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7 Things You Should Know About Business Travel

Business Class Travel

Business travel evolves far too fast to worry about the past. Anything that happened before airline deregulation in 1978 is considered prehistoric, while anything between deregulation and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011 is ancient history.

So, here are seven things that matter about business travel right now, according to Business Travel Columnist Joe Brancatelli.

On-time ratings are wrong

The Department of Transportation issues on-time ratings for the nation’s airlines every month, but the numbers are wrong, according to the DOT’s inspector general. About one in four flights nationwide, usually flights run by commuter airlines providing code-share services for bigger carriers, are not tracked by the DOT. So, even though Southwest operated at just 63 percent on-time in January and JetBlue just 59 percent that same month, those carriers don’t have regional affiliates like American, US Airways, Delta or United, which have slightly higher ratings.

You can come home again faster

Good news for international business travel: new kiosks at airport customs and immigrations stations are speeding up re-entry into the United States. BorderXpress units, created by the Vancouver Airport Authority, have already expanded into at least five U.S. airports including Atlanta, Seattle-Tacoma, JFK, and Chicago’s Midway and O’Hare airports. The average wait time at Kennedy’s Terminal 4 has decreased to 17 minutes from 36 minutes.

Revenge of the Dreamliner

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s grounding last year was heavily chronicled and made the aircraft the butt of many air industry jokes, but the 787 is remaking longer-haul business travel. Last month, British Airways launched nonstop flights between Austin and London, citing the Dreamliner’s 20 percent more fuel efficiency than any other aircraft. Carriers will be able to connect two distant cities that don’t have huge passenger traffic. United Airlines will use Dreamliners in June for its new route between San Francisco and Chendu, All Nippon Airways will use it to connect Tokyo with San Jose, and Japan Airlines will use it on routes between Boston and Tokyo.

Slimline seats stink

To offset the extra space devoted to lie-flat beds and other premium-class chairs, airlines are jamming more seats into economy cabins using lighter-weight, ultra-trim “slimline” seats. The verdict? They’re not the least bit comfortable, with lack of padding and a reduced incline. The worst part is airlines won’t stop using them. United Airlines expects half of its 2014 capacity growth to be the result of slimline seats, which allow the installation of one or two additional rows of coach chairs per aircraft.

If you can make it there…

The New York-London route may be the key international route, but making it there is harder than it looks. Even Delta, the nation’s most profitable carrier, isn’t profitable in the center of the aviation universe. After years of effort, expanding market share and increased visibility, Delta has yet to turn the financial corner in New York. The airline promises that 2014 will be the year that it happens, but it also promised to improve its SkyMiles program, and we all know how that turned out.

You don’t want Israeli-style security

Every time the Transportation Security Authority does something wrong or a tragedy like the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 strikes, someone suggests the United States switch to “Israeli-style” security. Consider this: Israel spends about eight times more per passenger on security than we do. Duplicating the security style and scaling it for U.S. passenger volumes would add about $40 billion to the TSA’s current budget of $6 billion and would require three million security agents, compared to the current workforce of 50,000.

April in Paris is still a bad idea

Americans, even savvy business travelers, still dream about April in Paris. Not only is Paris cold and rainy in April, but Charles de Gaulle Airport is a dreary hub with a confusing layout and French pilots are threatening a strike. In case you were on the fence, this year may not be the year to live out the lyrics Vernon Duke’s great American melody.

5 Reasons Why Flying Won’t Be Fun in the Future

Crowded Plane

Consumer advocate Christopher Elliot has a dismal outlook for the future of the airline industry.

Somehow, “free” flights will be more expensive. Airlines will take your money in both large and small increments, depending on where you  sit – but they’ll still make off with your money one way or another. Competition will cease to exist, meaning more expensive fares for us all.

Lobbyists for the airline industry tried to strong-arm Congress into putting its “transparency” bill to a vote on Tuesday, which would allow airlines to quote a price not inclusive of taxes or mandatory fees.

If passed, airlines will be able to quote simply a “base” fare, adding the extras to the subtotal later, prior to completely the purchase.

It may be one of the worst customer-hostile pieces of legislation by Congress in years, essentially giving an entire industry a license to lie about its prices and leaving the customer with the impression that the fare is much cheaper than it is.

Here are Christopher Elliot‘s 5 Reasons Why Flying Won’t Be Fun in the Future:

You’ve made the right choice – the only choice.

Considering all the mergers in recent history, it’s highly likely that only one domestic airline will be left. We’ll be stuck with an Americanized version of Ryanair. Oh, the horror.

“Free” flights.

Even if the cost of an actual airline ticket dropped to zero, airlines will continue to make money like never before with fees for seat assignments, checked bags, carry-on bags, printed boarding passes and drinks. Airlines will even charge for mandatory “fuel surcharge” and “insurance surcharge,” which won’t be part of the base fare, but is still required as part of your purchase.

You-get-what-you-pay-for-class.

Conditions in the back of the plane will go from bad to intolerable. Seat pitch may shrink down to 26 inches, a full 10 inches less than before airline deregulation. And what will you get along with your limited personal space? Bombarded by ads and come-ons for “frequent flyer” credit cards.

Here come the personal cabins.

It’s not hard to envision a world in which major airlines will have fitted their first class sections with personal cabins featuring convertible sofas, conference tables and modest living areas – for those willing to pay for it. The flying Pharaohs of tomorrow will be divided into more than a dozen elite levels, one more special than the next, and they’ll be tended to by gourmet chefs, masseuses, on-board entertainers and fly attendants to cater to every whim.

Don’t worry – they’ll pay too. Or at lease their employers will.

Even passengers with elite status will get skimped on the “free” stuff, even after shelling out a hypothetical $12,000 of their company’s money for a personal cabin. Airlines will continue to take advantage of a slew of comprised ancillary fees at the top level, like wait lists for luxurious seats.

Airline apologists will continue to insist that this is the only way for the industry to be profitable; pay more, get more. And they’ll insist that it’s fair.

Inevitably, the mentality will be: “If you’re flying “free”, then shut up and take your place at the back of the plane – where you belong.

In a perfect world, the airline industry would treat every paying customer with a minimum amount of dignity and respect. Today’s airline seats are getting precariously close to torture. There’s not much more that they can take away, but you can bet that they will, and they’ll give them to the “best” customers.

Is Your Airline the Worst or Best? 2013 Airline Rankings Rate Virgin America Top-Notch

Virgin America

Virgin America remains at the top of the annual airline quality report released earlier this week, with JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines trailing close behind.

Delta came in fourth for the second year in a row, despite scientific data that proves declining performance when two large carriers merge (Delta merged with Northwest in 2008).

The survey, compiled by researchers for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Wichita State University, evaluated the 15 biggest carriers in the U.S. based on performance markers such as on-time flights and mishandled bags, and the airline industry hit its highest point in 24 years despite a decline in those areas.

Airlines bale to invest more in systems and personnel due to larger profits, and that leads to more satisfied passengers, according to the report’s co-author Brent Bowen, who is the dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Arizona campus.

“It’s a combination of giving more priority to customer service…and the fact that airlines have returned to a level of acceptable profitability,” Bowen told USA Today.

Southwest, long-heralded for its steady profits and high consumer scores but also saw declining performance in mishandled baggage and on-time performance, hovered in the eighth spot. Frontier, US Airways and American Eagle saw declining performances as well.

How did your favorite airline stack up?

2013 Airline Quality Rankings (2012 rankings in parentheses)

  1. Virgin America (1)
  2. JetBlue (2)
  3. Hawaiian (5)
  4. Delta (4)
  5. Alaska (6)
  6. Endeavor (new to the rankings this year, formerly Pinnacle)
  7. US Airways
  8. Southwest (8)
  9. American (10)
  10. AirTran (3)
  11. Frontier (7)
  12. United (14)
  13. ExpressJet (13)
  14. SkyWest (12)
  15. American Eagle (11)

How to Find Hidden Fees

Hidden Airline Fee
Gotcha” fees are everywhere, lurking in the corners, waiting to snatch your money at any unsuspecting moment.

Take codesharing: where an airline pretends  flights are its own, but they actually belong to a different carrier.

Want to fly to Barcelona? Well, if your airline of choice is American, which doesn’t fly to there, you’ll actually be flying with British Airways – and charged $98 per ticket if want to sit with your companions, or risk a random seating assignment – even in Business Class, which, at those prices, is supposed to come with “everything.”

It’s a deceptive fee, especially for families traveling together who have no choice but to pay up or sit far away from their small children. Gate attendants allow passengers with little ones to board early, so why not extend that same courtesy to seat assignments?

And government regulators are no help, referring this method as “drip” pricing. But consumer advocates like Christopher Elliot use more accurate terminology: the bait-and-switch.

So, where exactly are these fees hidden? Elliot explains:

In plain view. Clever companies don’t bother concealing their “restrictions” because they know customers don’t take the time to read the fine print. Even with full disclosure on the front page of a company’s Web site, customers are still surprised in the end.

After the purchase begins. Another example of the bait-and-switch, and travel companies are notorious for it. Have you even booked a room with a mandatory resort fee? The good news is the Federal Trade Commission recently cracked down on hotels that engage in these practices, but more needs to be done. If you price the price of your product rising after you start the booking process, cancel it. It’ll send a message to companies that these practices won’t be tolerated.

In the fine print. Most fees are hidden in tiny print at the bottom of the page, where nobody reads. Even the best companies have fine print, but a customer-friendly includes it to protect both the buyer and seller. A deceptive company, however, likes to add print in the contract solely to earn more money, and you’ll find they’re ruthless when enforcing it.

How to Spring Clean for Spring Travel

Stuffed luggage

Air travelers may need to undertake a physical and emotional spring cleaning.
An impending season of thunderstorms, hailstorms and tornadoes will follow a winter filled with snowstorms, sleet and ice, and the chaos often clutters the mind and luggage of avid travelers with all sorts of detritus.
Take a few minutes to empty the metaphorical travel junk drawers. Here are some tips from business travel columnist Joe Brancatelli:
Carrying on about carry-ons
United Airlines has embarked on a clampdown of carry-on luggage with the placement of “bag sizers” at many gates, and to accompany them, an crew member to intimidate passengers into paying a fee to check their bags. But, the airline hasn’t really changed the rules at all, but rather is rattling the sizer cages to remind travelers of size restrictions.
Despite United Airlines’ nit-picky agenda, it may serve as a good reminder to check the weight and size of your carry-on before you leave the house, or invest in something smaller, lighter and more versatile, like the scores of travelers who’ve switched to light weight, hard-sided bags.
Size-restriction specifications vary by carrier, but regulations allow passengers a total of 45 inches (combination of length plus width plus depth), and you may be harassed over bulging outer pockets and big, fat wheels.
Brancatelli’s pick: the Glazer Designs bag he purchased years ago. Other brands cost less and come in an array of colors and designs, but don’t rely on a bag maker’s claim that any particular piece meets “all: carry-on restrictions. Bring a tape measure with you, just in case.
Trim the technology
Sure, we love our gadgets. But taking every piece of technology we own with us when we travel is clogging our carry-ons and slowing us down.
Is it really necessary to schlep a phone, book reader, tablet, laptop, music player and who knows what else with us on the road? It’s essentially counterproductive, especially considering that at least one of the devices can do the tasks of all.
The smart-travel solution is to limit yourself to two devices: a smartphone and either a tablet or laptop. This will cut down on clutter, cables and the constant search for Wi-Fi and power outlets.
Render to Caesar…
Here’s why you may still want to enroll in PreCheck: when it’s working right, it’s lightning fast and doesn’t require you to take off or take out a laundry list of items at the security checkpoint.
Even if you’re selected randomly by an agent or your elite frequent flier status gives you PreCheck for free, you’re not getting selected as frequently as flyers who pay the TSA or are members of Global Entry.
Having a “known traveler” number (through $100 Global Entry membership or $85 TSA fee for PreCheck) offers the best chance of getting chosen for expedited security. TSA insiders even claim that travelers who have their paperwork in order and have “known traveler” credentials get selected for the security bypass line “ almost 100 percent of the time.”
So, you may have objections to rending to Caesar, but if you want to travel much better this spring, it may be worth it (your sanity will thank you).
Bonus: some credit cards will even rebate your fee.
Leave some stuff behind
The simplest method may be the hardest task for some, especially those with an aversion to packing light.
Travel experts know that good hotels almost always offer same-day laundry and dry cleaning, there’s almost always a Walmart, Target or other convenience store nearby for forgotten essentials, and there’s probably an app for finding a quick, cheap substitute for anything left behind.
And they don’t call hotel room’s “accommodations” for nothing. The Hyatt Has It program focuses on personal amenities and things like power adapters and phone cords. Candlewood Suites, an extended-stay brand from the InterContinental Hotels chain, has a Lending Locker that allows guests to borrow everything from board games to a crockpot. Westin Hotels’ WestinWorkout rents out fitness equipment and workout clothes. Kimpton Hotels’ has a plan called Forgot It? We’ve Got It! That stocks night lights, super glue, stain removers and an a plethora more of personal-care products.

What isn’t allowed on a plane that should be?

Liquids Banned

It looks like mobile cell phones are on their way to becoming a reality.

Despite the heated discussions in travel blogs, airlines announcing that they’d never allow wireless chatter in the cabins and a Quinnipiac University poll declaring that 59 percent of Americans are against it, mobile phones on commercial flights will eventually come to the United States, as it has already started in the rest of the civilized world.

Good etiquette in the interior of an aircraft is already in short supply, consumer advocate Christopher Elliot wrote in USA Today. Since when is a plane a yak-free zone like a library or church?
So, what else is banned from commercial flights that shouldn’t be?

Bottled water: The water available after the security checkpoint is always overpriced. And, sure, you can easily take an empty water bottle with you and fill it with tap water later.

So those are your only options? A $3 bottle of Aquafina or tap water that may taste a little funky?

The European Union is testing a liquid scanner that would allow passengers to carry drinks through its checkpoints. It’s unlikely that the TSA will officially ease its liquid restrictions in the U.S. anytime soon, but the agency has reportedly gotten a little lax lately with the liquid and gel restrictions, often missing large cups of yogurt, soft drinks and water bottles.

Pets: Most air travelers are forced to leave their beloved cats, dogs and birds at home, as most animals are not permitted in the main cabin. But to the delight of the affluent animal owner, pet-travel fees are one of the few unexploited areas for airline fees. For example, US Airways charges $125 each way to carry on a small domestic dog, cat or bird. But, what’s stopping an airline from loosening its size and weight restrictions if that means more revenue?

Knives: Pocket knives are essentially no more dangerous than a ballpoint pen, knitting needles and cutlery. Why single out small knives?

The TSA continues to prohibit knives in carry-on luggage, except for plastic or round-bladed butter knives. It announced last year that it would permit knives on board that it would permit knives on board, but retracted after flight attendants’ unions, consumer advocates and law enforcement officials raised objections to the proposed rules, claiming knives will make air travel less safe. Never mind that other parts of the world don’t consider pocket knives a threat to aviation safety.

FYI: Some other objects not allowed on a plane

-Scissors with blades longer than 4 inches

-Golf clubs

-Pool cues

-Hammers

-Drills and drill bits

-Firearm replicas

How to Beat Extra Fees and Surcharges

Airline Fees

It’s official: “unbundling” has taken over the travel industry.

Airlines alone earned $27.1 billion in ancillary fees in 2012, compared to just $2.45 billion in 2008. The ballooned figure represents more than 38 percent of a carrier’s revenue, according to IdeaWorksCompany, a consultant specializing in ancillary revenue.

“Once largely limited to low-fare airlines, ancillary revenue has now become a financial necessity for airlines all over the globe,” the report’s author, Jay Sorenson, wrote.

It doesn’t stop with air travel, though.

Unpopular policies like resort fees, airline ticket change fees and car rental fees have all become standard in recent years.

“They’re not there to serve your needs,” Grant Cardone, author of the book If You’re Not First, You’re Last, told USA Today. “Customers usually don’t even know a policy exists until they have a problem that can’t be solved because of a policy.”

Now, even cruises are charging extra for certain on-board restaurants, which essentially goes squarely against an “all-inclusive” package.

It’s a shift that makes perfect sense in a boardroom, instituting a new policy and seeing how much can be profited, but customers can’t stand the new rules, and companies’ reputations have suffered as a result.

Remember a time before Spirit Airlines went fee-crazy? Caesars Palace before resort fees? Cruise lines before they started charging for everything under the sun?

As consumers, we should be able to reverse the trend by leveraging our economic clout. But, when four dominant airlines control more than 85 percent of domestic flights, two cruise lines control more than 70 percent of worldwide boarded passengers, and lodging markets like Hawaii and Las Vegas mandate resort fees, it makes it difficult to fight the good fight.

A boycott alone is rarely enough to make a significant difference, but social media shame and threats of regulation can make a company that forces you to pay a new fee or has a customer-unfriendly policy change its ways.

Unhappy? Try these tactics from consumer advocate Christopher Elliot:

Tell everyone. You can reach a large audience almost instantly thanks to Twitter, Facebook and Google+, and public pressure can bear more weight than the absence of your dollars. Tip: you’ll likely get faster feedback from an airline’s Twitter account than their customer service line.

Get organized. Spirit Airlines reversed its decision to refuse a refund on a non-refundable airfare for a patient with terminal cancer after the Facebook page “Boycott Spirit” garnered tens of thousands of likes.

Call the government. Congress, the Federal Trade Commission and the Transportation Department can exert regulatory pressure on companies with bad policies. If you never complain, they’ll never have a chance.

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