Excel at the Job Jan 12 2011

A Step-by-Step Guide to Efficient Business Travel

By kelly eggers

You know the type: They live out of rolling suitcases, have their car company on speed dial, virtually unlimited Internet connectivity in airports, and never seem to take more than fifteen minutes to go from the sidewalk to a seat on the plane. The seasoned business traveler seems to have a system -- and while their lives may not fall completely in line with George Clooney's in Up in the Air, many have elite status with airlines and hotels, access to exclusive lounges, and personal connections that help their travel plans go smoothly more often than not.

We talked to three serial business travelers who fly hundreds of thousands of miles each year to some of the busiest cities in the world and gathered their advice on packing, driving, flying, and sleeping in a far-off destination. Here are a few of their tips.

Step One: Pack with Sense

Pack light and carry-on.

"The only thing that matters with packing is to take that which you cannot replace in the location you're going to," says James Berkeley, a management consultant with Berkeley Burke International, a London-based consulting firm, who regularly travels through more than 100 airport terminals a year.

What you can replace in Budapest is different than what you can replace in Boston, he says, so keep in mind that packing light is often location-dependent. He is also always prepared for spur-of-the-moment trips: "I always keep a spare suitcase packed in case I need to quickly travel from point A to point B."

Do whatever you can to carry-on your luggage.

"Know the allowable dimensions for carry-on bags, and follow those dimensions to a T," says Tyler Marciniak, founder of TheMilesGuy.com which brokers frequent-flyer miles for individuals. "Having Elite status [with an airline] typically gets you onboard earlier and ensures that there will be room for your bag."

High-flyers say they like luggage by Tumi or Rowena but don't recommend buying it until you know your specific preferences on things like exterior and wheel type.

Insider tip: "There are services in North America and Europe that allow you to send your luggage ahead of time," says Berkeley. Major shipping services like UPS and FedEx can arrange to ship your luggage three to four days in advance to your destination, and upon your arrival, you'll find your luggage in your hotel room (and your suits hanging in the closet to boot).

Step Two: Reliable Rides

When it comes to car services, reliability is king -- followed closely by safe drivers and those that keep up appearances. Frequent travelers run into trouble on occasion, but a professional driver that's respectful of their passenger's time is one to hold on to.

"If you want to be treated as a priority, receive outstanding service, and save a tremendous amount of time, build a relationship with outstanding drivers, not car services," says Berkeley.

It's about reciprocation: Take their card, call them directly when you need a ride, and refer your friends to them as well. They'll appreciate the extra business, and you'll enjoy the convenience.

"If I am delayed, running late, need a pick up at very short notice or outside of normal work hours, it is not a problem," says Berkeley.

Also, like airlines, there are rewards programs for some car services. "In New York City, I use Carmel Car and Limo because they allow you to earn frequent flyer miles with a number of airlines for every ride you take," says Marciniak.

Step Three: Fly with Class

While frequent business travelers are often unable to choose the dates and destinations of their trips, they have definite opinions on the best times to fly and the best places to fly to.

"If you have a flexible schedule, avoid Friday night, Saturday morning, Sunday night, and Monday morning [flights], when business travelers and tourists alike try to leave," says George Eves, who spends much of his time traveling internationally as a relocation expert with Expat Info Desk, an online service that helps people relocate to new countries. When flying through different time zones, he recommends developing a system to cope that you use consistently.

"Jet lag seems to be a very personal problem," he says.

While it's not normally recommended, he avoids jet lag with a glass or two of champagne in-flight and adjusting his watch before he lands.

Frequent flyers say North American airports simply don't cut it compared to their international counterparts. Among the favorite airports are Singapore, Hong Kong, Zurich, and Munich -- compared to London's Heathrow and New York's JFK, which were among the worst. What sets the winners apart from the losers comes down to how user-friendly they are: luggage trolleys move with ease, crowds don't block pedestrian traffic, and claustrophobia doesn't kick in upon entry.

International airlines were also rated better than their domestic counterparts: Singapore, Swiss Air, Emirates, and China East were a few of the airlines marked by their good service, convenient cabin layout, and in-flight entertainment. A thumbs-down was given to most American airlines for their poor track record on luggage, delays, and food quality -- though if you're traveling domestically, Marciniak suggests flying into or out of an airline's hub, such as Delta in Atlanta, or Southwest in Dallas.

Frequent flyer programs were chided by some and championed by others. Berkeley says that flyers get what they pay for.

"The usage of frequent flyer points has become so difficult, and it's not in the interest of the customer," Berkeley says, and advocates forking over the cash for first class if you want the service instead of hoping for an upgrade.

Marciniak adds, however, that miles or points can often allow for smaller upgrades within coach class. "Access to desirable seats including exit rows, early boarding, [and] fast-track lines through check-in and security" were just a few of the rewards he mentioned, so don't write them off entirely.

Step Four: Hotel Well

Business travel often takes professionals to the same global capitals -- and in most circumstances, hotel stays in those cities are limited to worldwide chains, rather than more personalized boutique hotels. This is partly because the chains offer loyalty programs that reward travelers for staying in hotels under a larger umbrella brand, such as Hilton and Marriott. Large companies also tend to have deals only with the bigger hotel companies.

While no hotel will compare to a night in your own bed, finding those that enable you to keep to your daily routine at home -- a lap pool for your evening swim, or a continental breakfast that stocks the granola you like to eat every morning -- can help make business travel a bit more comfortable.

Write to Kelly Eggers

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