total U.S. travel agency transactions in October fell by 15 percent year over year.
Nearly everyone has a morning routine when it comes to coffee. And that routine is always thrown out of whack when you hit the road on a business trip.
When I wake up at home, I'm in the kitchen within five minutes performing a precise coffee-making ritual. And it always comes out just the way I like it. Dark roast, ground fine and dripped through a cone filter into a large mug. About a tablespoon of half and half to cut the heat and the acid. No sugar. Don't mess with my ritual!
But out on the road, it's tough. In-room coffee rarely hits the spot. To me, it's always too weak, and there's no half and half--only that fake-tasting powder. I'll drink it if I have to, or just to partially partake of my morning coffee-making ritual, but it's never as satisfying as home.
A colleague of mine from Atlanta discovered this blog recently and sent me a query that I think bears repeating for everyone. Why? Because nearly every business traveler comes to San Francisco at least every few years for a meeting and for a good time...and good food. I can't think of any other business travel destination where there's more of a convergence of business and pleasure.
Here's the query: Hey Chris,
A good friend of mine has a conference in San Francisco shortly after Thanksgiving and I wondered if you might have a couple of restaurant recommendations for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She's staying by Union Square and loves cozy places that are good for people watching (not the uber-trendy snooty tube-top crowd type stuff). And feel free to toss in a couple divey or low-brow places, too.
When American Express talks, the business travel industry listens. Last week the travel behemoth released its outlook for 2009 and the news was not all bad. The average cost of a domestic business trip is expected to rise just 2.8 percent in 2009. After several years of trip cost increases two or three times that large, a bump of 2.8 percent seems mild, and even welcome given the state of the economy and dwindling travel budgets.
In last week's blog I wrote about how the nature of each business trip depends on a wide variety of factors and influences. But you know, business trips and business travelers are similar in a lot of ways, too.
Business travelers are by nature a generally optimistic, well-rounded bunch. Our employers would not send us out on the road if we weren't good at adapting to rapidly changing conditions, making great first impressions and keeping our minds open to new ideas and places. Another skill worth honing in a sputtering economy is the ability to find value on the road. Some business travelers are good at this while others might need a bit of practice and coaching. (Stay tuned to future blogs along these lines!)
So even though the economy is slowing, it's never going to stop. Business trips will still take place, but cost control will be a common mantra in coming months. Business travelers are going to have to cut back, cut down and cut out many of the perks we've grown accustomed to, no matter if we work for ourselves, at a small business or a large corporation.
QUESTION: If you are asked to cut back on your business travel spending, what's going to be the first thing to go? How can you shave costs and still be happy and productive on the road?
Having covered the business travel beat as a writer and consultant (and business traveler) for nearly twenty years, I'm constantly trying to predict the needs and desires of our tribe. Editors and clients are always asking me, "What do business travelers want?"
The answer never changes. And the answer is: It depends.
It depends on your employment. Are you self-employed and paying your travel expenses out of your own wallet? Or are you an employee or contractor to a corporation that allows you to toss everything on to an expense report for reimbursement? The former wants the best value possible and will take the time to find the smartest bargains; the latter will seek out comfort, convenience and of course, loyalty points.
While I've established my credentials as a road warrior (see previous post), you should know that I fly as much as I drive. And like every business traveler out there who has heard that U.S. airlines are cutting schedules, parking planes and raising fares, I'm concerned about the impact on my travel budget.
But beyond the screechy headlines predicting unbearably high fares and the end of air travel as we know it, I've determined not all that much is going to change for most business travelers.
Like most Americans, I'm lucky because nearly all my air travel is on high volume routes between major cities with plenty of low-fare competition. In markets like these, average fares have increased only about 10 percent over the last year. I'm even luckier that I live in a city that's a hub for a low-fare carrier (Virgin America) and has two airports served by low-fare leader Southwest Airlines (San Francisco and Oakland). Fares to and from the cities I fly to most (Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver and Las Vegas) have actually decreased year-over-year.
On most business trips I do what I'm told....I fly when the airline wants me to fly...I walk through the airport security magnetometer when and only when the TSA person tells me to...I stow my bag where the flight attendant tells me to...and I accept the rental car the agent decides to give me. Sound familiar?
Last month when my business trip to Houston was canceled due to Hurricane Ike (blowing a four-day hole in my calendar) I decided to jump in my car in San Francisco and head down to meet up with a client in Los Angeles-- 375 miles away.
I'm always up for a road trip. There's something I love about hitting the road with complete freedom ...leaving when I'm ready...stopping when I feel like it...taking in a little bit of local color or cuisine along the way...driving all night long listening to a new CD or audio book of my choice...Doing what I want to do. It's such a relief to feel in control on a trip instead of just doing what I'm told.
We know it is a big world out there with lots of places to see and experience.
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