Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Harmonizing Expectations To The Higher Cost Of Non-Air Travel

It's not just air travel that's challenging these days. In South Florida last week on business, I was quoted a $50 transfer to the airport by the hotel concierge, but the limo service told me it was now $55 (before tips).

"That's our new price effective January 1," he said, when I expressed surprise. "But I guess the word hasn't gotten out."

"A 10% increase in one day is kind of steep, isn't it?" I replied.

"Huh?" my driver mumbled. "Well, yeah, I hadn't thought about it like that! $5 didn't seem like that much."

And that seems to be the story of 2007. Already in November and December my hotel rates went up noticeably. I was quoted $239 (plus taxes) for a Hampton Inn, a new high for the lowest Hilton brand, and this week I paid a client's supposedly dirt-cheap corporate rate of $120 (plus taxes) for a Marriott Courtyard in an overbuilt Chicago suburb.

Next week I have reservations at hotels in Cleveland, Duluth, Chicago, and Huntsville, and I'll pay an average of $145/night at very pedestrian hotel properties (Courtyard, Hampton, Days Inn, Holiday Inn) for a total of $725.

That's about $100 more than I paid last year for 4 nights, a 17% increase.

For the plain-vanilla car Hertz made me wait a long time for at Chicago O'Hare this week (see previous post), I paid over $100 per day, including taxes and fees, and next week's cars in Cleveland, Duluth, O'Hare, and Huntsville are all quoted at $90-110/day inclusive of taxes. That means I'll spend over $500 for 5 days of rental cars next week.

That's about 10-15% more than I paid for the same cars this time last year.

I know all this because I keep all my expenses in Quicken, which allows me to do comparative analysis quickly and easily.

So who says inflation is under control?

Well, at least the airfares I'm paying are just a bit more than last year, and in some cases about the same (up about 3-5% from 2006 so far in the markets I've been flying to). But accommodation and car rentals have gone up dramatically.

Why is this, and what effect does it have on me and my worklife?

Everything I read tells me that hotels and car rental companies have more price power than the airlines, so I accept this as the reason. The effect on me and my colleagues, who must travel every week, is unrelenting client pressure to reduce their costs by having us stay in more and more downscale hotel properties and rent ever smaller, cheaper cars.

In years past I always stayed at so-called "full service" hotels like real Hiltons and Marriotts and Hyatts and Sheratons. More often these days it's a Hampton Inn or a Fairfield Inn.

I don't require coddling by a Ritz-Carlton or a Four Seasons, but it is nice, even essential, to have a bar and a restaurant on premise, and room service. These used to be basic services one could expect in a hotel property. Mostly, however, those options are not available now.

That makes travel more Spartan, more difficult. It's a subtle and slow pain, like being nibbled to death by ducks. But I have resigned myself to the inevitability of it if I want to continue my career.

Awareness of the persistent cost reduction challenge is a good reason to perfect and reinforce my Zen approach to the weekly travel ordeal, and that's what I do. It also helps to remind myself that Joe Brancatelli is right when he says that, no matter the challenges and inconveniences, we are the lucky ones to be able to experience the world.


Blogger Bill said...

Your points are well made. We cannot do much of anything about these rate increases. By going to the Hampton Inns and the Courtyards, one is strking a reasonable accommodation. Although I don't expect my clients to pay for Sheratons and Marriotts, I do expect them to pay for Hampton Inns, Courtyards, and the like. I surely hope your clients ante up too. It is a cost of doing business.

1/19/2007 4:56 AM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...

To Bill:

My clients are paying for it, but when Hamptons start charging $130-200 per night for a room, it's hard not to wince. Their properties are just not worth that much money.

However, like you perhaps, I have moved down-market in my hotel choices as far as I can go, and this is where I draw a line in the sand.

1/30/2007 10:53 PM  

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