The Savvy Traveler – Make Business Travel Easier by Learning the Ropes


For Jenna Cowley, a Detroit-based senior consultant for Deloitte, flying to New York every Monday morning is a normal way of life.

Consultants like Cowley and other road warriors who work a sales territory or visit company facilities have figured out ways to make business travel more efficient and less grueling. It’s a matter of being organized and learning the ropes.

Navigating Airports
Cowley is one of those “fast lane” travelers who has the system down pat for getting through airport security. While home on the weekend, she refills the small plastic bottles that go in her quart-size plastic bag of toiletries. Before she steps up to the security-line conveyor belt, she has her jacket, shoes and belt off and ready to place in a bin. Her laptop computer is out of its bag to go in a second bin.

Catherine Summers, a technical project manager for Lawson Software who flies out of Grand Rapids, finds that smaller airports usually don’t have the special first-class/elite/experienced flyer security line. But with only 12 gates compared to nearly 150 at Detroit Metro, the Gerald R. Ford International Airport is easy to navigate and the completion of the new parking structure will make her car-to-gate time even shorter.

To travel through unfamiliar airports, southeast Michigan-based travel pro Bill Valk goes online to view the layout and find the location of gates, shops, restaurants and ground transportation. As director of human resources for Guardian Industries, he makes the rounds of company plants in places as varied as Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Fresno, Calif., Nashville, Tenn., and Moline, Ill.

Air Time
When going overseas, Valk prefers flights that leave late in the afternoon, so he can get some sleep and arrive rested. He avoids caffeine and uses earplugs to improve his chances. Not to be limited to the scheduled in-flight movies, he downloads TV programs from iTunes to watch on his iPod.

Connecting flights are a fact of life for Summers, who currently is on a long-term project in Santa Ana, Calif. She says it’s hardly worth the effort to get out her laptop computer on the short legs, but she uses it on longer flights to get work done. She’s set up with an extended battery and has discovered tricks such as deactivating the wireless connection and turning down the screen brightness to help keep the computer running for the duration.

On the ground or onboard before the door closes for take-off, she’ll whip out her BlackBerry to send e-mails and make calls. If her layover is a couple of hours, she’ll make a beeline for the airline lounge or other wireless area. Her Motorola Bluetooth earpiece allows her to talk on the phone hands-free when she’s carrying bags, working on the computer or driving.

High-Tech, Low-Tech
A BlackBerry is also indispensible for road warriors like Larry Ribits, the Harbor Springs, Mich.-based publisher of A-Source Relocation Guides for several southeast Michigan cities, as well as Indianapolis, Ind., and Colorado Springs, Colo. “I can connect to the Internet to look up something, receive e-mails from clients and text out responses in a timely manner when I’m traveling downstate to Detroit or on a business trip in Indiana or Colorado. Between my laptop and BlackBerry, I have my own mobile office.”

For getting around town, Ribits goes low tech and relies on street map books for the cities in his sales territory and the good sense of direction he developed as a pizza delivery driver during his college days. Others say a portable GPS system or the navigation capability in their iPhone is a real time saver in strange cities. A Web service like MapQuest and even Google satellite imagery maps are helpful for finding the way to appointments.

Home Away from Home
All that Ribits really wants in a hotel is a clean and quiet room with a comfortable bed and “a good, and preferably free, Internet connection.” While many hotels have Wi-Fi, business centers, fitness centers and other amenities for the business traveler, what makes the difference is the staff. He says he likes it when “the staff gets to know you. It gives you a homey feeling and makes travel a little less arduous.”

As business travel manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Dearborn, Sally Honer represents a luxury brand considered to be the gold standard in customer service. “We welcome business travelers as part of the family and make them feel at home. Every hotel employee-”from the housekeeper to the bellman-”is empowered to take on whatever is needed to service the customer. By keeping individual profiles on guests, we’re able to anticipate their needs and accommodate their preferences-” whether it’s for a certain type of pillow or their desire to have a Diet Coke and Snickers bar in their room when they check in.”

Packing Light
The business travelers Honer sees coming in typically travel light. “They don’t want to risk checking a bag that might not arrive when they do. They would rather pack minimal clothing and use our laundry service, if needed. Those who are back every week often leave their laundry to be cleaned and we have it ready for them when they return.”

Once a business traveler herself, Honer got to the point where she could pack in 10 minutes or less. “I kept a separate set of toiletries for travel and would always have two non-wrinkle suits ready with changeable tops that all coordinated. Fitting shoes into a carry-on bag was the biggest challenge, so I wore the bulkiest pair.”

Deals and Perks
One of Honer’s key roles at the Dearborn property is to negotiate corporate rates for both large and small companies, which she says can save companies 10 to 20 percent depending on the number of guaranteed room nights per year. The Ritz-Carlton also has a business traveler package for individuals.

Consultants like Summers and Cowley, who are frequent flyers and hotel customers, like to rack up reward program points toward free flights, hotel stays and merchandise. They recommend giving your loyalty to airlines, hotel chains and car rental companies that serve your particular destinations and are on your company’s approved list.

Their first priority in loyalty programs is attaining elite status to become eligible for upgrades, lounge access, special toll-free numbers and other preferential services that make business travel more efficient and comfortable. “You just get better treatment if you have ‘status’,” says Summers, who is aligned with Marriott Rewards, NWA WorldPerks/Delta SkyMiles and Hertz#1 Club Gold – President’s Circle programs.

Cowley agrees and doesn’t start cashing in points for personal travel until she’s reached gold or platinum levels. Then a vacation in Hawaii is in order.