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Business Travel

Hotels, Airlines Woo Business Travelers

And looser travel policies will let employees take advantage as the economy improves.

Business travel is picking up as the economy strengthens. “We definitely are seeing signs of life at the end of a long recession,” says Craig Banikowski, president of the National Business Travel Association.

Eager to get a bigger share of the added traffic, airlines and hotels are offering sweeteners to business customers. Carriers are willing to waive some of their ancillary fees -- for baggage, upgrades and express check-in, for example -- to win repeat business from frequent fliers. They’re also beefing up service for business travelers on international routes, offering flat beds, Internet access and more frequent flights to well-traveled destinations. Many hotels, too, are offering a wide array of freebies to snag returning customers, such as breakfast, parking and Wi-Fi, says Yannis Karmis, president of Travelocity Business.

There’ll be no break from higher airfares, though. They’ll stay at last 10% higher this year compared with last year. Expect hotel rates to be flat through the rest of the year.

Note that more and more companies are loosening travel restrictions. Some are allowing their road warriors to upgrade to business class on flights and stay in more-upscale properties. That’s a reversal of policies during the recession. For example, more travelers are flying business class on overseas trips. Business class tickets made up 35% of total tickets sold in April 2009. In April 2010, the total was 41%, according to Christa Degnan Manning, director of the eXpert insights research practice at American Express Business Travel.

Luxury hotels (Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, etc.) and “upper upscale” properties (Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, etc.) are seeing the biggest comeback. Many companies banned employee stays at more-expensive sites during the recession, in some cases to avoid unfavorable publicity.