United Airlines' lay-flat seats are featured in its new "premium… (United Airlines )
With the lingering effects of the Great Recession slowly disappearing, more business travelers are reserving high-priced hotel rooms and booking roomier seats in the front of the plane.
But the luxury spending may be benefiting executives, not middle managers and lower-level workers.
At the depth of the recession, most major companies restricted workers to flying in the economy section and booking budget hotel rooms. But some businesses now seem to be loosening the purse strings on the travel budget.
A study released last week by a major travel company found a 3.5% increase over last year in the number of business travelers reserving upscale hotel rooms. The study also found a 4.6% increase in the number of agents who said at least 11% of their clients are booking first- or business-class seats.
“We’re seeing a notable increase overall in the number of business travelers flying first and business class,” said Steve Loucks, a spokesman for Travel Leaders Group, the company that conducted the survey of 946 travel agents. “This is a positive indicator that businesses are feeling better about the economy.”
But some local travel managers say the luxury spending does not extend to regular business travelers.
“My perception is that, no, companies are still cracking down on travel spending,” said Sean Paraham, travel director for Corinthian Colleges Inc., a for-profit company that operates 111 campuses in the U.S. and Canada.
The only exception to the crackdown, he said, are executives.
“Sometimes executives are given bandwidth to fly in first class but I don’t see that in the general population,” said Paraham, the incoming president of the Los Angeles Business Travel Assn.
For those business travelers who get to spend more, several airlines are adding new luxury services.
United Airlines is expanding its "premium service" from Los Angeles International Airport to John F. Kennedy International Airport and from San Francisco International Airport to JFK. Eight of the 13 planes that offer the service include 28 lay-flat seats with 15.4-inch entertainment screens and all-natural scones and cookies made from scratch, plus access to the United lounge with complimentary drinks.
United plans to configure a total of 15 planes with the lay-flat seats and other extras by the end of the year.
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