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It Is a New Day for the Neo-Frugal Business Traveler

With the 2011 resurgence in business travel that some news outlets are reporting, airlines and hotels are rolling out improved services, like fancier airport lounges, to lasso business dollars being spent by the neo-frugal business traveler. Corporate travelers spent 2.3 % more on travel last year than they did in 2009, which was a truly dismal year, according to the National Business Travel Association (NBTA).

Peter Greenberg in his "Contrarian Traveler" column says that what's new for road warriors in the skies is airborne Wi-Fi. Virgin America offers Wi-Fi on all of its flights, Delta on most flights, and American on transcontinental flights. Frontier is starting to install Wi-Fi, as is Jet Blue; and you can find Wi-Fi on certain aircraft flown by United, U.S. Airways, Alaska Airlines, AirTran, and Air Canada.

As Greenberg postulates, inflight Wi-Fi could be a game changer for business travelers who, until now, focused on cost and schedule as the key criteria for picking a flight. But as the Los Angeles Times reported, three-quarters of business travelers polled by the Wi-Fi Alliance said they would choose an airline based on the availability of inflight Internet connectivity.

Of course, inflight Wi-Fi is just part of an ever-growing menu of ancillary services that fliers can choose from. On the ground, hotels are divided into those that provide complimentary connection to the Internet and those that charge for the service, or for service upgrades. Some road warriors are campaigning for fast, free Internet connections in hotel rooms and wonder why what costs extra in the air ought to be free on the ground.

Actually, the comparison is unfair from a technology standpoint. That's because free Internet guests get at hotels is very different on a cost basis from. Internet service in the air. A hotel makes back way more than a part of their cost of providing Internet service, while airborne Internet service is still a new frontier. In fact, most airlines are still exploring whether they can make a profit at inflight Wi-Fi.

While some think that road warriors can't get a fair shake at hotels, Peter Miller, director of marketing for Skytrax, which conducts surveys on airport lounges, recently told Business Traveler Magazine that "business travelers are being pampered from check-in to the time of their flight." Terry Evans, president of Priority Pass, a paid membership program that provides access to more than 530 airport lounges worldwide, says that's because road warriors are spending more time than ever before in airports thanks to increased security measures. No surprise then that airport business lounges have become a growth industry.

(For a rundown on which airport lounges are, well, rundown, check out Skytrax, which rates both airports and airlines.)

Checking out airports means more than just finding out which ones have the best lounges. For the smart road warrior, checking out airports also means investigating which ones near you have the flight schedules that work best for you. In fact, seeking out alternate airports is one of the best ways to save money and time (and time is money!), according to, columnist David Grossman.

There are other areas where you don't want to be penny wise and pound foolish. One is seat selection. (Again, check out Skytrax but don't overlook SeatGuru.) Surely there is no spot more dreaded on a crowded airplane that the fatal middle seat. Advice on how to avoid that seat is varied. I find that paying to confirm your seat in advance (it costs few dollars extra) is the easiest way to do that.

One final thought in the penny wise, pound foolish department: don't underestimate the value of booking your travel through a real-life travel agent. During critical times like these, where political situation in the Near East, Africa, and other hot spots around the globe are wreaking havoc with airline schedules, the living, breathing, and highly experienced travel agent on the other end of the phone is a blessing. Travel agents are a 24/7 help desk that can re-book your canceled flight or find you a hotel room faster than you can do it yourself. In the thick of 'the winter from hell' that is playing hob with travel all across the country, travel agent know-how is something even the most independent road warrior should value.

Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid •