15 Tips for a Better Business Trip
Want to make your travels faster, cheaper, and far more comfortable? We've got the answers.
By Susanna Hamner and Snigdha Sen

(Business 2.0) – There's just no getting around it. Between deals that must be done, conferences that can't be missed, and blue-chip clients who demand personal attention, traveling seems to be the one constant in our busy lives. Yet the rules of the road are always changing. Consider: Today airfares are rising and big-city hotels are booked solid, but the opposite was true just a few years ago. So what's a seasoned traveler to do? Think different. Want to become a VIP at your favorite hotel? Make the concierge your new best friend. Dreading the London-bound flight in coach? Get business-class treatment at a fraction of the cost. To find out how you can have a better experience away from home, read on.

IN THE SKIES

1 Fast track to first class. If you know you'll be traveling a lot in coming months, you might be able to get elite frequent-flier status on some airlines even before you log your 25,000 qualifying points per year. Ian Douglas, a manager at StraightSource, which is based in Richardson, Texas, committed to accruing 10,000 points on American Airlines in 90 days. "I went to Platinum status in four and a half weeks," he says. Airlines don't promote this perk, called a "challenge," but details are spelled out at members.shaw.ca/fewmiles/.

2 Avoiding the middle. When you're buying a plane ticket and the seating chart shows only middles available, go unassigned. Since airlines generally hold back some windows and aisles until departure day, you're better off heading to the airport a little early to get a seat assignment when you check in. On the flip side, if you're traveling with a colleague and seating is wide open, reserve a window and an aisle in the same row. If no one picks the middle seat, you both get more room to spread out.

3 Without delay. Here's a flight worth skipping: US Airways's 5:05 p.m. nonstop from Philadelphia to Atlanta. Why? It's late 78 percent of the time, according to FlightStats.com. This site tracks up-to-date on-time performance of all U.S. flights and gives day-of-departure information on delays.

4 More stretch for less scratch. Can't afford business class? United's Economy Plus gives you a little more precious legroom for just $29 to $99 extra. Foreign carriers do even better: For the same price as a full-fare coach ticket, premium economy class on Singapore and Virgin Atlantic means wider seats, more legroom, free booze, better lighting, and curtained privacy.

ON THE GROUND

5 Green limousines. Ride in style and help save Mother Earth. New York startup Ozocar's Lexus and Toyota hybrids come equipped with Apple iBooks, satellite radio, and high-speed Internet access. The cost? A mere $50 from LaGuardia airport to Manhattan. EcoLimo in Los Angeles and PlanetTran in Boston offer similar services. Coming soon: Ozocars in Washington and London.

6 Sleeping easier. Hotwire and Orbitz are good for finding cheap last-minute plane tickets, but when it comes to hotel reservations, not so much. Here's why: Third-party travel sites buy blocks of rooms at a discount and resell them at marked-up rates that are usually lower than the hotel's published rate. But the pricing dynamic shifts the closer you are to your travel date. At that point, hotels are just trying to fill empty beds while Orbitz & Co. are trying to avoid losses on their prepurchased rooms, says Mark Johnson, publisher of Hotelchatter.com. You're likely to get a better deal if you just call the hotel and ask for the rock-bottom price.

7 Greasing the wheels. If you visit the same city a lot, find a hotel you like and buy the general manager a drink at the bar. "Build a relationship with the staff and prove your loyalty," says Chris Barnett, contributing editor at Frequent Flyer magazine. The reward? During your next visit, you're likely to get a free upgrade and other red-carpet perks.

8 Hotspot or not? Need to find a nearby Wi-Fi access point to check your e-mail? JiWire.com and WiFinder.com list thousands of free and fee-based Wi-Fi hotspots around the world, from barber shops in Cleveland to tea lounges in Tokyo. WiFinder also lets users review the best and worst of the bunch.

AROUND THE WORLD

9 The (Time) Zone diet. To beat jet lag, U.S. soldiers swear by a pre-departure regimen that helps them adapt quickly to the rhythms of their destination. The key is to train your body to respond to cues based on what you eat at certain times of the day: high-energy proteins in the morning, or sleep-inducing carbs at night. You can find out how this diet works--and buy your own customized meal plan--at www.antijetlag.com.

10 Favorable exchange. Watch your wallet when using credit cards and ATMs overseas. Large banks like Chase and Citi now add a 2 to 3 percent surcharge to foreign currency transactions. Why? Because they can. If you travel outside the country frequently, sign up for a card from an issuer like Capital One or Wachovia that has declined to follow suit.

11 A fare deal. No meters? No problem. When traveling abroad, always negotiate taxi fares up front to avoid being ripped off. If haggling fails, learn from Gary Leff, CFO at a university research center in Virginia. On a trip to Mexico, when his cabbie asked for an outrageous sum, Leff got his hotel doormen to intervene. "I was their guest, so I knew they'd be likely to side with me," he says. Outnumbered, the cabbie backed down.

12 Traveling globally, calling locally. A cell phone can be a lifeline when traveling abroad, but "world phones" are hugely expensive. TravelCell offers a convenient and affordable service that rents "local" cell phones designed for use in any of 150 countries. Your phone arrives by mail before you depart. All you need to do is send it back in a prepaid envelope when you return. The rental fee? Just $30 per week.

OFF THE CLOCK

13 Lighter reading. Buying books at airport newsstands doesn't have to induce sticker shock. CNBC News, TravelMart, and other stores run by the Paradies Shops in 55 U.S. airports will refund 50 percent of the price of a paperback if you return the book when you're done. Check www.theparadiesshops.com to find store locations.

14 Roaming reviewer. New to town? Zagat, the restaurant review bible, now offers a $25 "Zagat to Go" annual electronic subscription for Pocket PCs. The service provides restaurant reviews for more than 70 U.S. cities, with nightlife listings for Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco. A "click to call" feature makes reservations easy.

15 Roads less traveled. Forget the claustrophobic hotel gym. AthleticMindedTraveler.com offers tips on choice jogging routes and healthy restaurants in major U.S. cities. For $3 per month or $20 per year, you get downloadable running maps and advice from locals on hiking trails, swimming pools, reliable bike shops, and the like.

Susanna Hamner (shamner@business2.com) is a writer-reporter at Business 2.0. Snigdha Sen (snigdha_sen@business2.com) is an editorial intern.

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.