STRATEGY

Travel in Style, or Not

Finding a company travel service for every budget.
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For some, getting from here to there is a perk; for others, it's torture. But we all have to do it, so the next time you or some of your employees need to hit the road, make sure you're getting the best service for the money. The hard part is figuring out what your company needs. Do you want ease and flexibility for just a few of you? Or is the main goal getting the lowest costs possible for large groups? Once you know what you're shopping for, the choices become pretty clear, from top-of-the-line luxury to bare-bones back-of-the-plane travel. Here are a few ways you can go.


First Class

Cassis Travel Services

For those who demand the best and have a few bucks to burn, there's no beating a first-rate traditional agency. At Cassis Travel, you have your own travel agent who will book both your business and leisure travel. Chances are your agent will be a knowledgeable world traveler able to recommend--or pan--hotels, resorts, and restaurants. Your favorite hotel in Paris is sold out? No problem. Cassis can usually get you in anyway, and often at a discount. But the biggest appeal for many customers is simply having help nearby when things go wrong, especially overseas, from a monsoon in Asia to a transit strike in Europe. Cassis operates toll-free 24-hour help lines in 60 countries.

Best Choice for: International travelers who need to do business in remote corners of the world and who expect luxury lodging and premium air. Also good for companies that conduct upscale board meetings, training sessions, or sales meetings away from the office. Many Cassis customers are business owners or high-level executives who also use the company for personal travel.

The Catch: It'll cost you. Cassis, like most traditional agencies, has moved to a fee-based system with service charges for each itinerary. That $45 to $60 fee can quickly add up for the frequent traveler. travelcts.com

Business Class

Open from American Express

Amex's small-business division, called Open, serves mostly companies with fewer than 100 employees. Open's travel services include access to travel agents, FedEx (NYSE:FDX) discounts, and temporary office space in many cities around the world.

Best Choice for: Companies that want to provide their traveling staff with helpful perks. Amex's Platinum Business card comes with access to airport business lounges in many cities around the globe, hotel upgrades, and complimentary companion tickets on full-fare domestic travel.

The Catch: Amex Open can be pricey. The more features a card has (there are 23 credit and charge cards), the more it costs. Options range from a no-annual-fee basic credit card with few services all the way to $395 a year for a single Platinum Business charge card (additional cards cost $200 each). open.com

Business Class

Diners Club Corporate Card

Diners Club cards have been around forever and have tons of features, including an airport lounge program, excess-baggage insurance, and 24-hour emergency travel hot lines. Best of all is the primary rental car insurance program, which will probably prevent your personal or corporate insurance rates from going up if you total your rental car. Diners also offers the industry's most flexible rewards program; most airlines and many top hotels participate. Diners has won InsideFlyer magazine's award for the best card travel program nine straight years.

Best Choice for: Companies that use a lot of rental cars and those for which letting employees earn and use reward points is considered a benefit. The card's 60-day payment term is the most generous interest-free offer out there.

The Catch: Most companies must pay annual fees of as much as $300 per card, depending on features and the company's contract. Diners does not provide full travel agency services. dinersclubus.com

Coach Plus

Travelocity Business

Good service, lots of savings. Travelocity Business provides travel agents by phone 24-7, and each agent has an average of 10 years of corporate travel experience. Travelocity Business tracks complaints about hotels and other vendors and notifies clients with upcoming reservations. It has access to the same database used by many airlines and uses data mining of its customers' spending to negotiate lower rates with partners such as Hilton Hotels (NYSE:HLN) and Avis.

Best Choice for: Companies that want to give their staff a choice of money-saving online booking or, for less tech-savvy travelers, live phone agents.

The Catch: Travelocity Business does not work with some low-cost carriers. Though its service is better than many Web rivals', it still lacks the expertise of top traditional agencies. travelocitybusiness.com

Coach

Expedia Corporate Travel

The business version of the popular travel website lets you easily compare prices for airline tickets, car rentals, and hotels. The site looks nearly identical to Expedia's (NASDAQ:EXPE) consumer site. But there are some big differences: Expedia Corporate automatically includes any corporate rates or discounts for which your company is eligible. Another helpful feature: You can set price caps on your company's Expedia account to control the maximum amount your staff can spend on, say, a hotel. Tech-savvy users enjoy real-time e-mail or text message updates of flight delays and easy access to all itineraries from mobile devices. Expedia and rivals such as Travelocity and Orbitz charge around $5 per booking, compared with anywhere from $15 to $45 charged by traditional travel agents.

Best Choice for: Companies at which employees book their own travel.

The Catch: Some domestic and overseas low-fare carriers, including Virgin America and RyanAir, are not represented by Expedia. And though you can call an agent if something goes awry while you're on a trip, don't look for advice or above-and-beyond service. expediacorporate.com

Correction: The original version of this story, which appeared in the January 2008 issue, incorrectly stated that Expedia Corporate Travel does not book seats on JetBlue, and that Travelocity Business does not sell seats on Southwest. Expedia began listing JetBlue flights in June 2007, while Southwest flights have been available on Travelocity since 2003.

Last updated: Jan 1, 2008




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