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Which business-trip fees will employers cover?

Also: Travel agents want people to know they still exist, and two San Francisco hotels lend out electric cars.

August 29, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • Under the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront hotel's car-sharing program, guests can reserve electric cars  including the EV Smart Car and Nissan Leaf  on a first-come, first-served basis.
Under the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront hotel's car-sharing… (Hertz )

Those extra airline fees that generate billions of dollars for the nation's air carriers have become a part of life for most business travelers. But not all airline fees are legitimate business expenses in the eyes of corporate America.

For example, 91% of corporate travel managers who were surveyed recently said they would reimburse employees for checked-baggage fees, but only 3% said they would cover in-flight entertainment charges.

The survey of 651 travel managers in the U.S. and Canada was conducted by the GBTA Foundation, the research arm of the Global Business Travel Assn., a worldwide trade group for travel managers.

About half of travel managers said they would reimburse for in-flight meals, and 10% said they would allow travelers to charge their employers to upgrade seating on domestic flights, according to the survey released this month.

As for hotel charges, 89% of travel managers said they would reimburse parking costs and 84% said they would pick up the tab for Internet access, whereas 9% said they would pay for goodies from in-room mini bars, and 4% said they would reimburse for the costs of in-room movies and other entertainment, the survey found.

Joe Bates, research director for the foundation, said most travel managers don't track extra airline fees because the charges are so new that many companies don't yet have the ability to record and tally them.

"The biggest issue is that it's hard to find the information," he said.

But if you're a business traveler, you might not have to worry about getting caught sneaking an unauthorized charge onto your expense report. According to the survey, 72% of travel managers said there are few or no consequences for violating corporate travel policies.

Travel agents are people too

The nation's travel agents would like the world to know that reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Several travel agent groups made the proclamation recently in response to President Obama's comment that the economy is struggling in part because so many jobs are now automated. At a town hall meeting in Illinois, Obama used the examples of bank tellers being replaced by ATMs and travel agents being replaced by travel websites.

The American Society of Travel Agents responded by firing off a letter to the White House that said agents process more than $146 billion in travel sales annually, representing more than half of all trips sold in this country.

The Travel Leaders Group, which represents nearly 30% of North America's travel agents, also fired back at Obama, saying travelers usually turn to human travel agents — rather than computers — when things go wrong on a business trip or vacation.

"Please understand that millions of savvy Americans prefer working with travel agents because they know they can rely on their assistance from the moment they first book their travel to the time they return home safely," Barry Liben, chief executive of the Travel Leaders Group, said in a statement directed at the President.

Hotels lend out electric cars

San Francisco was the first city to outlaw plastic grocery bags and require citizens to compost and recycle. So it should be no surprise that two hotels in the City by the Bay are now offering their guests the use of all-electric vehicles.

The Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco announced this month that it had teamed up with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to offer its guests the opportunity to rent Nissan Leaf cars from the hotel property for $90 per day.

Not to be outdone, the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront announced a few weeks later that it had joined forces with car rental giant Hertz to let guests enter an electric vehicle sharing program for free. Marriott guests can reserve the cars — including the Nissan Leaf and the EV Smart Car — on a first-come, first-served basis. Marriott officials said they hope to expand the program to the chain's hotels in Los Angeles.

Four Seasons officials have no immediate plans to expand the program to Southern California. But they do have an L.A. version of the San Francisco deal: Guests who rent one of the three most expensive suites at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills can borrow one of several luxury cars for free, including a Rolls Royce Phantom, with a retail price of $385,000, and a Lamborghini Gallardo, which goes for $241,000.

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