Once upon a time the airlines had this rule called the Saturday night stay, and business travelers hated it because it was aimed at them.
Earlier this year, when high fuel prices pressured the airlines to find new ways to raise revenue, carriers tried to revive the Saturday night stay. That effort was short-lived, but carriers said they'd keep trying.
The Saturday night stay put road warriors into the position of either paying lots more for their airline ticket or having to stay on the road for an extra night or two. Of course, the one thing business travelers don't want to do is to spend extra time on the road when they instead can be home for the weekend and spend that time with friends and family.
In the meantime, carriers have increasingly been seeking to introduce two- and three-night stays where one-night stays had been the rule. The minimum-stay rule originated as a way to separate business travelers from leisure travelers by forestalling business travelers from taking advantage of discount fares. Road warriors typically don't have a lot of flexibility in their travel plans, and the airlines know it.
For a while the discount carriers motivated the network carriers to simplify their fares, but then high fuel prices undermined that trend. But recently, with fuel prices lower than they've been in years and consumer confidence declining, the airlines are scrambling like never before to fill seats any way they can.
The downturn is keeping a large percentage of business travelers at home, however, as companies continue to cut back on corporate travel.
My opinion is that the airlines won't actively pursue the Saturday night stay revenue strategy so long as the economy has the "slows." Right now it is a buyer's market for air travel, and although business travelers still have to contend with a frustrating combination of fees and surcharges, smart road warriors know there are deals to be had.
I believe that the minimum-stay rule won't be making a comeback anytime soon. Business travelers have a lot of options right now for saving money simply because so many travelers are just not traveling.