Barnett on Business Travel for 2003

chris December 18: Puck's Travels--Wolfgang Puck, That Is
Traveling year-round isn't nearly as grueling as cooking flawlessly for 200 persnickety foodies every night, but it is stressful enough. Yet Wolfgang Puck, the most successful of all globe-spanning superchefs, has a recipe for keeping cool on the go: Enjoy yourself, but don't tolerate slack service.

December 4: ATA Airlines Cleans Up Its Act
I wrote off American Trans Air three years ago after enduring a miserable coast-to-coast flight shoehorned into a tight seat on a dirty plane staffed with a surly flight crew. Never again, I vowed. But summoned to Chicago on short notice and given a budget of $300 roundtrip from San Francisco, I found the airline had a new name (ATA Airlines) and a friendly, comfortable new persona.

November 20: Where to Put Your Head on a Bed at the Airport
Airport hotels usually get a bad rap as bleak, boring, ugly barracks for road soldiers and vacationers catching an early flight. They're generally relegated to the bottom of the hospitality food chain, right down there with motels off the interstate. That's not necessarily true. After overnighting in several airport hotels recently, I discovered their virtues.

October 30: The Last of Concorde
I rode one of the last Concorde flights to London and I noticed that the folks who visibly enjoyed Concorde most were travelers who flew it as a novelty or rare treat. There was a lot to enjoy. On the ground, BA's 20,000-square-foot Concorde Lounge at JFK was a sanctuary of calm and comfort. On board, steaming towels were served on a sterling silver tray. A sommelier was on hand to pour the Champagne. There was brunch anytime you wanted it. First-run movies? There wasn't enough time on Concorde.

October 23: JetBlue Airways Keeps Getting Better
Credit JetBlue Airways for keeping its promise to harried, price-gouged travelers: a comfortable trip at a cheap price. The Big Six airlines are shaving costs at passenger expense, but JetBlue is sticking to its original flight plan and adding a few perks, too.

October 9: The Best of Both Worlds on Alaska Airlines
John Nelson recently snagged a $329 fare from Washington/Dulles to Seattle on Alaska Airlines and he got everything the majors give plus something nearly extinct in U.S. skies: an old-fashioned hot American breakfast in economy class. How'd Nelson get low fares and old-fashioned service? Alaska Air is the only U.S. airline with the best features of the full-service and discount airlines.

September 18: Heaven on Earth in Scotland
At age 50, Andrew Carnegie escaped from Pittsburgh, described by an historian as "hell with the lid off," to a slice of Scotland that Carnegie called "heaven on earth." More than a hundred years later, Skibo Castle is still a getaway home, for a weekend or longer, to captains of industry, chief executives, visiting potentates, global celebrities and other lions of commerce and the arts.

September 4: A Fast Trip Around the Business-Travel World
All aboard for my fast trip around the world of business travel: real-time, online hotel deals; a bizarre first-class deal to Hawaii; a fancy new lounge at LAX; a stunning warehouse-turned-hotel in New Orleans; several smart off-airport car-rental strategies; and a unique hotel overlooking Lake Lucerne in Switzerland.

August 21: The Clift Falls Off Its Perch by the Bay
Ian Schrager, the flamboyant, publicity-grabbing hotelier, told a reporter two years ago to forget talk of downturn or recession. "It's irrelevant to me," he claimed then. But Schrager dove for cover last week when he put San Francisco's 88-year-old Clift Hotel into Chapter 11. That's a nice opportunity for business travelers: Rooms, which once rented for $400 a night, can now be had for $175.

August 7: The Dish on Bay Area Dining
Major corporate players, bill-it-back consultants and self-anointed gourmands may still feast regally at opulent troughs. But sensible travelers are finding dining nirvana at cool, casual neighborhood bistros that put out great, sensibly priced food served by smart, smiling wait staffs. San Francisco, long a Mecca for serious foodies, is at the epicenter of this new trend.

July 24: What Your Money Should Buy at a Luxury Hotel
What do you get when you pay $300 a night in a hotel today? Personal attention, caring service, elegant furnishings, ultra-plush comfort? Those are luxury basics, like getting a bed and a lamp at a Motel 6. But I explain what else you should be getting at a luxury hotel.

July 17: The Boss of Spirit Airlines Knows the Rules of the Road
Spirit Airlines founder Ned Homfeld says the carrier became a "real airline" by hauling sun-starved vacationers on a budget to Florida and the Caribbean and carrying slot machine players on gambling junkets underwritten by casinos. But now Homfeld says Spirit is making a play for frequent flyers by offering cheap upgrades and a small-business program with fare discounts and no-charge ticket changes.

June 26: The Bean Counters Are in Control of the Travel World
For travelers today, the grim truth is that competition giveth, but the bean counters taketh away. I say you can see it in American's decision to abandon its More Room in coach program, Midwest Airlines' dismantling of its award-winning in-flight product and even Northwest's synthetic paper napkins. Do perks, once lost, ever come back? Not often and never on a grand scale.

June 19: Denver Business Hotels: Hip and Historic
The grand, gilded, crystal-chandeliered and mahogany-paneled American hotels built in the late 19th century aren't very welcoming to commercial travelers unless they're part of a chain with deep pockets. But the rare exception is the privately owned Brown Palace, the business and social epicenter of Denver since 1892. Also notable: The historic Oxford and the new, ultra-hip Luna.

May 29: Frontier Airlines Lowers Fares and Turns on the Charm
Add Frontier Airlines to the shortlist of U.S. air carriers giving flyers genuine in-flight friendliness and painless prices without Draconian restrictions. The Denver-based, nationwide carrier debunks the notion that a unionized airline with high operating costs can't compete with moneymakers like JetBlue, AirTran and Southwest.

May 22: How to Negotiate the Car-Rental Maze
Renting a car was a breeze in the ice age of travel before computers, Internet sites and long telephonic waits "on hold." Today, all car-rental companies and Internet travel agents try to convince you that they have the lowest prices, the greatest deals and the best and fastest service. Not true.

May 8: Get Your Travel Tips from the Airline-Travel Pros
Everyone listens to cooking hints from Wolfgang Puck, acting advice from Jack Nicholson and golfing tips from Tiger Woods. So what did I learn from airline consultants when they hit the road and travel? Answer: They're disloyal to brand names, tightfisted with their own money and hate wasting precious, billable time.

April 24: There's a Small Hotel
The new frontier of lodging is different: The incredibly shrinking luxury hotel with lavish touches at a reasonable room rate where someone might know your name. I've got details on a fancy new small place in Beverly Hills and Hampton Inn's new small-inn concept.

April 3: Is It Time to Dump Your Frequent-Flyer Miles?
David Currie just plunked down 120,000 Mileage Plus miles for two first-class United Airlines tickets to Hawaii. And not just because he wants a vacation. Currie is worried about the financial health of the airline industry. He figures he'd better use the miles or lose them. Here are some thoughts on the tricky matter of cashing in or holding on.

March 20: Tiny Tokyo Hotel Is a Landlocked Private Jet
Hidden away on just five floors of a 31-story office tower smack in the center of Tokyo's hyperkinetic business district is the hotel industry's answer to the private jet. Indeed, the six-month-old, 57-room Four Seasons Tokyo at Marunouchi is an experiment in hospitality.

March 6: Food, Inglorious In-Flight Food
Bank robbers, drug traffickers and other federal prisoners eat better, healthier food than economy-class passengers on U.S. airlines. But how do the real pros--chefs and food experts--sate their appetite on the road? It shouldn't surprise you to learn that most of them bring their own meals on board.

February 20: Genuine Bargains, Sweet Deals, Smart Services
Not all the news bombarding travelers today is bleak. Amid the chorus of bankruptcies and cutbacks are newsworthy nuggets of genuine bargains, sweet deals and smart services that are often ignored or never fully disclosed.

February 6: Shanghai's Plush Red Carpet for Travelers
It's almost impossible to believe that you could check into the opulent new Four Seasons Hotel in Shanghai for a full week at the same price you'd pay for a single night in the chain's flagship in New York. But a traveler recently paid $100 a night in Shanghai while the quoted rate in New York is $695 a night. From fancy new hotels to $2 cab rides, everything is inexpensive in frenetic Shanghai.

January 30: All Nippon Airways: Another Worthy Japanese Import
Japan has sold Americans on its cars, cameras, computers and sushi, but its airlines have never really won the hearts and wallets of Asia-bound Yankee travelers. Now, however, some frequent flyers who book U.S flag carriers out of loyalty to their mileage programs are kicking the habit and flying Japan's two homegrown international carriers. Prices can be lower and the in-flight service is culturally far more polite and attentive.

January 16: Cracking the Code on Low-Priced Fares
Most travelers are numbed by the flood of catastrophic news hammering the major airlines today, so here are some glad tidings: Sky-high business fares are falling and will likely keep dropping. Plus, ridiculous buying requirements like Saturday-night stayovers are starting to disappear.

January 2: Vancouver's Boutique Hotel of the Future
Among serious travelers, the phrase "boutique hotel" is code for Spartan rooms, few comforts and a just-be-grateful-I'm-serving-you attitude. No surprise then that general manager David Currell is struggling to find a different description for his 5-month-old, 97-room Opus Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia. I'm just back from a visit and think I may have seen the hotel of the future.

Copyright 2001-2004 by Chris Barnett. All rights reserved.
A note to editors: This column is available biweekly through Copley News Service. Contact: Glenda Winders.